Providing Scholarships for Rural Church Leaders

Rural churches can be a powerful force in creating more vibrant rural communities, especially when a strong and visionary minister is at the helm. To help prepare ministers for service in rural congregations, The Duke Endowment supports several clergy leadership programs at Duke Divinity School


Rural churches can play a key role in shaping the health and vibrancy of rural communities, but to do so, they must be led by a pastor who understands the dynamics of a rural community and the church’s place within it. Because rural communities are different from urban and suburban ones, pastors in rural churches often face challenges and issues that their urban colleagues do not. Preparing for ministry in a rural setting requires an understanding of theology, as well as economics and community dynamics.


James B. Duke once said that if he ever amounted to anything, it would be because of the preaching of rural church pastors. As part of Mr. Duke’s commitment to rural churches, The Duke Endowment helps train aspiring and practicing clergy for leadership in rural communities by providing scholarships to various programs at Duke Divinity School.

The longest-running of the Endowment-funded scholarships supports field placements in rural North Carolina churches for students pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree. The Endowment has funded field placement scholarships for the past 40 years. All divinity students must have at least two field placements during their three years of study. During their placements, students receive the equivalent of on-the-job training in a rural church, increasing their understanding of the “reality” of rural ministry. The churches and their pastors benefit from the presence of the students’ helping hands and willing minds.

The Endowment also provides scholarships for pastors in rural United Methodist churches in North Carolina to attend clergy leadership programs at Duke Divinity School:

  • Convocation and Pastors’ School, an annual three-day gathering featuring prayer, speakers and seminars, convened by the North Carolina and Western North Carolina Conferences of The United Methodist Church.
  • The Rural Convocation, an annual gathering that focuses on issues of rural church life.
  • Study Leave for Ministry Professionals, a week-long self-directed study experience on the Duke Divinity School campus.
  • Course of Study for Ordained Ministry, an alternative route to ordination for those not wishing to pursue a Master of Divinity degree. The Duke Endowment provides rural participants with scholarship assistance.
  • District events created by superintendents in both conferences.

Each program allows practicing pastors a chance to examine and strengthen their rural leadership skills and commitment while remaining engaged with their congregations.

Participating Sites in North Carolina

Duke Divinity School, Durham


Area of Work

  • Clergy leadership

Program Area

  • Rural Church

Grantmaking Status

The Endowment is continuing to work through current grantees and is not accepting new applications.

Areas of Work

  • Prevention and early intervention for at-risk children

    To equip children and families with skills to ensure that children reach developmental milestones to lead successful lives.

  • Out-of-home care for youth

    To drive child welfare systems toward greater accountability for child well-being.

  • Quality and safety of health care

    Improving the quality and safety of health care delivery

  • Access to health care

    Improving health by increasing access to comprehensive care

  • Prevention

    Expanding programs to promote health and prevent disease

  • Academic excellence

    Enhancing academic excellence through program and campus development

  • Educational access and success

    Increasing educational access and supporting a learning environment that promotes achievement

  • Campus and community engagement

    Promoting a culture of service, collaboration and engagement among schools and communities

  • Rural church development

    Building the infrastructure and capacity of United Methodist churches to enhance ministry and mission

  • Clergy leadership

    Strengthening United Methodist churches by improving the quality and effectiveness of church leadership

  • Congregational outreach

    Engaging United Methodist congregations in programs that serve their communities