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40th Annual Rural Ministry Conference

Engaging and Ministry with Cultural Traditionalists


We live in a deeply divided society with divisions along political, social, cultural, urban/rural lines.  This conference will be helpful for pastors who see these divisions in their communities and congregations and are looking for ways to minister to all people.

Our keynote Speaker Tex Sample will explore this division by looking at a key demographic, cultural traditionalists.  Cultural traditionalists are the largest demographic in rural America and one of the largest in the country. This demographic is not limited by age, gender, or denomination –who knows- you may be a cultural traditionalist.

The presentations of Tex Sample will provide a description of this important group and offer suggestions for working with cultural traditionalists.  These presentations are valuable not only for small town and rural congregations but will provide a greater understanding of this demographic found in many, if not most, congregations.

The Rev. Dr. Tex Sample brings years of ministry experience, teaching and research to this topic.  His most recent books include A Christian Justice for the Common Good, and Working Class Rage: A Field Guide to White Anger and Pain.  Tex Sample has participated throughout his career in both the church and the community, with a focus on social, racial, gender, and economic justice issues, community organizing, and interfaith movements.  He has been one of the best received presenters at the Rural Ministry Conference. See his tab for more information.

The 40th Rural Ministry Conference was held via Zoom on Monday, March 8, 2021. View the schedule tab below to see video recordings of the sessions.

Conference Speakers

Melanie Mullen – Rev. Melanie Mullen serves as Episcopal Church’s Director of Reconciliation, Justice & Creation Care – charged with bringing the Jesus Movement to the concerns of the world. Prior to joining the Presiding Bishop’s staff she was the Downtown Missioner at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, leading a historic southern congregation’s missional, civic, and reconciliation ministries.

Before the ministry, Melanie worked in campaign fundraising and development, raising more than $10 million for leadership PACs, the Congressional Black Caucus, and US Congressional and gubernatorial races from Louisiana to Connecticut; and she served as Development Associate for the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, with a focus on poverty advocacy.

She is a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity; and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, with a Bachelors in History.

Matt Russell – Matt Russell is the executive director of Iowa Interfaith Power & Light. His entire career has been advocating for social justice—the first 11 years training for and working in ministry and then 16 years doing secular work focused primarily on economic and environmental sustainability. Since April 2018 he’s been leaning into both aspects of his career to lead Iowa IPL. He studied for priesthood with the Catholic Diocese of Des Moines, earned an M.S. in Rural Sociology from Iowa State University, worked at the Drake University Agricultural Law Center focusing on agriculture and rural development, and served on the USDA Iowa Farm Service Agency State Committee. Matt is a fifth generation Iowa farmer. He and his husband Patrick Standley operate Coyote Run Farm near Lacona, Iowa. They raise fresh produce, heirloom tomato plants, and grass-finished beef.


Craig Nessan – Dr. Craig L. Nessan is William D. Streng Professor for the Education and Renewal of the Church, Academic Dean, and Professor of Contextual Theology and Ethics at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. Dr. Nessan has served eleven years as a parish pastor in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  He holds degrees from Michigan State University, Wartburg Theological Seminary, and the University of Munich.  He serves as Co-Editor of the online journal, Currents in Theology and Mission (www.currentsjournal.org).  In addition to other articles, reviews, and books, Dr. Nessan is the author of Free in Deed: The Heart of Lutheran Ethics (2022), Wilhelm Loehe and North America: Historical Perspective and Living Legacy (2020), The Integrity of the Body of Christ: Boundary Keeping as Shared Responsibility (2016—with Arden Mahlberg), Shalom Church: The Body of Christ as Ministering Community (2010), Beyond Maintenance to Mission: A Theology of the Congregation (2010, Revised Edition. Dr. Nessan has been active in generating a Life of Faith Initiative in the ELCA (www.lifeoffaith.info).

Workshop Leaders

Jeff Schlesinger – Reverend Schlesinger has served as a pastor in the ELCA for 24 years serving in small town and rural settings in Wisconsin and Illinois. He currently serves Heart of Illinois Lutheran Parish which is made up of Immanuel Lutheran that sits in the midst of the cornfields and windmills south of Compton, IL and what he lovingly refers to as his “urban” church, First Lutheran, which lies in the center of Lee, IL (population 200 – the town, not the church). Schlesinger earned an MDiv from Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN in 1998 and a ThM from Lutheran School of Theology Chicago in 2012. As he enters his final decade of active ministry, he has established two mission goals for himself: to help the Church integrate the well being of Creation in its life and mission, and to help the Church envision and create new shared ministry models that will serve the changing church into the future.

