Since COVID-19 shut down business as usual, many people have shifted to working from home. This was already the case for some at least part of the week. In the days before COVID, however, their children were at school during those hours. With so many schools going virtual at least part time, working from home remains a struggle for families.
Many of these telecommuters are beginning to realize that small rural schools are open for in-person education. When they begin to investigate the housing market, they may also recognize that the price they are currently paying for rent or a mortgage could be cut in half for the same size or larger living quarters. The biggest question they have is what about the internet access?
If your community has high speed internet, or fiber, you may already have received new community members! Our school district received over 30 new students this fall! (Okay, no, I don’t know how many of those are due to this school of thought, but I do know it is the case for at least one family. Also, my dad’s house is on the market and we’ve had several people ask about the internet because they work from home.) I have been saying this among my family and friends all along: there is going to be an urban and suburban exodus! So, are you ready?
If your community doesn’t have the internet access needed, there is grant funding available for that through the USDA and possibly other sources. Contact your local internet provider and find out what they have plans for or what resources they are needing. Maybe your congregation can help at least connect them with grant funding.
The next thing to consider is how open is your congregation to welcoming new neighbors from the city? Did you ever watch that show Royal Pains? It was set in The Hamptons where many of the home owners were actually only in town on vacation. Several times the locals called these vacationers “city-iots”. Yes, I’ve been known to say that sarcastically myself. I’m sorry. I recognize the cultural divide and the need for grace. Please forgive me.
It can be hard to welcome and connect with out-of-towners who don’t know the culture and the unwritten expectations of our community or of rural life in general. As God has shown us grace, so we must extend grace to others. As you have been shaped by the Holy Spirit, they will be shaped by rural life. It all takes time. Remember that iron sharpens iron, and expect that you will also be shaped by these new relationships.
You, or some of your congregation members may not like that idea. It may be the very idea they fear and what keeps us from fully welcoming our neighbors. We have enough of the world telling us things from a view point other than Biblical. It is easier to avoid relationships which may add to that voice. However, that means we are also not sharing a Biblical perspective with our neighbors, which means we are not fulfilling our God-given mission to go and make disciples, baptize them and teach them all Christ has taught us.
What did Christ teach us? He taught us to eat with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus was not corrupted by our sin, but instead offered us redeeming grace. What might it look like for you to set aside a fear of corruption and embrace a spirit of hospitality? How might that impact your ministry and your community for the better? It only requires faith the size of a mustard seed.