Modern Circuit Rider Uses Pickup Truck, Palm Pilot

Jan. 31, 2005

A UMC.org Feature
By Tamie Ross*

The Rev. Randy Beeler sometimes feels like a throwback to the preacher on horseback with a Bible in his saddlebag.

Especially when he jumps into his aging Toyota Tacoma pickup and drives 25 miles or so to preach for an audience of 50 at Wesley United Methodist Church in Bryan, Texas — then gets back in the truck to drive eight miles to preach to 38 worshipers awaiting him at his second church, Alexander United Methodist.

Pastors in small, underserved rural communities still minister to more than one congregation, often traveling miles to preach at different churches. Those churches don’t garner the same level of attention as their large-membership counterparts in the city, Beeler says.

“But the United Methodist presence in these small communities is vital,” he says. “I like to tell people to think of Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. It was sort of a backwater place, don’t you think?”

Beeler has served what is known as a multipoint charge for the Texas Annual (regional) Conference since 1999. His wife, the Rev. Pam Rose-Beeler, leads the Cooks Point United Methodist near Caldwell, Texas. The couple’s three children hear their mother preach most Sundays and tell their father about her sermon at dinnertime.

“We were called to this — not just to ministry, but to a rural setting,” Pam Rose-Beeler says of the family’s work in Texas. “It’s an important place to be.”

Though Randy Beeler essentially has three offices — one at each church, plus one at home — he says his single-cab, bronze-colored pickup is his primary workplace.

He points to a charging cell phone, a briefcase and supply of snacks as evidence. On the floor, Beeler’s iPod, laptop computer case and a Palm Pilot stand ready for use between in-home appointments, nursing home visits and hospital stops.

The cowboy preacher really could have used those, Beeler jokes, noting that he recently downloaded the Johnny Cash song, “I’ve Been Everywhere,” to serenade him on his long drives through east Texas towns.

Two churches just eight miles apart may seem like one too many to some. While a merger may sound attractive from a business standpoint, it isn’t always an option, Beeler says.

“These churches are eight miles apart geographically speaking, but they’re many more miles apart otherwise,” he says. “Every now and then they’ll share events, and they support each other’s endeavors, but they’re proud of their autonomy and their own personalities.

Mary Beth Morrison says that sense of pride is important to small, rural congregations. As the lead consultant in charge of congregational vitalization in central Pennsylvania, Morrison works with multicharge pastors and their churches.

Defining goals and creating a vision for their work is her main objective. But her main directive for the pastors who lead these congregations is to develop trust with the membership.

“That’s a very important thing to rural churchgoers,” Morrison says. “If you can build trust and relationships in a rural charge, you can do phenomenal ministry in this type setting.”

Morrison says she constantly battles misperceptions — mostly in heavily populated areas with several large congregations — that a church isn’t a church if it only has 40 members.

“Of course, financial viability is an issue, but the idea of building partnerships among these churches has been a good one for us,” she says.

Attracting those willing to serve a multipoint charge long term — not just as a stepping stone to a larger congregation — is also a priority. Julia Wallace, director of ministries with small-membership churches for the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, says candidates come from both seminaries and the License for Pastoral Ministry Program.

The annual conference confers the license to probationary members seeking ordination as elders and local pastors appointed to perform the duties of a pastor in a church.

Beeler and Rose-Beeler say the drive to adequately staff and appreciate churches like theirs will continue to be an issue, as more young retirees — 55 and up — leave the work force and the city. The pastors’ primary area is around the Brazos River, an attractive locale for those interested in recreational living.

“Of course, there are unique challenges to our work, but there are also unique rewards,” Pam Rose-Beeler says. “Imagine going into a church and everyone knowing your name, and that’s not only true of the pastor but all the membership.”

*Ross is a freelance journalist based in Dallas.

News media contact: Matt Carlisle, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5153 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

 
FLASH:
Denominational Statements
Book of Resolutions: ¶ 168 Ministries of Rural Chaplains
Suggested Articles
Seeing Eye Dog Plays Huge Role in Pastor’s Ministry
Religion and Ethics News Weekly: Rural Churches
Churches Come Together to Maintain a Christian Presence in Rural Areas
Suggested Resources
UMC.org Theme Page: Rural/Urban Ministry
The Ministry of the Licensed Local Pastor (pdf)
Central Pennsylvania Annual Conference: Congregational Vitalization
General Board of Discipleship: Small Membership Church
General Board of Higher Education and Ministry: Division of Ordained Ministry
Take Action
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