Monday, August 6, 2018 - 1:00pm to Wednesday, August 8, 2018 - 2:00pm
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. 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. Applications will be accepted until April 20, 2018. Those selected to attend will receive notification and be invited to register on April 25, 2018 and will have until May 11, 2018 to register; all others will be notified that they have been 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 6

11:00 a.m. Event Check in

3:00 p.m. Welcome and Opening Worship

4:30 p.m. Opening Plenary - Ben Winchester

5:30 p.m. Break and Hotel Check-In

6:30 p.m. Opening Cookout and Concert

Tuesday, August 7

7:00 a.m. Breakfast

8:15 a.m. Morning Prayer

9:00 a.m. Plenary - Rev. Jen Bailey

10:15 a.m. Break

10:45 a.m. Plenary: Eddie Gonzalez and Rev. Jen Bailey

12:00 p.m. "The People's Lunch" led by Rev. Jen Bailey

       *Free Time*

8:00 p.m. Beach Communion Service

Wednesday, August 8

7:00 a.m. Breakfast

8:15 a.m. Morning Prayer

9:00 a.m. Workshops 

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.

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 email the program coordinator, Rachel Sanchez

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

Program 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 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.

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. 

Plenary Speakers

Rev. Jen Bailey

Rev. Jen BaileyNamed one of 15 Faith Leaders to Watch by the Center for American Progress, Reverend Jennifer Bailey is an ordained minister, public theologian, and a national leader in multi-faith movements for justice. She is the founder and executive director of the Faith Matters Network (FMN), a people-of-color-led leadership incubator dedicated to catalyzing the voices of emerging justice-centered leaders of faith. Rev. Bailey is the co-founder of the People's Supper, a project that aims to repair the breach in our interpersonal relationships across political, ideological, and identity difference over shared meals. Since January 2017, the People's Supper has hosted over 1,000 dinners in 120 cities and towns across the U.S. and has teamed up with ordinary citizens, schools, workplaces, faith communities and neighborhood organizations to model what deep community-building looks like in a time of deepening social divides. Rev. Bailey is an ordained itinerant elder in the A.M.E. Church.

Eddie Gonzalez

Eddie Gonzalez

Eddie Gonzalez recently joined the On Being Impact Lab after a decade of work around stories and spiritual care, most recently at StoryCorps, where he worked across the U.S. and Canada to help individuals and organizations create space for reflective conversations through community-based storytelling and audio recording projects. Before StoryCorps he was a hospice chaplain and received his clinical pastoral education while earning an M.F.A. in creative writing. Gonzales believes deeply in the power of collaboration and will be based in New York City, connecting the growing ecosystem of projects, leaders, and listeners as well as developing products for the On Being community. 


Ben Winchester

Ben Winchester

Ben Winchester has been working both in and for small towns across the Midwest for over 20 years. He is trained as a rural sociologist and works as a senior research fellow for the University of Minnesota Extension's Center for Community Vitality. He conducts applied research on vital economic, social, and demographic topics surrounding a theme of “rewriting the rural narrative.” Winchester received a B.A. in mathematics and statistics from the University of Minnesota, Morris and M.S. in Rural Sociology from the University of Missouri, Columbia. He was a founding employee at the Center for Small Towns, an outreach and engagement program at the University of Minnesota, Morris and specializes in community development, demographic analysis, data visualization, and moving communities away from anecdata.

Workshop Leaders

John Bennett

John L. Bennett is associate professJohn Bennettor of business and behavioral science and the director of graduate programs with the McColl School of Business at Queens University of Charlotte. He holds the Wayland H. Cato, Jr. Chair of Leadership. He is the author of numerous articles about building organizational resilience to change, coaching, communication, innovative team-based management, and leadership, and has written three books, including Coaching for Change (Routledge, 2014). He earned a M.P.A. degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and an M.A. and Ph.D. in human and organizational systems from Fielding Graduate University. In 2010, he was named a charter fellow in The Lewin Center and a founding fellow of the Institute of Coaching, which is an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. He is the principal investigator for a multi-year program evaluation and research project, “Ordination Preparation Program Evaluation and Congregational Leader Development Study,” and for a needs assessment related to clergy deployment and development funded by The Duke Endowment and conducted in collaboration with the NC and WNC Conferences of the United Methodist Church.

Chris Brady

Chris BradyChris L. Brady serves as pastor of Historic Wilson Temple UMC, in Raleigh, N.C. He has served pastoral roles in multi-ethnic and cross-racial congregations, as director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual UMC Conference, as special assistant to former Duke Divinity School Dean Greg Jones for faith-based institutional leadership development, and director of Student Life & Formation at Duke Divinity School. Currently he is coaching cadre for the Clergy Coaching Network with Discipleship Ministries of the UMC SBC-21 church vitality initiative. He is a Ph.D. candidate in couples and family therapy. 

Jim Holladay

HavingJim Holladay 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.

Bob Jaeger

Bob JaegerA. 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, 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.

Sean Mitchell

Sean MitchellSince 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. Sean completed an undergraduate degree in Religious Studies and a Master of Arts in Practical Theology. 


