Convocation on the rural church 2023: Gathering With Hope

The Convocation on the Rural Church is an opportunity for pastors serving rural churches in 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. 

This year’s event, “Gathering with Hope,” will take place
August 7-9, 2023
Myrtle Beach Marriott Grande Dunes
  • Event Details

    This year’s event, “Gathering with Hope,” will take place in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Guest speakers, seminar leaders, and worship leaders include Priya Parker, Kate Bowler, Jessica Richie, Alma Tinoco Ruiz, Michael Long, Nina Balmaceda, Yvette Pressley, and others. These gifted leaders will walk participants through what it looks like to be Christian leaders gathering with hope during these challenging times. 

    Please note that due to the high demand and limited space for Convocation on the Rural Church, we will utilize an application process to determine who is invited to register for the event. To inquire about attending or if you have further questions, please contact Ken Spencer, associate director of rural church engagement at Duke Divinity School, at or Ann Imrick, program coordinator, at

  • Agenda

    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 in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

    Monday, August 7

    11:00 a.m. Registration

    11:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. Beverages Available

    3:30 - 5:00 p.m. Welcome, Opening Worship, & Communion Service

    5:00 p.m. Hotel Check-In

    Dinner on Your Own

    Tuesday, August 8

    7:30 - 9:00 a.m. Breakfast

    9:15 a.m. Morning Prayer

    9:30 a.m. Plenary

    10:45 - 11:15 a.m. Refreshment Break

    11:15 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. Workshops

    12:30 p.m. Lunch

    1:30 - 8:00 p.m. Free Time & Dinner on Your Own

    8:00 p.m. Beach Communion Service

    Wednesday, August 9

    7:30 a.m. Breakfast

    8:30 a.m. Morning Prayer

    9:00 a.m. Plenary

    10:15 a.m. Break & Hotel Check-Out

    11:00 a.m. Sending Forth Worship

    12:15 p.m. Boxed Lunch & Departure

  • Meals

    If you are a registered participant, the following meals are included, or not included, in the cost of your registration fee:


    • Beverages: water, sodas, juices
    • Dinner: On your own (Please note that the $75 discount off this year’s registration fee is for you to use towards dinner)


    • Breakfast
    • Refreshment break: Drinks and snacks
    • Lunch
    • Dinner: On your own


    • Breakfast
    • Beverages: Water and coffee
    • Lunch: Boxed lunches
  • Location

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

    The Marriott is an ocean-front property on Myrtle Beach’s coastline within driving distance of ample shopping, dining, and attractions. Broadway at the Beach, located nearby, includes 300 acres of shopping, dining, nightlife, and attractions. Entertainment and dining options include Hard Rock Café, Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, Señor Frog’s, Ripley’s Aquarium, IMAX Theatre, the Palace Theatre, NASCAR SpeedPark & Café, Children’s Museum of South Carolina, and Crocodile Rock’s Dueling Piano Bar. Shopping also abounds just 10 minutes away at Coastal Grande Mall, one of South Carolina’s largest and newest shopping malls, or you can shop for bargains at Tanger Outlet Mall, located on Highway 501, just 15 minutes away.

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


  • Speakers

    Priya Parker 

    Priya ParkerPriya Parker is a facilitator, strategic advisor, acclaimed author of The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters, and executive producer and host of The New York Times podcast Together Apart. Trained in the field of conflict resolution, Parker has spent 20 years guiding leaders and groups through complicated conversations about community, identity, and vision at moments of transition. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., with her husband and two children.




    Dr. Kate Bowler

    Kate BowlerKate Bowler is a three-time New York Times bestselling author, award-winning podcast host, and associate professor of American religious history at Duke University. She studies the cultural stories we tell ourselves about success, suffering, and whether (or not) we’re capable of change. She is the author of Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel and The Preacher’s Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities. After being unexpectedly diagnosed with Stage IV cancer at age 35, she penned the New York Times bestselling memoir, Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved) and No Cure For Being Human (and Other Truths I Need to Hear). She has also co-written with Jessica Richie Good Enough: 40ish Devotionals for a Life of Imperfection and The Lives We Actually Have: 100 Blessings for Imperfect Days. Bowler hosts the Everything Happens podcast where, in warm, insightful, often funny conversations, she talks with people like Malcolm Gladwell and Beth Moore about what they’ve learned in difficult times. She lives in Durham, North Carolina with her family and continues to teach do-gooders at Duke Divinity School.



