Monday, August 7, 2017 - 1:00pm to Wednesday, August 9, 2017 - 12:30pm
Myrtle Beach Marriott Resort & Spa at Grande Dunes (Map)
Duke Divinity School
(919) 613-5323

The Convocation on the Rural Church is an annual opportunity for pastors from the North Carolina and Western North Carolina Conferences of the United Methodist Church to join with Duke Divinity School and The Duke Endowment to discuss issues that are important in transforming rural churches and communities and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Event Details

Participants will join in worship, plenary sessions, workshops, fellowship and Sabbath. The theme of this year’s event is “Cultivating Communities.” The event will feature Robert P. Jones, author of The End of White Christian America. Participants will receive a copy of his book. Preachers, plenary speakers, and workshop leaders will offer models and resources for cultivating diverse communities within a rural church setting.

Eligibility Criteria

This family-friendly event is funded by The Duke Endowment. To attend, you must serve a church that is eligible to receive Duke Endowment grants.  The list of Duke Endowment eligible churches was expanded in 2014, which has allowed additional pastors to participate in this event.

Check your eligibility to attend (pdf).

In response to growing demand for this event and in an effort to include participants with a diverse array of experiences, we have implemented an application process that includes answering a few brief essay questions. Those selected to attend will receive notification and be invited to register within three weeks of completing the application; all others will be added to a waiting list.

Participants who attend all sessions of the event will be emailed one continuing education unit at the conclusion of the event.

Please contact us with any questions.


Over the course of the three-day convocation, participants will have the opportunity to attend plenary sessions, share in worship and meals, and enjoy free time. The conference will take place at the Myrtle Beach Marriott Resort & Spa at Grande Dunes.

Monday, August 7, 2017

1:00 p.m.


Hotel check-in as early as 4:00 p.m. (separate from event registration)

Group Registration Alcove

2:45 p.m.

Welcome & Opening Worship

Guests and Families Welcome

Rev. Brad Thie, TRC Director, Duke Divinity School

Preacher:  Rev. Tito Madrazo

Communion: Bishop Paul Leeland

Atlantic 1 – 4

4:00-5:30  p.m.

Robby Jones Presentation and Q&A


Atlantic 1 – 4

5:30 – 6:30 p.m.

Break & Hotel Check-in



6:30 p.m.

Opening Cookout & Concert

Outside, weather-permitting, casual dress

Pre-registered spouses and guests welcome

Oceanfront Courtyard

(In case of rain, meet in Atlantic 5 – 8)


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

7:00 – 8:30 a.m.


Atlantic 5 – 8

8:20 a.m.

Morning Prayer


Atlantic 4

8:45 a.m.



Atlantic 1 – 4

10:15 a.m.

Refreshment Break


North Hall

10:45 a.m.



Atlantic 1 – 4

12:00 p.m.




Atlantic 5 – 8

1:15 – 2:45 p.m.



3:00 – 4:30 p.m.

Ruby Sales workshop

Atlantic 4


*Free evening/dinner on your own*


8:00 p.m.

Beach Communion Service

Meet in the lobby at 7:45 p.m.

Hotel Lobby

(In case of rain, meet in Atlantic 4)

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

7:00 – 8:30 a.m.



Atlantic 5 – 8

8:20 a.m.

Morning Prayer


Atlantic 4

8:45 a.m.

Plenary: The Ministry of The Duke Endowment

Atlantic 1 – 4

10:30 a.m.

Refreshment Break & Check-out

Please check-out at the hotel front desk

North Hall

11:00 a.m.

Sending Worship: Service of Blessing and Sending

Guests and families welcome

Preacher:  Rev. Frederick Yebuah

Atlantic 1 – 4

12:15 p.m.


Boxed lunches available for registered participants and those who purchased a meal ticket

North Hall


On-site accommodations are required to attend this event.

Private room ($140):  For those arriving on Monday and departing Wednesday, the registration fee is $140.  All private rooms are standard-sized hotel rooms, not suites.  They can comfortably accommodate up to four individuals, should your (non-clergy) spouse or family members be staying with you during the event. Note that if you will be sharing your room with more than one other adult guest (anyone 18 years or older), the hotel may place on your bill a surcharge of $5 per additional adult per day. These charges will be applied to your personal credit card by the hotel; they are not included in your registration fee.

Clergy Couples

If you are part of a clergy couple and you both wish to attend the event, you each must apply and register separately. The cost of your shared private hotel room will be split during registration.

