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Book Study: Reclaiming Rural: Building Thriving Rural Congregations – EMMAUS, Spring 2023

Program Description

Join us for a book study and conversation that moves us, as author Allen Stanten writes, to RECLAIM the gifts of God’s presence and partnership in rural areas where many have boughten the narrative there is only decay and decline. Join us online where we will not only learn from our reading, but also from one another as we rediscover that rural ministry is far more diverse and open for opportunity for revitalization. Participants will explore alternative narratives for rural congregations, various indicators of thriving rural churches, and refocus on necessary theology and practices needed in order to RECLAIM the future God brings.

There will be 4 sessions:

  • #1 (April 20): Introduction and Chapter 1 “Reclaiming the Narrative”
  • #2 (April 27): Chapters 2 & 3 “Reclaiming Vitality and Evangelism”
  • #3 (May 4) Chapters 4 & 5 “Reclaiming Our Theological Goals and Practice”
  • #4 (May 11) Chapter 6 and Closing Discussion “Reclaiming a Future”

Please read the assigned chapters prior to session.

Quote from Participant

“Members of our congregation gathered weekly for the Reclaiming Rural class. Not only did this provide fellowship and shared learning for us, we were able to hear from other congregations around the state that are facing similar challenges. As the author frequently reminded us, if you have seen ONE rural community, you’ve seen ONE rural community. It was eye-opening to hear how each community has their particular gifts and strengths. This helped us lift up some of our assets like our many multi-generational families, our building, and location. We are beginning to see more clearly how we are a trusted institution in the community. AND how we leverage this position to be agents of reconciliation, hope, and transformation. As one member put it, “this isn’t just about being a healthy church, it’s about being a healthy community.” I would add it’s about bringing the kingdom of God near to Newman Grove. I can’t recommend this class enough as a way to start or continue these big question conversations about our ministry together.”  -Deacon Claire Meyer, Trinity Lutheran Church Newman Grove.


From camp counselor to 3rd grade teacher to youth minister to pastor, Rev. Dr. Sarah Cordray has served as an associate pastor in Aitkin, MN (2005-2009) and as head of staff for a rural four-point parish in the panhandle of Nebraska (2009-2014). She is currently serving as the Senior Pastor at Luther Memorial Church in Syracuse where she has been since early 2014. All these calls have given opportunity to Pastor Sarah to discover her passion and unique vocation within her call: to be God’s agent in accompanying individual leaders and congregations to [re]discover their identity and purpose in relationship to God, community, and self while becoming revitalized through Christ. Sarah is also an ELCA Level 2 Certified Coach-Mission Development and Congregation Vitality.

Along with the joy of this call, Sarah gives thanks to God for the best gifts of her life: her husband Nick and their two children, Nathanial and Samantha.

Class Details

Format: Online via ZOOM

Date: Thursdays, April 20, 27, May 4, 11, 2023, 7:00-8:00 Central/6:00-7:00 Mountain

Target Audience: Lay and rostered leaders are welcome. Congregations are encouraged to participate with pastoral leader (pastor, deacon, PMA) and at least one lay leader. Having a partner will help integrate the learning and provide support for sharing with the congregation.

Cost: Course fee is $20/person. Register 3 and bring as many as you would like to a group watch party.

  • Students need to purchase their own copy of “Reclaiming Rural: Building Thriving Rural Congregations” by Allen T. Stanton
  • Purchase at AmazonBarnes & Noble,

Registration deadline is April 17. No refunds after April 17, 2023

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