    Jessica Richie

    Jess RichieJessica Richie is a producer and writer. She serves as the executive director of the Everything Happens Initiative at Duke University and the executive producer of the Everything Happens podcast, which hosts wise, funny, and tender conversations between Dr. Kate Bowler and guests about lives that don't always work out. Based on their work together, she and Kate Bowler co-wrote Good Enough: 40ish Devotionals for a Life of Imperfection and The Lives We Actually Have: 100 Blessings for Imperfect Days. Jess received her M.Div. from Duke Divinity School and lives with her family in Wilmington, Delaware.




    Dr. Katherine Smith

    Katherine SmithDr. Katherine Smith is associate dean for strategic initiatives at Duke Divinity School, where she develops and supports programs and initiatives to advance the school’s mission, sustainability, and institutional effectiveness. An ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), she previously served as assistant dean for admissions, vocation, and stewardship at Vanderbilt Divinity School, director of the Duke Youth Academy for Christian Formation at Duke Divinity School, and managing director of Princeton Project 55, Inc., a nation-wide nonprofit organization that seeks to mobilize civic leadership for the public good. Smith holds a B.A. in English literature from Princeton University, a M.Div. from Duke Divinity School, and an Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership and Policy from Vanderbilt University. 



    Dr. Alma Tinoco Ruiz

    Dr. ALma Tinoco RuizDr. Alma Tinoco Ruiz is a practical theologian whose work centers on the intersection of homiletics, pastoral care, and evangelism. Throughout her ministry, she has witnessed that most preachers are poorly equipped to respond to the traumatic injuries marginalized and oppressed communities experience. In contrast, she sees in the sermons of Saint Óscar Romero a profound response to the traumatic injuries the marginalized and oppressed people of El Salvador were experiencing during the years he was the archbishop of San Salvador (1977-1980). Influenced by Saint Romero’s preaching, Professor Tinoco Ruiz is exploring how preachers can effectively address the trauma experienced by marginalized and oppressed communities, particularly the community of undocumented immigrants from Latin America in the United States. She completed her Th.D. thesis on "Óscar Romero's Theological, Hermeneutical, and Pastoral Framework for Preaching to Traumatized Communities." Her publications include essays in the International Journal of Homiletics, Predicación con Impacto: Preparación y Presentación de Mensajes Bíblicos, The Christian Century, and Duke Divinity School’s DIVINITY magazine. Professor Tinoco Ruiz was awarded the Denman Fellow of the Foundation for Evangelism (FFE) in 2016, the Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE) Doctoral Fellowship in 2019, and the Hispanic Theological Initiative (HTI)/Lilly fellowship in 2020. She is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church.


    Dr. Michael Brown

    Dr. Michael Brown is an author, motivational speaker, adjunct professor, and for the past 10 years was the Senior Minister at Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, America’s oldest existing Protestant congregation (served for many years by Norman Vincent Peale who wrote the international best seller, The Power Of Positive Thinking).

    A native North Carolinian, Brown graduated from High Point University, earned a masters degree from Duke University, and received doctoral degrees from Drew University and Pfeiffer University. He is the author of numerous books and contributes regularly to The Huffington Post and Thrive Global. Brown has been featured in four ABC-TV specials, one NBC special, and two PBS specials. He is a member of the National Speakers Association (NSA) and the C-Suite Thought Council.

    Brown always designs his message of “practical positivity“ to meet the specific needs of the particular audience he addresses, using humor and anecdotes to describe a philosophy of life assured to bring meaning, joy, and hope to those who practice it.

  • Workshops

    "Awareness, Attention, and Kindness: Small Practices for the Complicated Stress of Ministry”

    Stress reduction can be achieved through small practices woven into daily life. The Duke Clergy Health Initiative has sought and tailored evidence-based stress reduction practices for clergy. Come experience two simple, mindfulness-based practices that you can easily recreate for yourself at home or at work. You will enjoy doing these practices in the company of others today, but you can also do them on your own in the future. Weather permitting, part of this session will be held outside to breathe in the salty air and feel the warmth of the earth beneath our feet. Although one of the practices involves walking, presenters will work with any participants who cannot walk to do a different practice that likewise has a strong evidence base.