Extended Stay

We invite you to consider giving yourself the gift of sabbath by staying an extra night (Monday arrival, Thursday departure). At the time of application, please indicate whether you prefer a Wednesday departure ($140 registration fee) or an extended, Thursday departure for a total registration fee of $220. If you are accepted and invited to register, you will be emailed a unique registration link for the departure date that you pre-select. Please note that there is not an option to select your departure date at the time of registration, but only at the time of application.  


If you are a registered participant, the following meals are included in the cost of your registration fee: Monday dinner; both Tuesday and Wednesday breakfast, refreshments and lunch. Dinner is on your own Tuesday evening.  

Guests of participants (spouses and/or family members) are invited to attend a complimentary opening dinner on Monday evening. 

Guests of participants may also eat breakfast and lunch with participants on Tuesday and Wednesday if participants purchase a meal ticket ($60 through the online registration process). One meal ticket is required per guest. Due to our contract with the hotel catering, no guest meal tickets may be purchased on the day of the event. Guests who do not purchase meal tickets have the alternate option of paying for and eating breakfast or lunch elsewhere on their own. Thanks to the generosity of The Duke Endowment, meal tickets are available at this price.


Program sessions and accommodations for the Convocation on the Rural Church will be provided at the oceanfront Myrtle Beach Marriott Resort & Spa at Grande Dunes, a full-service hotel and conference center located in Myrtle Beach, S.C. 

Participants who plan to bring their families should note that rooms at the hotel do not include a multi-room suite arrangement. Each room holds a maximum of four guests. To oblige by hotel guidelines, please be prepared to pay for an additional room if there is more than four in your party. If you have any questions or concerns about this policy, please contact program coordinator, Quinten Lochmann.

On-site accommodations are required to attend this event, and reservations must be made through the Divinity School while registering for the event. Parking is complimentary and available onsite.

Speakers and Staff

Robert P. Jones

Robert P. Jones is the founding CEO of PRRI and a leading scholar and commentator on religion and politics. He is the author of The End of White Christian America, two other books, and numerous peer-review articles on religion and public policy. Jones writes a column for The Atlantic online on politics and culture and appears regularly on Interfaith Voices, the nation’s leading religion news-magazine on public radio. He is frequently featured in major national media such as MSNBC, CNN, NPR, The New York TimesThe Washington Post, and others. Jones serves as the co-chair of the national steering committee for the Religion and Politics Section at the American Academy of Religion and is a member of the editorial boards for the Journal of the American Academy of Religion and for Politics and Religion, a journal of the American Political Science AssociationHe holds a Ph.D. in religion from Emory University and a M.Div. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Sean Mitchell

Since 2006, Mitchell has helped church communities with capital campaigns, leadership development, annual giving strategies, as well as the creation of stewardship education and legacy giving programs. He has written extensively on the topic of Christian stewardship through various publications including The Presbyterian Outlook and Duke Divinity’s Faith and Leadership, and is currently co-authoring a book that will help churches develop stewardship ministries in the way of Jesus. He speaks at conferences and facilities workshops. For the last five years, he has developed and directed the stewardship office at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C., one of the largest and most effective church stewardship offices in the country. In these five years, MPPC has received its highest level of funding in its 90-year history. Mitchell completed an undergraduate degree in Religious Studies and a Master of Arts in Practical Theology. 

Donna Banks

Rev. Donna Banks currently serves at the lead pastor of Saint Francis United Methodist Church in Cary, N.C.  Upon graduation from Duke Divinity School, she joined the staff as the associate pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, N.C.. She also served appointments as the senior pastor at Evergreen United Methodist Church in Chapel Hilland as director of student life at Duke Divinity School. Prior to her current appointment, Banks served as the district superintendent for the Corridor District of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.  She has previous experience from her 16-year career in the chemical industry, which afforded her the opportunity to have a succession of roles as a research chemist and in corporate sales, marketing and management.

In-Yong Lee

Born in South Korea, In-Yong Lee is an ordained elder in the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church and currently serves as pastor at Cokesbury UMC in Charlotte, N.C. She earned her M.Div. (2000), Th.M. (2002), and Ph.D. in Theology and Ethics (2012), all at Duke. She is particularly passionate about multiethnic ministry and about raising multicultural awareness and competency in an increasingly diverse society. Starting her second quadrennium as a member of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters of the General Conference, which deals with the exponentially growing United Methodist churches outside the U.S., she is excited to see the truly global nature of the denomination, and also seeks to contribute to the church's growth in multiethnic ministry within the U.S.

