Air conditioning, SUVs and tract homes insulate people from the cycles of the seasons in the city and suburbs. There is a vague awareness of sport changeovers and the need to drive differently, but no longer is the course of life determined by the movement of life from one cycle to another. The All-Wheel-Drive system makes travel possible in both the oppressive heat of the summer and all but the most dangerous of blizzards. People become little masters of their little universes.
Life in a rural context is much more tightly bound to the turn of the seasons. If it is an agricultural area, the change of seasons signals a shift in ones labors. In other areas, the change may bring isolation due to an inability to travel safely or a lack of work altogether. The cyclical nature of life is not so easily avoided, even in the seat of a well-equipped pickup truck.
Ministering to people requires an understanding of these cycles and all that they bring. Some cycles will be downtime, a maintenance cycle in which church attendance will be regular and discipleship more readily engaged. Spring brings a flurry of activity and a measure of apprehension. Will conditions be favorable? Am I too early or too late? Once the final degree of this cycle has been counted, all hearts turn toward the harvest.
The success or the failure of one’s labors is measured in the final turn of the year. Excitement and apprehension once again make themselves the chief emotions. Many will be out of touch for weeks at a time as the fields are cleared and product shipped to market. One by one, people will sense a cycle of rest coming upon them. Life will slow and as the implements are stored, a fleeting thought will be given to next year.
If we can just make it to harvest…maybe next season will be better…
To minister to your rural parish is to operate within these mindsets. Hopeful but cautious and generally unwilling to look beyond the cycle’s objective, your congregants may not apprehend a long-range vision. In their minds they must make it to the ‘harvest’ before launching into the next season. The potential for conflict exists if the leader fails to consider this perspective in presenting and planning ministry that spans more than one cycle of life.