September 21, 2016
Rev. John Pinkston is a full-time licensed local pastor serving the Pike Country Larger Parish. He considers himself committed to rural life. He grew up in the Pleasant Hill UMC in the Heartland District. He went to Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Texas, and while there he was an associate pastor at a four-church parish.
“It works well when you have a parish mindset and a corporate identity,” he said.
When he came back to Missouri, he was appointed part-time to Wellington, and after a couple of years, Hardin was added to his charge, but he was still part-time. He was also substitute teaching about a day a week and filling in as the postmaster in Napoleon as needed.
He appreciates being full-time at the Pike County Larger Parish and respects the church supporting the position.
“When they step up to full-time, that also means they are providing benefits, which costs them a lot more than having someone part-time,” he said.
Pinkston feels very well cared for, saying he has a great parsonage, and even a secretary. “Having a secretary is wonderful,” he said.
Pinkston found when he arrived at the appointment, rather than having to start a lot of new things, he was able to join in things that were already ongoing. “That’s a wonderful way to start,” he said.
Leaders in the Mark Twain District who are passionate about ministry in rural Missouri have been working to develop a learning event open to all people in rural ministry (see box on page 17). Pinkston is joined by Rev. Andrew Coon and Mark Twain District Lay Leader Karen Shearer.
Rev. Andrew Coon finds a challenge of rural ministry to be that each town is so different and requires different strategies. In Green City, he’s been able to connect with a lot of people through the Community Betterment organization. In Milan, he serves a volunteer chaplain in the local hospital.
He said that one advantage of a multi-point charge is that when things are challenging in one church, having another church can be uplifting. “There’s always something good going on somewhere,” he said.
Coon hopes to see a movement of renewal take hold of the rural church in Missouri. “It sometimes hard for rural churches to know what to hope for,” he said. “Our churches need to dare to dream again.
Shearer has lived in a few places in rural communities, and has great respect for the rural church.
“These churches are the backbone of the community,” she said. “The people in church are the same people who are serving on the school board and in the PTA. There a lot of churches out there with fewer than 20 in attendance that are making a real difference in their communities.”
The organizers of the event hope to see participation from every district in the Conference.
On a Tuesday in early September, Pinkston gave The Missouri Methodists a tour of the three churches he serves. All are historic structures, spotlessly clean and well maintained. At each stop a few church members were there to offer a welcome.
But before going to the churches, Pinkston started his day meeting with other area clergy and church leaders for breakfast at Calvin’s in Eolia, a Tuesday ritual. “Is this free Tuesday?” one of the men asked Calvin, the owner who was also serving as the waiter that morning. “That’s one four-letter-word we don’t say here,” Calvin replied.
Most of the people around the table were Baptist. The Baptists and Methodists give each other a hard time.
“Frank honored me by making me chairman of his big revival, even though I’m a Methodist,” Greg Wyble said. “I learned that as chairman, I was the man in charge of hauling 600 chairs from HLG (Hannibal Lagrange College) to Eolia for the revival.”
Don Tucker, 69, lives nearly across the street from the Eolia UMC. He worked as a maintenance foreman at Hercules for 38 years. Although he’s lifelong resident, he’s a Red Sox fan.
“Ted Williams was my hero,” he said. “My wife is a Cardinals fan. We married in June of 1967 and almost divorced in October when the Red Sox played the Cardinals in the World Series.” The Cardinals won.
Tucker recalls there being 70 or 80 people in church 40 years ago.
“Now if we have 10 or 12 it’s a big crowd,” he said.
The church seats 110, and you can get in another 20 or 30 seated if you open up the back. There are four other churches in Eolia, a town of 522. There are five more within about a five minute drive. If you’re willing to drive 15 – 20 minutes, you can get to the bigger churches at Troy or Bowling Green.
Fran Grimes used to be a member of the local Presbyterian church, which was the home church of her grandmother. After her mother passed away, she decided to move her membership to the Methodist church. Now her granddaughter has been baptized at the Eolia United Methodist Church.
John Reed taught school in Iowa for 35 years. He grew up in Louisiana, Missouri, but the Eolia church is the home church of his wife, her mother and her grandmother. They moved back to Eolia 17 years ago. Reed said he hasn’t seen anyone leave the church, but he has seen several members die.
He doesn’t feel that he’s in a very good position for outreach.
“We were gone so long, I don’t know a lot of the people who live around here now,” he said. “And we live on a farm, so you don’t get to know many people in town.”
Giving a tour of the church, Reed recalls how they used to have garage sales in the church basement, raising up to $1,400.
“We should have sold the basement,” Tucker said, commenting how the damp basement is now more trouble than its worth.
Pinkston notes that he has an office down at the end of the hall.
“I go in there two or three times a year, looking for something,” he said.
Change doesn’t come easy. Reed grew up with the King James Version of the Bible and said passages of it brings tears to his eyes. The more modern translations don’t carry the same emotional impact.
“I understand that a modern Bible might be good for millennials, but I’m not sure it’s good for me,” he said.
Eolia used to always be open, but one night when Tucker came to see that the heat was on, he found people spending the night in the church. They got them set up with a hotel, and moved on down the road, but it was unsettling, and there are locks on the doors now.
When Greg Wyble’s grandfather started his farm in the late 1800s in rural Pike County, the Oak Grove Methodist Church had already been there about 50 years. When he married Wyble’s grandmother, she moved from Eolia Methodist Church to Oak Grove. Five generations later, Oak Grove is still the home church for the Wyble family. Greg’s father, Charlie Wyble, was baptized at Oak Grove when he was 10 years old. That was nearly 80 years ago, and Charlie’s still there.