    Presenters: Dr. Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell and Rachel Meyer

    “Sitting Together: Everyone is talking, but no one is listening. Have you ever felt this way?

    Listening is a Christian healing art when practiced well. Making space to hear and be heard is faithful and transformative because it is empowering. Listening another into existence is a gift that can change the dynamics of your relationships. When we choose actively to listen we make space for another, and we exercise a power that is life giving.  

    Come and explore how to communicate for deeper relationships, greater clarity, and diminished conflict. This workshop teaches from multiple dimensions the capacity to communicate in ever- challenging contexts of difference in the communities we serve. Come and learn about the neurobiology, psychology, and cultural aspects of being a better listener and hearer.

    Presenter: Rev. Chris Brady

    “Political Discord, Scarcity Thinking, and The Giving Church”

    Every church community encounters difficult times. And, it is in these times, that spiritual leaders can begin to question and doubt the God of abundance and wonder if peaceful, worshipful, generous unity is still possible.

    In this workshop, you will learn ways to faithfully pastor stewards during difficult times. You will also hear case studies of other communities which have journeyed through these difficult days and experienced the nourishment and generous work of the Holy Spirit.

    Presenters: Jim Holladay and Sean Mitchell

    “Neighbors are people who live close to each other. Neighbors look at each other; they talk to each other; they listen to each other. That’s how they get to know each other.”  — Mr. Rogers

    Churches do not exist in a vacuum; they exist inside a larger context, a community of stakeholders who share a vested interest in the community’s flourishing. Historically, the church has been a leader in bringing people together to share the work of caring for the whole community. The need for faith leaders who have the skills and formation to build relationships between individuals and organizations to create flourishing communities is great; and, through field education at Duke Divinity School, Communities of Learning are forming faith leaders committed to thriving communities and justice for all people as a sign of God’s love for the world.

    In this workshop, we’ll share learnings and emerging best practices for knowing our neighbors from a year of pilot projects forming faith leaders and connecting to communities. Participants will be encouraged to consider how these learnings might inspire their own practice of ministry as we live into John Wesley’s commitment to see the world and all our neighbors as our parish.

    Presenter: Rev. Rhonda Parker

    “Creating Belonging: Stories and Strategies from Disciples of Welcome”

    Disciples of Welcome is a cohort of 50 clergy (mostly in rural N.C. counties) committed to the practice of creating brave space for dialog across difference among themselves, their communities, and congregations. Since the fall of 2019, we have been learning together exploring what it means to welcome one another, to listen to each other’s stories, and create brave space that allows us to start where we are and continue to grow. In this workshop, we will explore what we are learning from one another, examine the technologies of belonging, practice storytelling and deep listening, and share the lessons learned so far from Disciples of Welcome participants, facilitators, and leadership team so that you might take home ideas for the difficult and necessary conversations in your personal and pastoral lives.

    Presenters: Micky ScottBey Jones and Rev. Gloria Winston

    “Preaching Across the Divide: Strategies for Sermons in The Purple Zone”

    The challenge of preaching across the red-blue divide in our churches is fraught with risks, but also offers opportunities for proclaiming the gospel and building community in profound and contextual ways. Informed by insights from her survey of over 1,200 clergy titled “Preaching about Controversial Justice Issues,” Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade will help you think strategically about your sermons in the midst of this fractured time. Based on her book Preaching in the Purple Zone: Ministry in the Red-Blue Divide (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), Schade offers a new way to approach preaching in this politically divisive climate using a “dialogical lens” for interpreting scripture, and the “Five Paths for Prophetic Preaching.”

    Presenter: Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade

    “Healing Conversations”

    Conversations can be healing, and conversations can be hurtful. In this workshop, we will learn and practice skills for engaging in holy and healthy conversations about the things that matter most to us.

    Presenter: Rev. Molly Shivers

  • Apply
    The application for the 2020 Convocation on the Rural Church is no longer available since this year's event has been rescheduled to Aug. 2-4, 2021, at the Myrtle Beach Marriott Grande Dunes in Myrtle Beach, S.C., due to the coronavirus pandemic .