Bishop Paul Lee Leeland

Paul Lee Leeland was born in Washington D.C. He is a graduate of North Carolina Wesleyan College (B.A.), Duke Divinity School (M.Div. and Th.M.) and North Carolina State University (Ed.D.).  He was ordained by Bishop Robert Blackburn in 1976 and received into the North Carolina Conference, where he served churches until his appointment as district superintendent of the Goldsboro District. He was then appointed assistant to the bishop and director of ministerial relations, serving under two bishops. Leeland was elected to the episcopacy by the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference in 2008 and was assigned to the Alabama-West Florida Episcopal Area. In 2016 he was assigned to the Western North Carolina Episcopal Area, where he currently serves. Leeland has served on the General Board of Church and Society (2008-2012) and as president of the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits (2012-present). He also is a member of the Duke Divinity School Board of Visitors. 

Kenneth Locklear

Kenneth Locklear has served in pastoral ministry for 34 years, serving as an elder since 1991. Before going into ministry, he worked in construction. During this time he became very active in the life and ministry of the church, teaching Sunday school, and working in outreach and evangelism. Out of these ministries, he heard the compelling call of God in 1980, and took his first appointment in 1981. Locklear has served seven churches (inclluding two two-point charges). He started a new church in Greensboro, N.C., and served there for six years. He later served as executive director of Native American ministries for five years in the Southeastern Jurisdiction at Lake Junaluska before being appointed to Prospect UMC in 2004. He holds a BA from Pembroke State University, an M.Div. from Duke Divinity School, and a D.Min. from Wesley Theological Seminary.

Laceye Warner

Laceye Warner is an ordained elder in the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and currently serves as the associate professor of the practice of evangelism and Methodist studies at Duke Divinity School. Before coming to Duke in 2001, Warner taught at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary at Northwestern University as the E. Stanley Jones Assistant Professor of Evangelism. She has served urban congregations in the Methodist Church of Great Britain. Warner’s research interests in the historical theology of evangelism seek to inform and locate contemporary church practices within the larger Christian narrative. These interests are reflected in two books published in 2007: Saving Women: Retrieving Evangelistic Theology and Practice (Baylor University Press) and The Study of Evangelism, co-edited with Paul Chilcote (Eerdmans Publishing Company). She was a contributing editor to the Wesley Study Bible and completed a co-authored book with Bishop Kenneth Carder entitled Grace to Lead: Practicing Leadership in the Wesleyan Tradition, which was published in Fall 2010. Her most recent book is The Method of Our Mission: United Methodist Polity and Organization, published by Abingdon Press in 2014. Warner is the author of numerous reviews and articles for academic and ecclesial audiences and the recipient of scholarly and ecclesial grants. Her teaching areas include theology of evangelism, women’s ministry practices, and Methodist/Wesleyan studies.

Warner will lead the “The Course of Study at DDS:  Strengthening Ministerial Formation” workshop (by invitation only) and sit on the Wednesday panel discussion.

Jim Holladay

Having worked in all aspects of fund raising (annual, capital and planned giving), Jim Holladay was alumni director, annual fund director, and director for development at Woodberry Forest School in Virginia during his 20-year tenure there. He has experience working on capital campaigns as well as working with and developing legacy initiatives to help grow needed endowment funds. Holladay also consulted for Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C. on a major gifts and planned giving initiative to help grow their endowment and fund other major capital needs. He most recently returned to Woodberry Forest School as a capital gifts officer, helping the school raise funds for major gifts and planned giving.

Mike Smith

Mike Smith, M.Div., S.T.M., S.T.D., grew up on a farm in the small town of Ware Shoals in upstate South Carolina, but now serves Trenholm Road UMC, a large, urban congregation in the capital city of Columbia. Prior to this, the majority of his appointments were to rural parishes within South Carolina’s “Corridor of Shame.” A former military and law enforcement chaplain, he served on the Conference Board of Church and Society, Native American Committee, and Board of Ordained Ministry as chair of the Doctrine and Theology Committee.  He also served on the board of directors of Rural Mission, Inc. on Johns Island, S.C. and Killingsworth Home for Women in Crisis in Columbia.  He also has a passion for sustainable agriculture and for creating community gardens where he has served.

Rev. Smith will preach “Goats, Gators, and Jesus” based on Mark 16:9-15.

Angie Hong

Angie Hong is the creative director at the Chicago campus of Willow Creek Community Church. She is contributing author of “Intercultural Ministry: Hope for a Changing World,” released in March 2017.  Hong has a background in music therapy and explores the intersection between worship, reconciliation, and identity on her blog,  She has led worship for The Justice Conference, Christian Community Development Association, and the Duke Divinity Center for Reconciliation. She also writes for Christianity Today.  

