Rural Curiosity: The Stories We Tell

There's more diversity in rural communities than you might think.

Picnic table closeup.

“Rural people are so…”  

I have started to pay more and more attention to the stories we tell and I hear.  Sometimes they hit the bullseye and make me laugh, cry, or turn around in repentance.  Sometimes they miss the mark. 

Let’s grow more curious  

I invite you to pay attention and become curious about the stories we tell others about our lives and communities regardless of where you live. As someone who has spent much of my life in rural communities and congregations, I have become curious about the stories that people tell about rural communities and people in particular. For example, I notice how easy it is to limit the word “rural” to the part of the state or country I live in. 

Rural diversity 

Rural people come in many kinds. Some grow crops of all kinds, but others log, ranch, raise animals, work in education, medical facilities, or in smaller factories. Rural people live in small towns and the open country across the south, west, north and east. Many of our global neighbors are rural people as well. 

I invite you to become curious about rural communities and people. Rural people and communities are more complex, gifted, challenged and innovative than many folks imagine. Their political and religious views also take many forms, too. 

Finding more storytellers 

A few months ago, I discovered an online news source focused on rural life across the country called the Daily Yonder. I signed up for their email list and have listened to their podcasts and read multiple articles over the past few months. Their stories tell about the breadth, diversity and depth of rural people and rural life across this country.  I have been intrigued by the stories that they tell that I have been missing in normal media channels.   

Here are a few of the topics I have learned about that might make you curious about what is changing for the better or the worse in the diverse lives of rural people and their communities.

  • The assets rural communities have: because so often the stories we tell and hear focus on rural communities’ deficits.    
  • The increasing diversity of rural communities: One of the stereotypes of rural communities is that we are all the same. I would love to take you all to the communities where I used to serve in Southwestern Minnesota to see and meet people who have come from all parts of this country and God’s world. What a gift our many new neighbors are. 
  • Allen Stanton’s Reclaiming Rural is a new book that challenges the stories we tell, points out opportunities, and names the callings of rural congregations and pastors. 

Your turn 

Pay attention to and think more deeply about the stories you tell and hear.   

Whenever those stories assume everyone is the same in some place or group, be sure to notice your spidey-sense kicking in.  If you can think of a story that challenges the stories we too often tell, please share it. And remember urban and suburban communities’ realities and stories are not all uniform either.

Finally, what journals or news sources do you find helpful in understanding rural life and ministry?

  • Jon Anderson

    Pastor Jon Anderson serves as Director of Rural Ministry at Luther Seminary. He recently completed eighteen years of service as bishop in the Southwestern Minnesota Synod of the ELCA.

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