Ismael Ruiz-Millan

Ismael-Ruiz-Millan.jpgIsmael A. Ruiz-Millan is originally from Sonora, Mexico. He is an ordained elder in the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, and his first pastorate was in 2004 at “Unidos por Cristo” in Grimesland, N.C. In 2010, he was appointed to serve the Brookland-Brooksdale United Methodist churches in Roxboro, N.C. (now New Brook UMC)   Since 2011, Ruiz-Millan has served as the director of the Hispanic House of Studies at Duke Divinity School. In his role at the Hispanic House of Studies, Ruiz-Millan has developed and taught courses on pastoral care to pastors and laypersons from Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru. He has taught at the Course of Study at Duke on missions and world Christianity focusing in Latin America. He has developed seminars, workshops, and learning opportunities on Cultural Humility and Leadership for pastors serving the United Methodist Church in North Carolina. He also directs different programs within Duke Divinity School that target students and non-Hispanic clergy and laity who are passionate and want to be in ministry with the Hispanic and Latino (H/L) population in the U.S.  Additionally, Ruiz-Millan serves in different boards including the North Carolina Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, the Board of Directors of the General Board of Global Ministries, the Executive Committee of the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino ministries, and the Executive Committee of the Hispanic Summer Program. He regularly leads educational, cultural, and language immersions to the Mexico-U.S. border and Guatemala.

Rev. Angela Pleasants

Rev. Angela PleasantsReverend Angela A. Pleasants serves as the district superintendent and chief missional strategist of the Catawba Valley District in the Western North Carolina Conference. She is a graduate of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Marketing. She completed her Masters of Divinity at Duke Divinity School. Reverend Pleasants has served various churches throughout the Western North Carolina Conference. She has also served on the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, where she chaired the Call and Discipline Committee; on the District Committee of Ordained Ministry; on the Board of Directors for the Western North Carolina Conference Foundation, and on Duke Divinity School Board of Visitors. In addition, she has served as delegate to general and jurisdictional conferences and as assistant secretary to the Annual Conference. Reverend Pleasants is also an active police chaplain trained in critical incident stress management and a full member of the International Conference of Police Chaplains.


Apex Family Worship BandThe Apex Family Worship Band is a collective of members of the Apex UMC Family of Faith Communities. All four campuses of the Family are represented: Apex UMC, The Peak Church, 519 Church, and Fiesta Cristiana. The band includes leaders of both contemporary and traditional worship, English and Spanish speakers, and ordained and lay persons. This band serves the Family of Faith Communities by providing music for particular worship expressions throughout the year, with band members rotating in and out in order to fit a particular expression. At the heart of the Apex Family Worship Band is the desire to embody the diversity of The Family through faithful worship music.  


"Halo Effect and Community Assets - Reimagining Your Role in the Community"

What is the larger impact of your church on the local community, and how can you tell that story in a way that attracts new funders and new partners for your outreach? This session will talk about the findings from Partners for Sacred Places’s study on the economic "halo effect" of churches in their towns or regions, how halo can be measured and strengthened, and how halo can be used to discern opportunities to increase outreach and serve the community in new ways.

Led by Bob Jaeger, Partners for Sacred Places

"Active Listening: Communicating for Positive Collaboration, Greater Clarity, & Diminished Conflict"

Active listening is an incredibly powerful tool as most people will not listen or contribute to productive problem solving until they feel understood. Active listening employs both the science and artful technique used in counseling and conflict resolution that requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond, and then remember what is being said. Active Listening is a healing art that cultivates greater clarity in understanding, fosters possibilities for positive collaboration with others, and can help diminish conflict.

Led by Rev. Chris Brady, Pastor at Wilson Temple UMC

"Cultural Humility and Extravagant Mutuality"

In the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, one finds a powerful description of Jesus’s ministry. In this workshop, we will explore the implications of this description as it relates to pastoral ministry. Specifically, we will reflect on questions around what is the right posture one should adopt as one engages in conversations with people from different cultures, ethnicities, and races.

Led by Ismael Ruiz-Millan, Director, Hispanic House of Studies at Duke Divinity

"Keeping Your Ministry On-track: Identifying and Reducing Pastor Derailment"

Leading a congregation is a challenging profession, yet often pastors in fruitful ministries get derailed from their work. The impacts on pastors, their families, the congregations, and the communities span a wide-spectrum. Based on research conducted in the North Carolina and Western North Carolina Conferences, early warning signs have been identified that may help prevent derailment. In this interactive session, you will learn about the research findings and explore ways to identify and prevent derailment for yourself and colleagues. This session promises to be enlightening, challenging, and rewarding.

Led by John L. Bennett, Queens University of Charlotte

"Storytelling and Stewardship: How Stories Form the Church Into Generous Stewards"

The telling of stories is one of the core practices for helping church members become faithful stewards. This workshop will teach why stories are invaluable to stewardship ministry and the ways to tell these stories throughout the life of the church community. 

Led by Sean Mitchell and Jim Holladay

"Civil Conversations"

This workshop will expand on topics discussed during the plenary sessions.

Led by Eddie Gonzalez


The application deadline has passed. Please check back in Spring 2019 to apply for 2019 Convocation on the Rural Church
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 2018 Convocation on the Rural Church?
  • We will be learning about of civil conversations, which seek “…to renew common life in a fractured and tender world.”  What would you like to learn about creating spaces of hospitality that help build relationships across differences?
  • Compose a brief prayer (a couple sentences will do) that would convey your God-given dreams for the church and community you serve.