Tag: rural ministry

Sparse numbers, strong faith in North Dakota

Sparse numbers, strong faith in North Dakota

Small, isolated congregations face challenges in the state with the nation’s fewest Churches of Christ.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

BISMARCK, N.D. — Talk about a Sunday commute.

For 15 years, Rod and Rosalyn Genrich drove 100 miles each way to worship with the Minot Church of Christ.

The Genriches, who farmed 1,900 acres of wheat in the small North Dakota community of Fessenden, made that trip three Sundays a month.

“The fourth Sunday, we tried to invite people from around the neighborhood, kind of like a house church,” said Rod Genrich, now retired and living in this state capital of 69,000 souls, where he serves as an elder of the Bismarck Church of Christ.

For members of Churches of Christ in North Dakota, long commutes to services are not unusual.

Bismarck member Bernice Gullickson, for example, owns a farm 55 miles away and has made the weekly drive since 1962.

“No big deal,” she said as she made her way into worship. “We’ve got good roads.”

This mostly rural state stretches 335 miles wide from Montana east to Minnesota and 211 miles high from South Dakota north to Canada.

Yet North Dakota has just seven Churches of Christ, the fewest of any state, according to a directory published by Nashville, Tenn.-based 21st Century Christian.

Read the full story.

This story appears in the October 2016 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Inside the ‘Duck Dynasty’ church

Inside the ‘Duck Dynasty’ church

For home congregation, Robertson family’s celebrity a blessing and a challenge.

First Place, Feature Article, Associated Church Press

Honorable mention (part of three-story portfolio), Magazine News Religion Reporting, Religion News Association

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

WEST MONROE, La. — Gasps of excitement wash over a crowded classroom at the White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ as Phil Robertson arrives for Sunday school.

Seventy pairs of stargazing eyes follow the bearded, camouflage-clad Duck Commander as he shakes hands with fans, thanking a couple from Canada for sending their ducks down south.

The reality television star carries a well-worn Bible, the thick binding held together with duct tape, as he takes his seat facing the audience.

“Y’all looking at me saying, ‘That’s about the raggedyest-looking Bible school teacher I’ve ever seen in my life,’” Robertson tells the class, a mix of yuppies in suits and shiny shoes and rednecks in faded jeans and mud-caked boots.

“God does not look at outward appearances, the clothes on your back,” the 67-year-old church elder adds as he opens his Bible to John 3:16 and begins sharing the Gospel.

“Duck Dynasty” — which set a reality TV record with nearly 12 million viewers of one episode last year — has made celebrities out of Robertson, his wife Kay, their four sons, their daughters-in-law, their grandchildren and even Phil’s quirky brother, “Uncle Si.”

All the Robertsons are longtime, active members of the White’s Ferry Road church, which meets just a few miles from the Duck Commander/Buck Commander warehouse in this northeast Louisiana town of 13,000.

Read the full story.

Related column: What will Phil say at the Tulsa Workshop?

This story appears in the April 2014 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Rich, in name and spirit, in rural Ohio


Rich, in name and spirit, in rural Ohio: Despite sacrifices, minister reaps a harvest of blessings with a 200-year-old congregation (reporting from Beallsville, Ohio). Page 1 lead. Third part of “Rural Redemption” series.

BEALLSVILLE, Ohio — Just after 9 a.m. on a recent Sunday, the well-worn tires on Jeff Rich’s 2003 minivan crunch over a gravel road full of twists, hills and narrow lanes.

Already up for hours, the Beallsville Church of Christ minister just finished leading worship for a half-dozen residents of the Monroe County Care Center.

“He’s wonderful,” said Gladys McDougal, 92, interviewed in her wheelchair. “I’ve never seen such a man.”

After leaving the nursing home, Rich stirs up a cloud of dust as he drives through farming and coal-mining country to pick up folks for the church’s regular assembly.

“Good morning, Paul!” the minister says as one man climbs into the van. “How’s your mother? Her knee doing any better today?”

For more than a dozen years, Rich has preached full time for this southeastern Ohio church — a 100-member congregation that meets in a large, red-brick building just off State Route 145.

It’s no cushy preaching job, by any means. But Rich treasures the peace and presence of God he has found in a part of rural America others might see as depressed or declining.

Delaware church inspired to feed hungry families (reporting from Wilmington, Del.) Page 1.

Baseball fan’s orange T-shirt is for the Birds (column from Baltimore). Inside Story.

National campus ministry group adopts new name (reporting from Newark, Del.). Second Front.

This post highlights my stories in the October 2013 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Rural Redemption: Iowa church refuses to die


Iowa church refuses to die: 156-year-old congregation epitomizes the challenges faced by many small, rural Churches of Christ (reporting from Montezuma, Iowa). Page 1 lead. First part of “Rural Redemption” series.

Third Place (with Erik Tryggestad and David Chenault), Theme Issue, Section or Series, Associated Church Press

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

MONTEZUMA, Iowa — Snow coats the ground as Pauline Ell arrives for Sunday worship on her 89th birthday.

A bitter wind brushes Ell’s curly hair as she steps out of her daughter’s car and into the little white church building where she has worshiped her entire life.

Corn and soybean fields and a cemetery where generations of deceased members rest in peace surround the West Liberty Church of Christ.

The 156-year-old farm church traces its roots to 1857 when settlers began meeting in a log house. Later, the congregation assembled in a renovated barn. In 1867, the church building that still stands was erected. The cost: $1,200.

