When Cedar Grove’s sanctuary was destroyed by an accidental fire six years ago, things might have fallen apart. Instead, the congregation rallied to build a new home. A $2 million building, which opened in late 2005, has been paid for through the generosity of the congregation, community and The Duke Endowment.

Photo courtesy Cedar Grove UMC
Cedar Grove UMC was re-built in 2005
after a fire.

Worship attendance, which has doubled to 100 in recent years, is another sign that Cedar Grove is thriving. “The growth reflects how unique and evolving ministries serve as a source of further inspiration,” says Hackney. Cedar Grove hopes to begin offering  bilingual services, which will help reach a growing Spanish-speaking population, and is planning a mission to Haiti.

Showing what’s possible

Roughly 130 miles to the west, just outside the small town of Newton in Cabarrus County, is another Thriving Rural Communities model: Friendship United Methodist Church. While this area northeast of Charlotte is struggling to transform itself after the decline of the textile and furniture industries, the church and its ministries are flourishing.

The Rev. Brad Thie D’98, who came to Newton in 2005, says average worship attendance has been steady at more than 200. Half the congregation has completed Disciple Bible Study classes. Some 100 church members have completed Walk to Emmaus, a three-day spiritual retreat designed to deepen stewardship. Adults and youth have taken mission trips to Costa Rica.

Friendship UMC in Newton, northeast of Charlotte

Friendship, which dates to 1881, was cited by Catawba County United Way for its support of a shelter for battered women. United Methodist Women at the church have made youth and senior citizens their priority. Six lay ministry teams provide practical and spiritual care for the homebound, chronically ill and others in need.

In recent years, Thie says, the church’s focus on helping neighbors has emboldened members to live their faith with more conviction every day.

Thie credits long pastorates with providing continuity—the three Friendship pastors before him stayed 10, six and 17 years, respectively. He himself describes a deep calling to serve in rural communities, where a single church can have a great impact.

Thriving Rural Communities has fueled the congregation’s enthusiasm, he says, and validated that “in serving one another and the community, we are serving God.”

That’s the kind of reaction the program wants to generate. Troxler says he’d love to hear more stories about small congregations thinking big, and about ministers who choose to stay with them.

“We want to overcome the sense that the rural church is nothing more than a ‘training ground’ for ministry,” he says. “The goal is to hold up the gifts that are here and show what’s possible.”  

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