On a warm summer Friday, the Rev. Duncan Martin is alone in his quiet church office, putting the finishing touches on Sunday’s sermon.
His topic is Ephesians 1, about being adopted into the body of Christ. Martin wants to tell his listeners about God’s gift of grace — how God reaches out to people before they do anything to deserve it.
“The church is the place where people can come, with all of their baggage,” he writes. “… (It) is the place where we are expected to be broken because when we come to the church we find a God who doesn’t say, ‘Suck it up, it’ll all get better,’ or ‘Better luck next time.’ We find a God who says, ‘I love you! I love you!’”
Fresh out of divinity school, Martin, 25, now serves two rural United Methodist churches near Winston-Salem, N.C. At 9:30 every Sunday morning, he preaches at Oak Grove, where some 15 people meet in a converted house. At nearby Antioch, where he preaches at 11, about 80 members fill the pews.
For Martin, serving rural congregations was a welcome assignment. As a student at Duke Divinity School from 2006-2009, he became a Rural Ministry Fellow and followed a program of intensive study that prepared him for service. Martin worked for two summers at rural churches. He and his wife Meredith, also a Duke Divinity School graduate, spent a third summer learning Spanish in Guatemala and El Salvador.
“My father is a Methodist minister and I grew up in rural communities, so this is the sort of assignment I was always planning on getting,” he says. “The challenges are here, but so is the potential.”
Warm Welcome Helps to Ease Transition
Martin spent his first two weeks getting to know the members of his congregations and getting lost on winding country roads.
“I have lived in a college and university environment for the last seven years… so this is definitely a change,” he says. “I think it’s even a bigger change for my wife. It takes a while to become a part of a community, but we are learning that the people here are wonderful.”
As the Martins settle in — they’ve been married just two months — the two congregations have gone out of their way to welcome them. A pound cake with butterscotch icing waited on the kitchen table when the couple stepped inside their new home. On their first Sunday, Oak Grove hosted a breakfast, and Antioch surprised them with a wedding shower and lunch.
Before he left, Antioch’s former pastor left a few instructions to the church in his last newsletter.
“Soon you will welcome your new minister and his wife,” he wrote. “Moving and relocating to a new community can be difficult. Do all that you can to ease that burden for them. Give them your full support. Permit them the opportunity to minister to you. Love and encourage them. Be faithful in giving of your time, talent and treasure through your church. Remember, you will have the great privilege of helping a young minister fulfill his calling.”
Robert R. Webb III
Director of Rural Church