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Exploring ‘rural and remote’ ministry

By Nicholas Metivier

[This article first appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of Connexions magazine. See the full issue here, or sign up for your free subscription.] 

“There’s just something about the small communities, the friendliness and the welcome you get,” said Knox M.Div. student Nick Metivier about ministry in rural areas. Nick was one of two Knox students to receive a PCC Rural and Remote Ministry Grant for work last summer. He said, “It’s also important to be ‘warned’ that the people will take your heart! The experience won’t leave you.” Nick has served for two summers through a Rural and Remote Ministry Grant; he was in Tabusintac, New Brunswick, in 2016, and in Lucknow and South Kinloss, Ontario, in 2017.

“Neither place is in a position to have a full-time minister, so this program provides a mutually beneficial exchange. The reality is that many of these rural places can’t support a minister. Many are vacant or become part of two-point charges.

“Congregations are looking for something more consistent, because they’ve been hearing different people all the time through pulpit supply. The lack of continuity really starts to get to the people. They’re looking for a more consistent face up front, and through this grant, you get the chance to provide that. You walk into that leadership role, and it gives you as a student the chance to test it out and see if this is really what you want to do. Each congregation has its own job description, usually including the regular core competencies – lead worship services and Bible studies, provide visitation, etc. – and then it might include some specific requirements geared toward that community. You apply to an individual placement.”

Nick’s first experience in small town ministry leadership (not through a Rural and Remote Grant) was a summer in Bayfield, Ontario, which showed him that rural ministry “was really an awesome opportunity,” he said. Then he learned about the grants and has appreciated both of those summer experiences as well. “They really confirmed whether I wanted to do service in a small town, in the country. This second experience at Lucknow solidified that for me.”

When first beginning these assignments, Nick said, “There’s a bit of healthy discomfort. You start with some apprehension and fear: What will this community think of me? How will people respond to my ideas and personality? Of course, me being a young person, still in college and getting new ideas, inspires both curiosity and some apprehension in them as well. Both sides are concerned about the other’s acceptance. But the good nature of the place and friendless of the people overcomes concerns, and you get to see the best in each other. You see people’s good intentions. And,” he said, “regardless of small-town stereotypes, people are generally looking for fresh ideas.”

In Nick’s experience last summer, he said, “One of the coolest things was helping to launch Messy Church.” (Messy Church is an all-ages form of church that involves “creativity, celebration, and hospitality” [www.messychurch.org.uk].) The congregation had been thinking about it and was trying to get people on board, Nick said, and “the timing worked so that I could be part of catalyzing that. We hashed out the meetings and logistics, and we had a few sessions of Messy Church before I left. And it’s continuing! It was also rewarding because Messy Church wasn’t limited to the congregation. It was a community thing, and people from all over the community came. We got to see another side of church and another side of the community than we would have otherwise.”

When Nick first began to live and work in small town, what surprised him most was how often he would see people. He said, “You’ll see people from your church all over town, whether out for groceries or a walk. Or even if you don’t see them, they’ll see you. It’s one of the things that makes the experience really awesome – but it’s also something that people who want to try this out should be aware of. It’s just the nature of being in a small town. It’s a good reminder to live a life that’s integral to the call.”

Some people can also find it difficult to be serving in these more remote areas. He said, “Sometimes you’re out in what might seem like the middle of nowhere. It can be isolating, as you’re most likely away from your network of support and the people you love. But you have choices: either continue in the isolation, or make the best of it: be proactive about getting to know people, and immerse yourself in the setting. If you’ve immersed yourself in the community, you leave knowing the people, and they know you.”

Nick is passionate about the opportunities small town ministry offers. He said, “You’re not reducing your potential impact by going to a smaller place, and God loves these people just as much as those in the big city. Rural ministry offers a lot of potential that you might not think about. For example, in such a small place, you become part of the community. Not only are you able to be with your own congregants, but people in the community get to know you. You have a real chance to have conversations and be involved in people’s lives, even those who aren’t part of your church. You don’t necessarily have that chance in the city, where there’s so much anonymity.”

Nick particularly enjoyed having Bible studies in his home every week, getting to know a core group of people and seeing them open up. “That’s different than just presenting on a Sunday,” he said, “and it isn’t limited to that one interaction. You run into your people around town, and when you take work to a bake or coffee shop, you interact and see how they’re doing.”

Over the course of the summer, he said, “In some ways you rub off on each other – in very good ways. When you leave, it’s like you leave a piece of your heart. You leave with a lot of good memories of people. You and the community have left an impression on each other.”

On-the-job experience like this means that Nick learns differently when he returns to Knox. It has confirmed his call, and it also shapes his approach to learning. “You notice when teaching might be geared toward city ministry or larger congregations, so you think more about your context and the context you’re going into. The professors at Knox have helped me to see ministry holistically, and I hope I ministered that way over the summer,” he said.

Would I recommend this to students coming through? Absolutely,” Nick said without hesitation. “I would recommend it for all students who are really considering their call, wanting to make sure that this is something they want to do for the rest of their lives. There’s no better opportunity to figure out if you want to do ministry than to go and do it. And this is a chance to go with some great, well-meaning people who are very welcoming, a chance to really explore in ways you might not have otherwise.” Nick said, “Even if you don’t necessarily know if rural ministry is the right niche for you – these are experiences you’ll never forget.”

Nicholas Metivier is a Master of Divinity student at Knox College.

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Knox College announces Dr. Frank Yamada as Convocation speaker

Knox College is pleased to announce that Dr. Frank Yamada will give the address at Knox’s 174th Convocation on May 9, 2018, at 7:30pm in the Knox College Chapel. Biblical scholar Frank M. Yamada is executive director of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada. He previously served as McCormick Theological Seminary’s tenth president and associate professor of Hebrew Bible, as well as the director of the Center for Asian American Ministries. Dr. Yamada will give Knox College’s Convocation address, “When the Holy Spirit falls…,” based on Acts 10:44-48. Read more about Dr. Yamada here

Learn more about Knox College’s Convocation events on May 9, 2018. Come and celebrate the graduation of Knox’s degree and lay education students!

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