Irene Demaris – Irene has spent her career working in faith-based non-profits. She has a passion for working with people as they take their faith and act on social justice issues. As Iowa Interfaith Power & Light’s acting executive direct, Irene facilitates their Faith Farms & Climate program where they bring together groups of farmers and rural clergy to talk about how their vocation leads them to take climate action.

Before moving to Iowa in 2018, she was the Associate Director for the Center for Public Theology at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. She also spent time as an Organizing Fellow with Faith in Public Life.

She is a United Methodist Deaconess called to live a lifetime of love, justice, and service and appointed by Bishop Haller to her position at Iowa IPL. Within The United Methodist Church, Irene is known for her advocacy in justice issues and laity inclusion.

Irene holds a B.S. in Mathematics from Washington State University and a Master of Divinity from Seattle University.

DeWayne Teig – Pastor DeWayne Teig serves part-time as Instructor in the Pastoral Arts & Advisor for TEEM at Wartburg Theological Seminary and has been rostered in the Lutheran church for over 34 years. His vocational journey has included serving in the roles of youth minister, Lutheran camp director, interim campus minister, parish pastor, and seminary staff. Navigating these various vocational transitions has taught him a little something about loss, resilience, and renewal. His most recent J-term course offering – Resilience & Renewal for Pastoral/Diaconal Leadership: Developing Positive Practices for Holistic Ministry – reflects some of his current interest and research in emotional intelligence, trauma stewardship, ambiguous loss, and resilience.


All events take place at the Best Western Plus Hotel, 3100 Dodge Street Dubuque, IA 

Sunday, March 6, 2022

3:00 pm – Registration, Refreshments and Resource Tables

5:45 pm – Introductions and Prayer

6:00 pm – Dinner – Mississippi

7:00 pm – Presentation – Rev. Melanie Mullen

Monday, March 7, 2022

9:00 am –Bible Study with Craig Nessan

10:00 – 11:15 am – Keynote – Rev. Melanie Mullen

11:15 – 12:15 – Lunch

12:30-4:00 Workshops

4:00 – Group meetings as needed, see registration desk

6:00 – 7:00 pm– Dinner

7:10 – Worship, For the Healing of Creation

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

9:00 am–Bible Study with Craig Nessan

10:00 – General Session – Matt Russell

11:00 am – Eucharist Service

12:00 – Boxed Lunches

Breakout Sessions

Workshop: Empowering Rural Pastors to Lead Climate Action Community Dialogues – Irene Demaris

This workshop will take participants through our successful dialogue process of inviting diverse rural Iowans into dialogue about solutions to the climate crisis. These faith-based community conversations draw on our shared identities rather than educating about the need to change or the threats of the climate crisis.

Adding Season of Creation to your Liturgical Calendar – Jeff Schlesinger

Join Pastor Jeff Schlesinger from Heart of Illinois Lutheran Parish as he describes Season of Creation and how his congregations have been edified by celebrating it. He will also share a unique method that he led to encourage and empower the congregations of his synod to celebrate this liturgical season.

Going Deeper with the Speaker – Melanie Mullin

This breakout will allow participants to go more fully into the topics raised in the plenary session as well as explore more deeply themes of creation justice.

Adapting Resiliencies – DeWayne Teig

· Around Trauma Stewardship

· Amid Ambiguous Loss

· Alongside Eco-Shalom

In the midst of a convolution of global epidemics related to coronavirus mutations, racial inequities, and accelerated climate fluctuations, how does one find ways of coping and adjusting to the vast number of changes around us? Many of the losses we have experienced over the past couple of years are unnamed or ambiguous at best. Our resiliencies have been tested. Are we languishing, bouncing back or just getting by? How can we move beyond a state of dissonance toward equilibrium, maybe even flourishing? We will briefly explore these questions over the course of three related workshops and hopefully gain some tools for coping compassionately, developing resources, and moving forward by taking a more proactive role in our own well-being and all that surrounds us. Each workshop can be taken as a stand-alone workshop or can be taken as a series.

Registration Details

Registration for the one-day event is $25.00. Online registrations require payment by credit card. If you would prefer to pay by check, mail your check with “Rural Ministry Conference” in the memo line to: Wartburg Theological Seminary, Attn: Ann Fritschel, 333 Wartburg Pl, Dubuque, IA 52003. Please include a note with your contact information including an email address and phone number so we can contact you with details for accessing the conference.

A few days prior to the event, you will receive information via email to access the event.

Questions? Contact Ann Fritschel at afritschel@wartburgseminary.edu or 563-589-0308.