Greg Wyble’s son farms with him. His family is fifth-generation farmers, on both sides. Wyble’s daughter is a flight nurse on a helicopter that gets emergency cases from the country to the appropriate hospital quicker than you could do it in the ambulance. In her spare time she rides her horse in barrel races.
Wyble isn’t a pew sitter. Not only does he support his home church, he carries ministry outside of the church walls and behind much higher walls, into prison. He participates in a program at the prison every Monday night, a different program on the second Saturday of the month, and a three day event two to four times a year.
He has enjoyed getting to know prisoners. Many are from the urban core, had abusive upbringings and started their lives of crime when they were still children. In some cases being institutionalized hardened, rather than reformed, them.
It’s a different life than Wyble has experienced. He doesn’t try to hide that difference, and he refers to people he’s met in prison as his friends.
“One guy would always heckle me about being a hick – a plowboy in a plaid shirt,” Wyble said. “Now that he’s finally out, he’s sharing his Christian witness with motorcycle gangs in St. Louis.”
Wyble has brought 25 people to prison ministry with him. They weren’t from within the church. Some weren’t even Christian.
“I’ve been joined by four Muslims, and an atheist,” Wyble said of his ministry. Wyble has now been in ministry in prisons all over Northeast and Central Missouri. “There’s a unique type of people that do this,” he said. “They are spirt filled.”
Oak Grove averages about 23 in attendance, which means any Sunday might be as little as 12 or as much as 40. Farms used to be 40 to 60 acres, now 1,000 acres is more common, making farmers a much smaller part of the population. Pinkston said one person in the area farms 3,500 acres. The overall population may not be decreasing, but there are fewer people in the immediate vicinity of many open country churches.
Maxine Finnerty is a member who volunteers at the Hope Center, the food pantry in Bowling Green. She said when someone new moves into the area, she tries to make it a point to invite them to church, but they are often looking for a bigger church with a well-developed youth program.
Oak Grove gets water from a cistern – an underground tank that holds rainwater captured from the roof. Many in the church grew up drinking water from a cistern, but the church now considers that water to not be safe for drinking and just use it for other purposes.
An addition was built onto the church in 1957. There are no locks on the door. Recently someone stole a couple of small speakers and a microwave.
Oak Grove does have several children in its congregation. The Christmas program is a big event at the church as is the egg hunt they have on Easter Sunday.
When Bowling Green has its Heritage Days in the fall, celebrating the town’s favorite son, Champ Clark, the Bowling Green UMC provides pancakes that morning, for free, to about 300 people. They also serve a couple of pieces of sausage on the side, which they purchase from Woods, the local butcher shop.
“We like to keep it local,” said member Tom Owens, one of the men who cooks for the pancake breakfast.
Christ Page moved to Bowling Green 16 years ago to help care for her husband’s aging mother. They thought the move would be a temporary one, and they kept their house in Sacramento, California. After a few years, they decided to say good bye to California and make Bowling Green home.
“This town is the best kept secret in the US,” Page said. “People here care about each other.”
Page still doesn’t care for the Missouri winters, so she and her husband go to Texas. But they still financially support the Bowling Green church when they are gone in the winter.
“I want the church to be here when I come back in the spring,” she said.
“Before Mike, the church was becoming insular. The more members we lost, the more we drew tighter together, becoming very self-focused.”
Page said outreach efforts, like the pancake breakfast, have been effective. Many new people are connected to the church. The average attendance, although improved, hasn’t boomed, though. Most of the new people come sporadically, not every Sunday.
“We have different families every Sunday,” Page said.
When Jeffrey Shaw was in business school at the University of Missouri – Columbia, he went to Missouri UMC. When he was in law school at St. Louis University, he went to Manchester UMC. Shaw’s sister, Andrea, lives in the Kansas City area and goes to Platte Woods UMC (see story about developments at Platte Woods on page 10). But when Shaw completed law school, he went back to Bowling Green and opened his own law practice.
“I enjoyed participating in different church environments, but I always planned on coming back to Bowling Green,” he said. “I like the peaceful, small town environment.”
Shaw said he feels the church is blessed to be a growing small town.
“We have a lot a business and services here that are ready to support a larger population,” Shaw said.
When Earnestine Grimmet was growing up, her father was Baptist and her mother was Methodist, and she alternated between the two churches every other Sunday.
Her home church, Wesley UMC, a historically African-American church in Bowling Green, recently closed. She had already worked with Bowling Green UMC on various projects, so moving her membership to there came naturally.
Owens, a former Catholic, has now been part of the Methodist Church in Bowling Green for a longtime. He said when he first started going there, the hardest thing for him to get used to was the pastor changing every couple of years. Appointments have been longer recently, and he thinks that is a good thing.
Methodists aren’t the only ones who change pastors. Even though Pinkston is only going on his third year, he is already nearly the most senior pastor in town.
Bowling Green just received a new member who is 96 years old. He’s an active member.
“If we have something going on, he’ll be here,” Pinkston said.
When it comes to outreach, Pinkston has tried advertising in the local newspaper, but he currently is finding the church’s Facebook page and the big, digital sign out front, to be the two best ways to promote events to the community.
He also tries to be plugged into the community personally. He’s active with the Rotary Club, Lions Club, Every Child Every Day, Hope Center and Ministerial Alliance.
Oak Grove hosted a parish ice cream social on September 11, and used the event to promote an intergenerational confirmation class that started the following Sunday at Bowling Green. The first Sunday in December there will be a parish confirmation service at Bowling Green.
This story was the first in a four-part series leading up the Rural Ministry event in February.
A Path Forward
February 18, 2017 | RURAL MINISTRY
Registration opens at 8 a.m. and opening worship is at 9 a.m. The keynote speaker for the day is the Rev. Dr. Carl Ellis. He is the founder of the Lay Academy for Rural Church Ministries