Sensitivity training planned for rural ministers

A pastor’s uncomfortable experience of having in his congregation both a farmer in debt and the person holding the mortgage led to an idea.

Cam Harder, now a theology professor at the Lutheran church college at the University of Saskatchewan, is turning that experience into a positive by pushing to develop a Rural Ministry Institute on campus.

He has recruited his church’s seminary as well as the United Church and Anglican colleges on the U of S campus.

The institute would help clergy develop a sensitivity about rural culture, acquire skills to support community development and learn how to work with other rural professionals such as health workers.

Harder said the wave of farm bankruptcies in the 1980s caused pain for farmers.

“They thought the loss of the farm was a reduction in their personal worth.”

As a result, farmers would hide their economic difficulties and not get help, which sped the demise of their farms.

“It was quite a common experience for rural pastors. Some did not realize the hiding was going on until they saw an auction notice go up and the family left town.”

Harder said the institute intends to move beyond the individual farmgate defence that was tried two decades ago. The focus today would be wider.

“We want to help catalyze communities to talk about their future and talk about their deep wealth.”

Harder said rural communities have a more difficult time than cities making changes. Rural reality means fewer people who often assume several roles and who care about what others think of them. That means they tend not to stick their necks out.

“You have to build confidence in their ability to do actions.”

Harder said even though most of the 60 theological students who graduate each year from the three U of S colleges are from urban backgrounds, for most of them their first posting is to a rural church.

“We’re trying to get away from one, two, three year placements. People must build trust and relationships (to help their community) and to do that effectively takes five to 10 years.”

The church is often the only institution left in a rural district that values people as social beings and not just for their economic contributions. That’s why Harder thinks the church should be participating in the rebuilding effort.

“Essentially much of rural Canada is undeveloping.”

Harder is talking to two foundations about funding the rural institute and hopes it can start this fall with a co-ordinator. Later the institute could offer courses in rural culture and hold conferences.

For more information, contact Harder at 306-966-7867 or e-mail crharder@sasktel.net.

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