"One of the greatest privileges of being a pastor is that we are invited into the personal lives of the people we serve at very private, often very intimate moments. Joining the family circle for births and deaths, weddings and funerals, anniversaries and other celebrations, means that we not only represent the church, but are ambassadors for Christ as well. Learning to cultivate that gift of 'presence' is essential to the practice of effective ministry."
- Rev. Dr. Richard J. (Skip) Shaffer Jr.
Over the years Skip Shaffer has developed an appreciation for small town and rural ministry and the special challenges and rewards those churches and communities offer. He likes church potlucks, loves the opportunity to ride in the cab of a combine, and knows what it is like to be in the top of the hay loft when it is 100 degrees in July. Each year he has the privilege of introducing a new group of students to the rural landscape, often leading a rural immersion group to the small towns and churches of the Midwest. When it comes to understanding the rural church, there is no substitute for being with the people we serve, whether it is over a cup of coffee, listening to their stories, or sharing their faith.
Dr. Shaffer graduated from seminary in the midst of the farm crisis of the 1980s and took his first call in a rural parish where financial stability was a constant struggle and where faith, life and work were inextricably intertwined. After serving churches in Vail, Iowa and Worthington, Minnesota, he was invited to take a position as Associate Dean and Assistant Professor of Ministry at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, where he taught courses in worship, ministry, and serving in the rural context. He was also Director of the Doctor of Ministry program, where he was able to help pastors develop projects designed to revitalize their own ministry settings. He was a part of the faculty team that designed the first accredited distance MDiv degree at a Presbyterian seminary and as Director of Distance Education oversaw the largest lay pastor education program in the PCUSA.
He currently serves as Senior Pastor and Head of Staff at the Oswego Presbyterian Church in Oswego, Illinois, and still teaches distance courses at the seminary in his spare time. When he is not engaged in ministry, Skip enjoys spending time with his family, working on his acreage, and finding new places to fish. He is ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Skip has also been involved in ministry to immigrants to the Midwest and the unique problems they face. One congregation he served became "home" to a community of over 100 recent émigrés from the Sudan and their children. In addition to helping them find suitable housing, the church hosted a food pantry, a clothing drive, and English lessons for adults, as well as a second worship service in the Nuer language, complete with drums, dancing, and a special Sunday School program.
"I decided to start Ruralpastors.org to serve as a resource for pastors and lay leaders in rural churches and small towns who were interested in bringing vitality and new life to their ministries and congregations. Too many people have the wrong idea that we are "caretakers" in our congregations and that rural churches lack the excitement and enthusiasm that leads to growth in other contexts. The truth is that while we can't change the dynamics impacting the demographics of our rural areas, we can control many of the dynamics within our worship, service, pastoral care, and other church activities. Rural churches can have vitality and excitement and many congregations are involved in life-changing ministries. This is a place where we can share those ideas and help one another to develop ministries that make a difference. We are here to celebrate the rural church and to bring glory to Jesus Christ in all that we do.
That is where I'm going and I hope you will go with me."
Yours in Christ,
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