Telling our stories : people in a rural community uncovering spiritual strength.


Jean Blackie

Date of Award


Document Type



Drew Theological School

Degree Name

Doctor of Ministry


An ethnographic ministry research project was undertaken in the rural Damascus United Methodist Parish in Damascus, Pennsylvania to learn firsthand from long time residents in a rural faith community what the aspects of rural living were that helped them grow in spiritual strength, how this growth might happen and the ways their spiritual strengths help them and the community grow in wellness and Christian ministry. The project was conducted as a partnership among myself, the pastor, an Advisory Team recruited from the congregation and community, congregants and community members, and the Drew Theological School Doctor of Ministry Program. Joy from living amid the beauty of the natural world in a rural setting as well as a sense of being an integral part of the natural order of birth, family and community, death and resurrection among the human community, the animal world and the seasonal rhythms of rural life are sources of spiritual strength. Pride in being able to give of one's self to support the well-being of family and community during tough times, the trust engendered when people live interdependently and each person's work is valued, and the strong sense of responsibility that comes from a life of hard work lived simply with honesty and generosity, added to the spiritual richness and faith of the project participants, giving them assurance that no matter what came their way, God would remain a nurturing presence and life would be good. The church can be a gateway to the larger world as well as a local source of great comfort during times of sorrow and grief. Participants said they appreciated the community building aspects of the church and found more interest in outreach ministries through the telling of their rural life stories. Building on the theological ideas of listening to one another to encourage and build spiritual strength, the project afforded an opportunity for the Damascus United Methodist faith community partners to grow in wellness by affirming their spiritual strengths born out of their experiences in rural living.