Rev. Robert R. Webb III  

Reverend Robb Webb has served as director of The Duke Endowment’s Rural Church program area since 2010, having joined the endowment as a program officer in 2006. A graduate of Duke Divinity School, Rev. Webb is an ordained deacon in the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. Prior to this, he served as a management consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and Healthcare Resource Associates. Rev. Webb chairs the Rural Life Committee of the North Carolina Council of Churches and serves as chair of the Ministerial Education Fund of the Western North Carolina Conference and is immediate past chair of the Council on Campus Ministry. He also is a board member of Faith and Form magazine, the Board of Visitors for Duke Divinity School, and a member of the North Carolina Network of Grantmakers Education Steering Committee. He has been a guest lecturer for the "Philanthropy for the Sake of the Church" and "Small Membership Church" courses at Duke Divinity.

Rev. Kristen Richardson-Frick

Reverend Kristen Richardson-Frick joined The Duke Endowment in 2012 as a program officer in the Rural Church program area. She is a graduate of Duke Divinity School and an ordained elder in the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. Rev. Richardson-Frick served for 11 years as a pastor at several United Methodist churches in South Carolina, including a rural two-point charge for which she was the first female pastor. Her involvement with the South Carolina Conference has included certified ministry coach, chair of the committee on episcopacy, and chair of the Orangeburg District committee on congregational development.

Martha Bassett & The Roots Revival Band

Martha Bassett was raised on the bluegrass and gospel of her native West Virginia farmland, less than a mile down the road from the State Gospel Song Convention. She has earned music degrees from the University of Kentucky and UNC-Greensboro. She has performed up and down the East Coast and into the Midwest playing festivals and concert venues as a featured artist, and opening for other artists such as Lyle Lovett, the Avett Brothers, Tony Bennett, Jim Lauderdale, and Chuck Prophet. She also worked as the church music consultant for the Sony Classics film "Junebug." She has released eight discs to date. Throughout her performance career, her work as a church musician has been constant as a soloist, a children's choir director, and a band leader. Most recently, she took on the musical leadership of "Roots Revival," a new service at Centenary United Methodist in Winston-Salem, N.C, in which Americana/Roots-based music is central.  Joining Bassett for the Convocation on the Rural Church are bandmates Sam Frazier (guitar) and Pat Lawrence (upright bass), and Rev. Sarah Howell, associate pastor at Centenary United Methodist. The Roots Revival Band celebrates the idea that all music is sacred, and finds creative ways to use different types of music meaningfully in worship. To learn more about Martha Bassett and Roots Revival, visit and

Brad Thie
Director, Thriving Rural Communities
Rev. Brad Thie, a 1998 Duke Divinity School graduate, is an ordained elder and a member of the Western North Carolina Annual Conference. He has pastored three Rural United Methodist churches in North Carolina, and has extensive experience ministering as a chaplain and spiritual counselor in prisons, hospitals, and retirement communities. Before joining Thriving Rural Communities in 2013, Thie served as pastor for eight years of Friendship UMC in Newton, N.C., a partner church with Thriving Rural Communities. Thie has an M.B.A. from Jacksonville University in Jacksonville, Fla., and a B.A. in Psychology from Bowling Green State University. He experienced his calling to pastoral ministry while participating in a Disciple I Bible Study at Mt. Pisgah UMC in Greensboro, N.C. During his service at Mt. Pisgah, he also served as a facilitator of Disciple Bible Study through Disciple Bible Outreach Ministry (DBOM) in two prison facilities. He has served on DBOM’s Executive Council, as a candidacy mentor for numerous ministry candidates, as spiritual director of the Emmanuel Emmaus Community, and currently serves on the Board of United Church Homes and Services. He is a Passion in Partnership certified coach, has served on Plowpoint Church Transformation teams, and is a graduate of the Royce and Jane Reynolds Program in Church Leadership.



How do we graduate from a social worldview where racism exist to a biblical worldview of Holiness where we are mandated to be reconciled to God and each other in unity of faith?  This workshop will consider scriptural reflection and our baptism vows as a guide on why as Christians we need to bridge this division.

Rev. Kenneth Locklear

At the Border: Encountering Jesus Christ Where Cultures Meet”

When we hear the border mentioned, our mind pictures a geographical border between two nations. Lately, due to the political and social climate in the United States of America, we specifically picture the border between this nation and Mexico. However, borders are much more extensive and much closer than we realize. Borders transcend geographical location. Borders are present in every place where cultures, languages, theologies, and ideologies meet. This workshop will focus on the spiritual path that leads to encounter Jesus Christ at the different borders to which we come on a daily basis. We will take a close look at life alongside the border between Mexico and Guatemala and between Mexico and the United States. Through that lens, we will take a close look at life alongside the borders to which we come as we go about our everyday lives. In doing so, we will search the path that leads to encounter with Jesus Christ in that context.

