Blog post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
The first indicator that I’m visiting a rural church is when the pastor says not to trust my GPS but follow his instructions instead! After exiting I-44 I turn, weave, go up and down hills, and after a few more hair pin turns, I’m on a black top. The church suddenly appears on my right. I know I’m visiting a rural church when the only sound I hear are the cows singing a melody of moos! I’m met at the front door by a little dog, which I find out later doesn’t belong to anyone but refuses to leave. This is Old Argo. This is a shining jewel of a congregation located in Bourbon, Missouri off the Sullivan exit.
As worship begins, about 35 people fill the sanctuary. The age range is a perfect bell curve from babies in arm to seniors on canes. There is energy, excitement, and a bit of exhaustion. The night before is the annual Fall Festival which the church hosts. They cook up two pigs (donated by a church member), add in tons of homemade goodies, a musical group, a silent auction, games and fun. This congregation of less than 40 serves 335 dinners and raises over $5,200! The festival is a total volunteer effort. As I hear the stories of the night before, I long for a jar of homemade apple butter!
Old Argo is led by pastor Rob Caldwell, a commissioned pastor (CP). Giddings Lovejoy has a robust CP program. We take ruling elders who feel God’s call to a pastoral ministry and put them through a three-year program. A new cohort is already underway with 11 elders in training. These leaders often end up in small congregations.
Rural and small church ministry in a reality in our presbytery. Out of 79 congregations, we currently have 27 with 50 members or less. In Giddings Lovejoy, once a congregation has 40 members or less, they can no longer afford a traditional called and installed pastor. Our challenge is to prepare people like Rob, who have a genuine love for small church ministry, and support them in their call. With the right pastoral leadership, even small congregations can thrive and be vibrant where they are.
Rev. Craig M. Howard