Rural Chaplains at the Center of Three General Conference Resolutions

By John Langenstein

There is no substitute in ministry for personal experience. From afar we can plan any number of initiatives and plans, but if we are not walking alongside the people we are serving, our ministry becomes less about collaboration and more about dictation. In The United Methodist Church we strive to see ministry addressed at all levels – from a single ministry in the local church to our general agencies.

One of the groups working to maintain our local impact and meet the needs of our neighbors is the Rural Chaplains Association. Deaconess Gayle Lesure, a rural chaplain working in Clarksburg, W.Va. sat with me after a long day of Legislative Committees to walk me through their work.

Deaconess Gayle Lesure

“We began…” Lesure said, “… in response to the Farm Crisis. Farms were being put out of business and the rising interest rates made it so they had to sell their lands at auction. There was a major rise in depression and the people called upon the Church to do something.” The result was a United Methodist initiative centered on ministry alongside rural communities. “We provided support and walked alongside them to make sure their needs were met.” Lesure emphasized the cooperative nature of this work. “We work with them, we do not come in and tell them what to do.”

The resolutions being brought forward this year address three things – the commitment of The United Methodist Church toward cooperative ministry, the continuing role of Church and Community Workers, and the reassertion of the need for Rural Chaplains. These are all presented by the Administrator of the Rural Chaplains Association, Judy Matheny – also of West Virginia.

Though beginning as a United Methodist ministry, the association has expanded to be broadly ecumenical. The ministry is not limited to any order within the church either – Clergy, laity, and missionaries across denominations are all involved in meeting the needs of rural folk wherever they are found. “The ministry is open to all who work to live in, lift up, and serve our community.

Rural Chaplains “Work to resource the local church and let them know they are not alone.” That ministry is rooted in our denomination’s connectional nature. As it has grown into an ecumenical network the power of the Rural Chaplains’ witness has only grown. As Lesure was happy to share, “We have traveled to Mexico, Canada, and to Russia!”

If you are interested in the work of Rural Chaplains, consider visiting their website The Rural Chaplains work locally alongside The United Methodist Appalachian Ministry Network to meet needs in the West Virginia Annual Conference and beyond.