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Embracing the power of welcome is the framework for learning and fellowship at the 2018 Convocation on the Rural Church held by Duke Divinity School and The Duke Endowment. Rural pastors from across North Carolina come together each year for convocation to discuss the most important issues facing our rural communities. 

EducationNC studies the adolescent experience of faith in North Carolina, and you can find us on Twitter at #2018ruralconvocation and also @EdNC_Faith. You can also text welcome to REACH (73224) to engage with us, and share a photo or story of what welcome means to you.

“Welcome is a way to begin to heal some of the fracturing that has happened,” says Robb Webb, Director of the Rural Church program area for The Duke Endowment. “And I believe churches play an important role for that in communities.”

Webb continues, “The other point about welcome is that it’s for all. What I want us to do is build relationships. Relationships that require love and truth and presence.”

Webb tells me of the work of John Paul Ledarach, a professor of international peacebuilding, and Ledarach’s suggestion — after working in Belfast and Columbia — that “you take someone you disagree with to coffee once a week for the rest of your life.” 

“Welcome is an opportunity to repent. It’s about a change of heart,” says Webb.

Webb knows and says out loud, “It’s not going to be easy.”

Reverend Ismael Ruiz-Millan, the Director of the Hispanic House of Studies at the Duke Divinity School, led the convocation in worship, sharing his own story, asking what makes you angry, and helping the convocation find a way to embrace the power of welcome.

Welcoming newcomers to the new rural America

Ben Winchester is a senior research fellow at the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality, and he helps communities think about how to rewrite the narrative about life in rural areas.

Winchester talks about the rural brain gain, finding that the highest percentage of newcomers to rural areas are ages 30-49, they look at between three and five communities in deciding where to move, and they typically are drawn to a characteristic of the region.

You are welcome to join us…

Today you can follow us on Twitter at #2018ruralconvocation. The Rev. Jen Bailey will be speaking on the power of radical hospitality in an age of rupture. 

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC and the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.