Peace Lutheran Church Natoma, Kansas
As a Synod, we are divided into 35 Districts, and as a District, we are then divided into circuits. A circuit is much like the District in that it is a collection of LCMS congregations, just in a smaller geographical area. Today, the Kansas District consists of 16 circuits. Currently our circuit consists of congregations in Hays, Plainville, Natoma, Sylvan Grove, Downs, Hunter, Lincoln, Westfall, Ellsworth, and North Ellsworth.
Each month, I and the other pastors of our circuit gather together to worship, study and discuss common issues that we face. On occasion, we have meetings of not just the pastors, but of the congregations as well, in order that we might worship, study, and conduct business.
One of the common issues that we face and discuss on a regular basis is the matter of being in congregations that are classified as rural or small town. This issue is gaining a lot of traction both here in Kansas and at the Synodical level, thanks in no small part to our circuit and to Pastor Bonine of Zion Lutheran, Downs.
Did you know that based on the generally accepted definition of a population of 15,000 and less, every congregation in our circuit qualifies as rural or small town? (Hays is borderline based on whether or not you count the college students). In fact, over half of the congregations in the LCMS today can be classified as being located in rural or small towns.
Needless to say, many of these congregations located in rural and small towns, including some of those in our own circuit, are facing many of the same challenges. Many of these challenges begin with population. The number of people living in an area is just not what it once was. This decrease in people leads to other challenges in terms of who is going to do some of the jobs that need to be done? Who is going to carry on the traditions and celebrations that have been passed on for generations? Who is going to carry on the faith once we are gone? In some cases, the lack of money is a very large issue, in others it is not an issue at all. The question of a future existence looms very large on the hearts and minds of many of these congregations.
Today, there is a renewed emphasis in the Synod to look at rural and small town congregations and figure out what the future looks like for them. Some ideas are simple, such as just going out and inviting people to come to church. Many congregations are finding whole new mission fields available to them based on changing demographics. Other ideas are not so simple, such as congregations sharing ministries or sharing a pastor that they have supported by themselves for years.
Not every idea is going to work everywhere. Some things that work well in towns of 15,000 are not going to work well in towns of less than 5,000, let alone towns of less than 500.
On one hand, we face some very unique challenges, both as a circuit and as a congregation here in Natoma; but, other challenges we face together with all of Synod. For just because we are located in a small town and other congregations are in much larger settings, does not make the Word and the Sacraments any less valid, or the work that we do any less important. The proclamation of the Gospel will continue here and in other places very much like it and in others very much unlike this one. And for that work, both here and abroad, the Prayers of the Church continue to be offered.
As a part of the Synod’s efforts to explore the needs and resources of rural and small town churches, there will be a conference November 1-3, 2012 in Storm Lake, Iowa. I am planning to attend, and if you would be interested in attending as well, please speak to me as soon as possible. Not only do our voices need to be heard, but right now the Synod is listening.
God Bless! Pastor Schmidt