Rural Churches Grapple with a Pastor Exodus
David Bowman for TIME
rural pastors are disappearing even faster than the general population, leaving graying congregations helpless in their time of greatest need. Trace Haythorn, president of the nonprofit Fund for Theological Education (FTE), says fewer than half the rural churches in the U.S. have a full-time seminary-trained pastor; in parts of the Midwest, the figure drops to 1 in 5. "It's a religious crisis, for sure," says Daniel Wolpert, pastor of First Presbyterian in Crookston, Minn., and a partner with the FTE, which supports young ministers and religious teachers. "And to the extent that these churches are anchoring institutions, it's a crisis of community." The sign for one lovely wood-framed church in nearby Buxton, N.D., says it all: GRUE LUTHERAN CHURCH. FOUNDED SINCE 1879. PASTOR--and then a blank where a name should be.
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