For Ell, this Lord’s house where she grew up warming her hands by a wood-burning stove holds a lifetime of memories.

As a young girl, she often rode to services in a horse-drawn sleigh.

Out in the country, a little Texas church defies expectations (reporting from Greenwood, Texas). Inside Story.

50 years in one pulpit: The secret to Robert Oglesby’s longevity. Second Front.

Arkansas enacts new church gun law: Ministers, leaders discuss impact. Second Front.

Putting a focus on rural churches. Editorial.

This post highlights my stories in the April 2013 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Pass the syrup, but religion gets sticky in Vermont

Pass the syrup, but religion gets sticky: Faithful persevere in secular Vermont (reporting from Springfield, Vt.). Page 1 lead.

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. — Folks in the Green Mountain State like their economy syrupy sweet.

The rural, thickly forested New England state produces 39 percent of the United States’ maple syrup.

The state’s 626,000 residents are less sweet on religion: Vermont ranks as the nation’s most secular state, according to a 2012 Gallup poll.

Just 23 percent of Vermonters characterize themselves as “very religious,” while 58 percent say they are “nonreligious.”

“As soon as you say church, people here don’t want anything to do with it,” said Gabriel Nelson, a deacon for the Springfield Church of Christ in the state’s southeast corner. “They just have this impression that Christians are these Bible-thumping crazy people.”

In one of the bluest of the blue states, believers with a theologically conservative understanding of the Bible’s teachings face a challenge converting friends and neighbors.

Most Church of Christ members in the U.S. reside in a red state. National.

One church’s vote for Jesus: In shadow of nation’s capital, a growing congregation invokes a ‘politics-free zone’ (reporting from Laurel, Md.). Churches That Work.

Harding selects Bruce McLarty as next president. Second Front.

Ten heavenly interviews I’d love to snag. Inside Story.

2012: The year in quotes. Voices.

This post highlights my stories in the January 2013 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Faith, family and ducks: Behind the scenes of ‘Duck Dynasty’

Faith, family and ducks: For these reality TV stars, ‘holding hands with Hollywood’ presents a challenge as they endeavor to share Jesus (reporting from West Monroe, La.). Currents.

WEST MONROE, La. — Hollywood, meet the real Robertsons.

A&E’s hit reality series “Duck Dynasty” has made celebrities out of Duck Commander Phil Robertson, his wife Kay and their bearded, camo-clad sons Willie, Jase and Jeptha, not to mention “Uncle Si,” Phil’s younger brother.

As the network portrays it, the series — whose Season 1 finale drew 2.6 million viewers — follows a Louisiana bayou family living the American dream as they operate a thriving duck call and decoy business while staying true to their family values.

For the Robertsons, those values relate to the grace and salvation found in Jesus.

But for the show’s producers, the family’s strong Christian faith seems to be an uncomfortable storyline — one frequently chopped in the editing room.

“They pretty much cut out most of the spiritual things,” Phil Robertson, a one-time honky-tonk operator who gave up his heathen lifestyle in the 1970s, told The Christian Chronicle. “We say them, but they just don’t run them on the show.

“Hollywood has run upon the kingdom of God, and there’s a rub there,” said the Duck Commander, a tenacious personal evangelist who has brought hundreds of souls to new life in the Ouachita River. “Well, we have to be as harmless as a dove and as shrewd as a snake in the way we deal with them.”

‘Duck Dynasty’ trip conjures precious boyhood memories (reporting from West Monroe, La.). Inside Story.

For rural Louisiana church, prayer workshop an annual source of spiritual growth, strength (reporting from Calhoun, La.). National.

Kansas church plans resource center for released prisoners (reporting from Kansas City, Kan.). Second Front.

This post highlights my stories in the November 2012 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Healing a wounded town

Healing a wounded town: After a string of suicides, a minister helps bring answers to a small Oregon community (reporting from Alsea, Ore.). Second Front.

First Place, Feature Article, Associated Church Press

Finalist (part of three-story portfolio), Magazine News Religion Reporting, Religion News Association

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

ALSEA, Ore. – At the little white church off the two-lane blacktop, the front door stays unlocked all the time — just in case a passerby needs to use the restroom.

Through the windows of the Lobster Valley Church of Christ, a 40-member congregation started by pioneer loggers a century ago, minister Brian Leavitt can look out and spot deer, elk and an occasional bald eagle. Up the hill, sawmill and dairy workers rest in peace in a cemetery deeded to the church by a founding member.

“When I first moved here in the ’90s, we were still digging the graves by hand,” said Leavitt, 54, a retired U.S. deputy marshal. “It was kind of a time where you do a little decompressing and a little sharing.”

Leavitt, his wife, Chris, and their five children moved to this Oregon Coast Range community — 40 miles from the Pacific Ocean — about 15 years ago. They live on forestland dotted with colorful lilies and irises and frequented by black bears and cougars.

“It’s a pretty remote area, but it’s gorgeous,” said Leavitt, whose backyard overlooks a creek that runs into the Alsea River and serves as a swimming hole for salmon and steelhead.

Amid the beauty of wildflowers and wildlife, the ugliness of violent death gripped the tight-knit people of Alsea in 2009: Three suicides in three months shook the community.

A new babe in Christ — at 108 years old. Inside Story.

Not sheepless in Seattle (reporting from Seattle). Churches That Work.

The church’s role in suicide prevention. Editorial.