The Duke Endowment and the United Methodist Church have deep roots in North Carolina’s rural communities and understand the importance that churches can play in ensuring the vitality of these communities. To strengthen rural churches, the Endowment, the North Carolina Conference and the Western North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church, and Duke Divinity School developed the Thriving Rural Communities Initiative in 2006. To date, we have invested $10.4 million over 15 years in helping rural pastors take the lead in creating more viable communities.
Thriving Rural Communities focuses on leadership development — both in preparing clergy for service in rural churches and in strengthening the churches for community leadership roles. The initiative builds stronger leaders through:
Rural Ministry Fellowships
The Rural Ministry Fellows program selects seven students each year from Duke Divinity School, including at least one student pastor (who serves a rural church while attending divinity school). The Fellows participate in intensive study and two rural field placements that will prepare them for service in North Carolina’s rural churches. Rural Fellows are provided full scholarships for their campus studies and stipends for field placements. In exchange, they agree to serve in a rural North Carolina church for at least five years after graduation.
Rural Fellows are also matched with mentors from model rural churches. Fellows do everything their mentors do: visit the sick and elderly, lead youth group programs, preach, help organize and lead service projects, lead Bible study and more. They also work with their mentors to assess their own strengths and challenges and regularly reflect on their experiences and their vocation. Beginning in 2012, two Rural Ministry Fellows also receive scholarships to attend the Duke Divinity School Summer Institute on Reconciliation and the Rural Economic Development Institute of the North Carolina Rural Center.
Licensed Local Pastors
Individuals who wish to become pastors to United Methodist congregations without attaining a Divinity degree can gain alternative certification as a Licensed Local Pastor through the Standard Course of Study for Ordained Ministry. The Duke Endowment supports this alternative path to church and community leadership by identifying promising groups of Licensed Local Pastors attending the summer Course of Study at Duke Divinity School and gathering them twice a year for additional continuing education and leadership development.
The Duke Endowment works closely with three other stakeholder institutions in the Thriving Rural Communities Initiative: Duke Divinity School, the North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church and the Western North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church. The partners collaborate to discuss strategic approaches to their common goals and to envision, plan and implement new ideas.