Edgar Vergara

“How to Pastor and Lead Faithful Stewards”

For the third year in a row, Sean Mitchell and Jim Holladay will be facilitating a workshop on the stewardship of resources.  Why is this opportunity so critical and why should you participate?:

  • We are living in a post-Christian culture, and this means church members are not giving as dutifully as they once were. How can we adapt to this new reality and continue to inspire faithful stewardship?
  • Scripture talks about stewardship a lot, and Jesus talks about it more than he does the afterlife and forgiveness. How should we be talking and preaching about stewardship?
  • At some point in the future, we will experience another recession. How can we as leaders prepare ourselves to lead congregations during times of financial crisis?
  • Many church budgets are strained. Stewardship and generosity enable our communities to flourish. How can we lead communities to practice the sharing of resources?
  • Most church leaders don’t have a plan or goals for their stewardship ministries. What goals will help you develop as a leader of stewards?

In this educational offering, Mitchell and Holiday will share the core disciplines for equipping rural churches to practice faithful stewardship of money, possessions, and all other resources. As part of their presentation, they will share encouraging stories of pastors who have practiced these disciplines and observed spiritual growth in the lives of community members.

Rev. Sean Mitchell & Rev. Jim Holiday

Preparing Your Church for a Cross-Cultural/Cross Racial Appointment

Will the church live its baptism vows "to be opened to people of all ages, nations, and races"?  Will it act out its stated commitment to be an inclusive body faith; or will it remain a predominately ethnically- and racially-shaped body projecting a message of exclusion? This workshop will discuss ways to be an authentically inclusive and diverse church in this multicultural world by preparing you to serve in a cross-cultural/cross-racial appointment and preparing your church to receive someone from a different race or culture into your community.

Rev. Donna Banks

"Shrivel Separately or Thrive Together?"

Many churches are asking, "Why don't people come to our church any more?" Instead of hoping for a non-existent population -- a younger version of themselves -- to show up in this increasingly diverse society, it's time for churches to seek their own transformation in preparation for those who will, by God's grace, cross their threshold. Which would be a better choice, to shrivel away apart from those different from you, or to actively reach out to, invite, and welcome them in your midst and thrive together? This workshop will facilitate your deliberation.

In-Yong Lee

“Assessing the Racial Perception Gap Between Black and White Christians”

As the Black Lives Matter movement has elevated issues of racial discrimination onto the national stage, it has also highlighted a massive racial perception gap between black and white churches, and black and white Christians. Moreover, racial tensions ran high during the 2016 presidential election, which in turn often heightened tensions at the local level between black and white churches. Using recent public opinion data, this workshop will examine the nature of the racial perception gap across a range of issues, highlight the underlying issues driving those perceptions and tensions, and suggest possible steps that might help close the gap.

Robert P. Jones

Bridge of Hope

Why "Bridge of Hope"? Hope is a confident expectation in the promises of God. One of the promises God fulfilled was salvation by faith in and through Jesus Christ. In Jesus the dividing wall of hostility has been destroyed. We are no longer strangers. We are brothers and sisters together in the same household of God. "October 1990 I was awakened from a dream," Pleasants writes. "In the dream I was pastoring a multi-cultural congregation. At the time I was not aware that my ministry in the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church was to pastor cross-racial cross-cultural congregations. The dream reminded me of the saints of all nations around the throne praising God in heaven." We pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, but often we still live as strangers. How can our sanctuaries become more invitational to the “stranger?” How can we dialogue and do ministry in the midst of a culture that does not reflect the culture of the local church in that community? How can we tear down the wall of hostility in order to build the bridge of hope? The hope is living into the reality that Jesus has already prepared -- to live as brothers and sisters in the same household of God. In our session we will discuss ways to break down the wall and build bridges. “There is a time for every matter under heaven…a time to break down and a time to build up.” Ecclesiastes 3:1, 3b.

Angela Pleasants


In response to growing demand for this event and in an effort to include participants with a diverse array of experiences, we have implemented an application process that includes a few brief essay questions.

  • Why do you wish to take part in the 2017 Convocation on the Rural Church?
  • Part of the conversation at the 2017 Convocation on the Rural Church is based on the book, “The End of White Christian America.” We will be focusing on building a diverse community. What would you like to learn about community to integrate into your life and ministry?   
  • Compose a brief prayer (a couple sentences will do) that would convey your God-given dreams for the church and community you serve.