The Beautiful Challenge of Beloved Community

The Thriving Rural Communities (TRC) initiative works to foster thriving rural North Carolina communities by cultivating faithful rural Christian leadership and fruitful rural United Methodist congregations. Each year, TRC awards full merit-based scholarships (sponsored by The Duke Endowment) to Duke Divinity School students from the two United Methodist conferences in North Carolina. These Rural Ministry Fellows must exhibit the gifts, passion, and signs of a calling to exceptional ordained leadership in rural United Methodist churches in the state.

Duke Divinity School  is one of the 13 United Methodist seminaries supported by the Ministerial Education Fund apportionment of the United Methodist Church.

In just over a decade, Duke Divinity School has prepared nearly 60 Rural Ministry Fellows for ministry across the state of North Carolina. Here are just a few examples of the ways these gifted, passionate ministers are serving in rural churches and communities.

Laura Beach Byrch, M.Div. '11, Boone UMC
"Community is about being with one another through joys, messiness, challenges, and celebrations. It's about showing up, sharing meals, hearing one another's stories, and loving even when it's hard. This happens when people are connected enough to know what's going on with each other, and how each can contribute their gifts toward the flourishing of the whole community."


JASON VILLEGAS, M.Div. '13, Murfreesboro UMC
"I think that community is an attitude, the attitude of seeing one another as made in the imago dei, first and foremostWhen we see each other in this way, we can move toward each other—not in a way that says, 'Your distinctiveness and your sinful culture must die before we commune,' but in a way that says, 'I see you for who you are, distinct and different, made according to the likeness of the Trinity, and I will accept and love and live with and alongside you.'


Rebekah Shuford Ralph, M.Div. '14, Mitchell's Chapel UMC"Community runs deeper than just common characteristics or interests; it is a connection of hearts, minds, and souls. The community is more than where we live; it is also the people who surround us in our lives. Community is being in the dirt of life with people, seeing how they live, love, and survive in a fallen world and working together to make it a less broken place."


James Henderson, M.Div. '07, Sanford Circuit
"A community is all the various, ethnic, racial, social, and religious groups in the church context. A community is thriving if new people are coming and engaging the local churches."



Sara Beth Pannell, M.Div. '14, Pittsboro UMC
"I believe community is our calling and our identity as children of God. Scripture tells us that we are all created in God's image and, as people of faith who believe in the Triune God, community is the very nature of the One who created us. Just as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are in relationship with one another, we are created and called to be in relationship, too."

excerpt from an article from Duke Divinity website

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Ministerial Education Fund is at the heart of preparing people for making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The 13 United Methodist seminaries help students to discover their calling through the challenging curriculum. The fund enables the church to increase financial support for recruiting and educating ordained and diaconal ministers and to equip annual conferences to meet increased demands. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Ministerial Education Fund apportionment at 100 percent.