Saturday, January 10, 2009

Workshop and Wine

Today's Rural Ministry Conference provided a number of quotable quotes from the various pastors and lay leaders who had gathered together to talk about what's working in rural ministry today. Since I have an abject love for pithy quotes, I'm going to share some of these with you now.

“Focus not on what's breaking down, but on what's breaking through.”

“If you want to never know what you'll be doing from day to day, be a rural minister.” 

- Rev. Don Hunzeker

“It all hinges on the school.”

“The best ministry happens in combines, cafes, and bars.”

- Rev. Steven Peeler

“Wind is good for the crops. It makes the stalks strong. Adversity is good for people. It makes their foundations strong.”

“Rural pastors are called by a congregation, but they serve a community.”

What I'm learning is that rural ministry is inextricably linked to the life of the community in which it happens. Never before have I heard a ministry of presence be so highly emphasized as I have here. It's so important for pastors to be seen at the places where the people regularly go. To simply be seen provides such a strong foundation for good ministry.

After the workshop I was going crazy from sitting down all day. Betty convinced Gary to take me to his gym to work out. I was so happy to finally get some exercise. I did free weights while Gary watched Bonanza on the treadmill. Then, after a dinner of upside-down pizza, Betty and Gary taught Mary and I to play a game called “3 to 13”. We played cards, told stories, and drank wine all night long – a wonderful evening. Betty kicked our butts in cards, but I still managed to tie Gary for a very respectable second place.


Keep asking God to lead me, as I search inside of me. Try to see where I should be to carry out my ministry. Should I keep my feet on streets with shooting sprees, lack of trees, not to mention corrupt policies? Or am I called to a different street where those I meet are judged by hospitality and attendance at wrestling meets?

Am I called to be a rural minister?

Ministry's the same on any street. No matter who you meet they're searching or identity and meaning. What identity will I empower? Which mission will I preach? What challenge will I face and aim to beat? What street calls my feet? What street calls you?

Friday, January 09, 2009

Snow and Ice - TWICE!

Hastings, NE

We weathered two ice and snow storms to get here, but we finally made it. I am currently sitting in a very comfortable leather armchair in the home of Gary and Betty Aadland chatting about various things and trying to focus my very tired brain. 

This morning started with a bit of a scare. I woke up at 7:15. Remember how I was supposed to leave at 7??? I slept through my alarm! All three of them!!! I quickly called Kelli and was relieved to hear they hadn't left yet. I pulled on some clothes, grabbed my bags (thank goodness they were packed!), and ran out the door. It was snowing in Chicago. Hard. We made it through the horrible traffic on 55th st. (Thanks Chaks) and got to the airport only to find that the airport was closed and all flights were on hold until the skies cleared up a bit! So we got checked in and just relaxed. Eventually the skies cleared up and we made it to Omaha, albeit a little sleepy.

Pastor Gretchen from Emmerson, NE and Pastor Barbara from McCool Junction, NE met us at the airport and shuttled the lot of us from Omaha to Lincoln for an enormous lunch at Lazlo's. After some locally brewed beer and much deliciousness, we got to talking about Cow Pies. Naturally. We first tricked the non-Nebraskans in our group that cow pies were truly delicious affairs, bursting with fudge and nuts. After some good laughs we explained the fecal truth behind our little joke, but not before Kelli had worked up an appetite. So she absolutely had to get a Mud Pie for dessert, which of course is the next best thing if you're fresh out of Cow Pies. We ordered some cobbler and a slice of cheesecake to go with it and all eight of us shared dessert together.

From the restaurant we moved on for a quick pass through the state capital building. We admired the beautiful ceilings and rode the elevators up to the 14th floor to look out of the observation deck. Then on to Hastings! 


Not 15 minutes out of Lincoln we started to hit precipitation. Before we knew it we were in the thick of a harsh snow, ice, and wind storm. Visibility was low and the roads were slick. I saw a van in the ditch with the windows cracked and the ceiling crumpled from having rolled there. I saw another truck on the side of the road with its entire front end destroyed. Pastor Barbara was a fantastic driver though, and managed to keep us on the road all the way to Hastings. Once we got to Hastings, however, we managed to hit a slick spot and go spinning 180 degrees into the ditch. Luckily the only thing that was compromised was our collective adrenaline level. 

Finally we made it to the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, where Pastor Steven Peeler greeted us along with more than a dozen members of the community. We shared a truly Nebraskan supper of Runza's, Eileen's cookies, and coffee. I also met my host family for the week, Gary and Betty. They brought Mary and I to their beautiful home and served us a sensational pudding desert and even more coffee! It's a good thing I'm drinking decaf, otherwise I would be so jittery I wouldn't even be able to operate a keyboard!


This prayer struck me today. This is exactly what we're talking about when we talk about revitalizing rural ministry. It is taking the weak and the poor and the small and transforming them into a strong source of love and the mission of Christ.

LORD, make me an instrument of Thy peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

-Prayer of St. Francis of Assissi (posted in the Nebraska State Capital)

Thursday, January 08, 2009


G'day blog readers! The Rural Ministry Immersion trip of 2009 is about to begin! This year I get to be the one to tell its story (via the internet anyway), so I suppose I should probably introduce myself. 

My name is Rory Phillips. I was born in McCook, Nebraska and was raised in Omaha. I went to college in Fort Worth, Texas at Texas Christian University and got a degree in religion with a minor in Spanish. I've traveled to China, Tibet, Canada, Tonga, Australia, lived in New Zealand, and spent time on coffee cooperatives in Nicaragua. Last year I was in the Lutheran Volunteer Corps and lived a simple life on the north side of Chicago, serving an urban congregation as the youth director. Now I'm a junior seminarian at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, looking to become a pastor. Traveling is in my blood, and I'm excited to do a bit of it back in my home state of Nebraska.

These past two days we've been in class here in Chicago preparing ourselves for this trip through reading, discussion, and eating. (Have to build up a nice layer of fat to keep us warm in the Nebraska winter!) We've talked about the realities of livestock production, farming, water rights, and diesel engines. We've discussed the finer points of rural culture (like how everybody knows everybody and it sometimes feels like a fishbowl). We've breezed through Nebraska's geography, history, and sociological landscape. We've hammered out the logistics and we are ready to go! I for one am ready to get out of the classroom and into the fields. 

Peter Vethanayagamony (10 points if you can pronounce his name on the first try) and Kelli Wilder discussing our final project in class.

Now I just hope I wake up in time for our 7am start... history tells me that's going to be mighty difficult tomorrow morning.

A Different View of Home

January 7th, 2009 - Chicago, IL

Nebraska. Home. It's odd going back to a place I just left, knowing that while I'm there I won't see any of the people or visit any of the places that I'm accustomed to. I won't see my friends in Omaha, or my dad in Elkhorn, or my family in Fremont and Trenton. This will be a very curious trip. Everything will be familiar and yet new at the same time. It's like exploring a new part of myself.

Of course, this is part of the reason why I chose to go on this travel seminar. I know that it will take me to new places, introduce me to new people, and give me a different perspective on something I already assume that I know. The other half of why I'm going is because the Nebraska Synod, in all its wisdom and generosity, is providing travel, lodging and food for the next 10 days. Excellent. When you have lived on $100 a month you learn to take advantage of opportunities like these.