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.
Participants will join in worship, plenary sessions, workshops, fellowship, and Sabbath. Preachers, plenary speakers, and workshop leaders will offer models and resources for cultivating diverse communities within a rural church setting.
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.
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. The application deadline has been extended to May 13, 2019 at 11:59 p.m. Those selected to attend will receive notification and be invited to register on May 15, 2019 and will have until May 25, 2019 to register; all others will be notified that they have been added to a waiting list. If you are invited to register and fail to do so by May 25th, you will forfeit your spot to those on the waitlist.
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 5
11:00 a.m. Event Check-In
3:00 p.m. Welcome and Opening Worship
4:30 p.m. Opening Plenary
5:30 p.m. Break and Hotel Check-In
6:30 p.m. Opening Cookout and Concert
Tuesday, August 6
7:00 a.m. Breakfast
8:15 a.m. Morning Prayer
9:00 a.m. Plenary
10:15 a.m. Break
10:45 a.m. Workshops
12:00 p.m. Lunch
1:30 p.m. Plenary
8:00 p.m. Beach Communion Service
Wednesday, August 7
7:00 a.m. Breakfast
8:15 a.m. Morning Prayer
9:00 a.m. Panel Discussion
10:30 a.m. Break and Hotel Check-Out
11:15 a.m. Sending Worship: A Time of Blessing and Sending
12:30 p.m. Boxed Lunch and Departure
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.
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.
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 email the Events Management Office.
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
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 Brad Thie is the director of the Thriving Rural Communities initiative at Duke Divinity School. He is a 1998 Duke Divinity graduate and 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 as director 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.
Dr. Warren Kinghorn is a psychiatrist whose work centers on the role of religious communities in caring for persons with mental health problems and on ways in which Christians engage practices of modern health care. Jointly appointed within Duke Divinity School and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences of Duke University Medical Center, he is co-director of the Theology, Medicine, and Culture Initiative at Duke Divinity School and is a staff psychiatrist at the Durham VA Medical Center in Durham, N.C. He has written on the moral and theological dimensions of combat trauma and moral injury, on the moral and political context of psychiatric diagnosis, and on the way that St. Thomas Aquinas’ image of the human as wayfarer might inform contemporary practices of ministry and mental health care.
Melanie Dobson was born and raised in Charlotte, N.C., and grew up in Covenant United Methodist Church. She attended Furman University and served as a United Methodist Volunteer in Mission (UMVIM) independent missionary in Honduras for a year after college. She attended Duke Divinity School and spent one year of her seminary training at the University of Bonn, Germany. She began serving the church in appointed ministry in 2002, and has served in suburban, rural, and urban appointments. Dobson is an elder in the Western North Carolina Annual Conference and most recently served as the Minister of Faith Formation at Myers Park UMC in Charlotte, N.C. Her doctoral work at Duke University focused upon suffering, healing, and medical ethics as well as Methodism. She is also deeply interested in contemplative practice and is a registered yoga teacher, as well as a spiritual director (training through the Shalem Institute). Dobson now serves as assistant professor of Methodist Studies at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C., where she also teaches ethics and theology, and trains many student local pastors for the South Carolina Annual Conference.
Having worked in all aspects of fundraising (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 its endowment and fund other major capital needs. He most recently returned to Woodberry Forest School in Virginia as a capital gifts officer, helping the school raise funds for major gifts and planned giving.
A. Robert Jaeger is the co-founder and president of Partners for Sacred Places, America's only national non-profit organization dedicated to the stewardship and preservation of older, community-serving religious properties. Before founding Partners, Jaeger was the senior vice president of the Philadelphia Historic Preservation Corporation and founder of its Historic Religious Properties Preservation Program. He is author or co-author of Sacred Places at Risk; Conservation of Urban Religious Properties; Sacred Places in Transition; and Religious Institutions and Community Renewal; and was the founding editor and columnist for Inspired magazine between 1986 and 1989. Jaeger has spoken at Partners’ seven national Sacred Trusts conferences, as well as conferences of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, The Methodist Commission on Archives and History, the Society of Architectural Historians, the Indianapolis Center for Congregations, Duke Divinity School, the Tallahassee Preservation Board, the Florida Historical Society, the Cornell University preservation program, Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Penn., and the Presbytery of Detroit. He has also presented or lectured at national and international conferences. He has accepted a National Preservation Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the F. Otto Haas Award from Preservation Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
Since 2006, Sean Mitchell has helped church communities with leadership development, annual giving strategies, capital campaigns, endowment development, as well as the creation of stewardship education. 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. From 2011-2017, he developed and directed the stewardship office at Myers Park Presbyterian Church (MPPC) in Charlotte, N.C., one of the largest and most effective church stewardship offices in the United States. During these years, MPPC received its highest level of funding in its 90-year history. In addition to his consulting, coaching, and speaking, Mitchell also raises major gifts for Haggai International. He completed an undergraduate degree in Religious Studies and a Master of Arts in Practical Theology.
Since 1996, Melinda Wiggins has served as the executive director of Student Action with Farmworkers, which brings students and farmworkers together to learn about each other's lives, share resources and skills, improve conditions for farmworkers, and build diverse coalitions working for social change. She helped create two key statewide coalitions—the Adelante Education Coalition and the Farmworker Advocacy Network—focused on immigrant and farmworker rights. She co-edited The Human Cost of Food, Farmworkers’ Lives, Labor, and Advocacy, published by the University of Texas Press in 2002. In March 2012, Wiggins was honored by the White House as a recipient of the “Cesar Chavez Champion of Change” Award. A granddaughter and daughter of sharecroppers, she moved from the Mississippi Delta to North Carolina in 1992 to complete a Masters of Theological Studies degree at Duke University.
More information coming soon.
More information coming soon.
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Led by Diana Oestreich, Preemptive Love Coalition
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Led by Sean Mitchell, Capital Gifts Officer, and Jim Holladay, Consultant, Coach, and Speaker
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Led by Molly Shivers, Director of Conflict Transformation Ministries
Welcoming Immigrant Farmworkers to Your Community
As the number of small farms continue to decline and the population that grows up on farms decreases, there is dwindling knowledge about where our food comes from. Yet, eighty-five percent of fresh fruits and vegetables are hand-harvested by the more than 100,000 farmworkers in the state. Farmworkers are often invisible to everyday North Carolinians, even though we all depend on them for sustenance. As migrant farmworkers settle out of the migrant stream, they are revitalizing many small, rural towns in North Carolina, as they bring economic development, diversity, cultural traditions, and a strong commitment to faith, family, and community. Farmworkers are often not connected with the local community like some other immigrants and Latinos in the state, making them much more vulnerable to isolation and discrimination. With increasing divisions in our state, it is crucial that we help bridge cultural differences so that we can adapt to the changing demographics in our communities. Through this workshop, we’ll explore how faith communities can learn more about farmworkers, our food systems, and how to best welcome migrant farmworkers to their communities.
Led by Melinda Wiggins, Executive Director of Student Action with Farmworkers,
- Why do you wish to take part in the 2019 Convocation on the Rural Church?
- Compose a brief prayer (a couple sentences) that would convey your God-given dreams for the church and community you serve.