2020 Rural Ministry Conference

Ministry in Divisive Times

Where leaders in rural communities and congregations gather to gain insight and inspiration, to network and neighbor that our ministries might be empowered. This ecumenical conference includes worship, keynote speakers, workshops, and Bible study, and offers participants a unique opportunity to network with others who are active in and concerned about rural ministry.

Leaders and Speakers


Keynote Speaker: The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary in Lexington, Kentucky. An ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for nearly twenty years, Leah earned both her MDiv and PhD degrees from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (now United Lutheran Seminary).  Her book, Preaching in the Purple Zone: Ministry in the Red-Blue Divide (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), explores how clergy and churches can address controversial issues of public concern using nonpartisan, biblically-centered approaches and deliberative dialogue. Dr. Schade was awarded a $30,000 grant in 2019 from the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion for her project “Dialogue in the ‘Purple Zone’: Pedagogies for Civil Discourse in Online and On-site Settings.” Her latest book is Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis, a volume of 21 essays by religious environmental activists co-edited with Margaret Bullitt-Jonas (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019). She is also the author of Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015), and is the EcoPreacher blogger for Patheos: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/ecopreacher/.

Plenary Speaker: Dr. Mary Emily Briehl Duba is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Theology at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary and a Louisville Institute Postdoctoral Fellow (2018-20). She is a systematic and constructive theologian whose work responds to theological questions raised by human displacement and ecological collapse. She received her PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School and MDiv from Yale Divinity School. She was raised at Holden Village, a retreat center and intentional Christian community in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington State. Before beginning doctoral studies, she and her husband, Jason Duba, lived for year in Cochabama, Bolivia in community with displaced people and with members of the Maryknoll order. She is also an active member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Bible Study Leader: The Rev. Dr. Troy Troftgruben is the Associate Professor of New Testament at Wartburg Theological Seminary. Before joining the faculty at Wartburg in 2013, Troy served for five years as a pastor in Grand Forks, North Dakota. His areas of interest are Luke and Acts, early church communities, and Matthew. His writings include: Rooted and Renewing: Imaging the Church’s Future in Light of its NT Origins and Matthew in the Book of Faith series. By vocation, Troy sees himself as a pastor, just one with a specialized call: the formation of church leaders through Wartburg Seminary. He is married to Maria, and together they have two children, Timothy and Teresa. Outside of work, Troy enjoys playing music, biking, being outdoors, cooking, and practicing the discipline of hope by following Minnesota sports teams and the Chicago Cubs.

Breakout Leaders

Rev. Matthew Larson has served as the Pastor of the Burr Oak and Hesper Lutheran Parish (NEIA Synod, ELCA) for the past 13 years. From his home congregation in Hudson, WI to rural settings in Divide County, ND, Ottertail County, MN, and Winneshiek County, IA he has been actively involved in rural ministry for 20 years. He is the husband of Pr. Amy Zalk Larson (Good Shepherd, Decorah, IA), and father to Nathan (15) and Abby (11).

Adrienne DeSutter, with a genuine passion for farmer wellness, works as a Behavioral Health Consultant to combat farmer suicide and provide education on agricultural behavioral health. Adrienne earned a Master’s degree in Counseling, and has years of research experience focusing on rural psychology and education. She presents workshops throughout the country, writes an agriculture wellness column, and has been interviewed by national media as an expert in farmer wellness. One of Adrienne’s favorite things to do is connect with non-agriculture populations to broaden ag education throughout the community. Additionally, Adrienne farms with her husband’s family on a fourth-generation corn and soybean farm. They raise a small herd of cows, and a small herd of children (their most precious commodity).

Rev. William Poland is a graduate of the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. Bill currently serves as the Director of New Communities of Faith for the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church. He previously served as the Assistant to the Bishop for Administration, District Superintendent of the South Central and Dubuque Districts. He was started a new church in the Quad-Cities and served Iowa churches in Mason City, Council Bluffs, Dubuque, and Greenfield. Bill and his wife, Judy, have two children and four grandchildren. They enjoy camping in their travel trailer and trips on their motorcycle.

Matthew Russell leads Iowa Interfaith Power & Light empowering Iowans of faith and conscience to take bold and just action on climate change. He spent six years in seminary formation for priesthood for the Catholic Diocese of Des Moines, got an M.S. in Rural Sociology from ISU, and worked 12 years at the Drake University Agricultural Law Center before becoming the executive director of Iowa IPL in April 2018. He has taught at Bishop Gorman High School (Las Vegas, Nevada), DMACC, and Drake University. He is a 5th generation Iowa farmer and owns and operates Coyote Run Farm with his husband Patrick Standley in rural Lacona. He has traveled to 27 states, D.C, France, Colombia, Scotland, Italy, and Cuba working in ministry and/or agriculture.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

 3:00 pm –  Registration, Refreshments, and Resource

 5:30 pm –  Introductions and Greetings

 6:00 pm –  Dinner

 7:00 pm –  Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, Keynote Speaker, “Ministry in a House Divided: Finding the Purple Zone.”

Monday, March 2, 2020

 9:00 am –  Bible Study led by Rev. Dr. Troy Troftgruben

10:00 am –  Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, Keynote Speaker, “Deliberative Dialog Forum: The Role of the Church in a Divided Society.”

11:15 am –  Lunch

12:30 pm –  Concurrent Workshops, Round One

 1:30 pm –  Break

 1:45 pm –  Concurrent Workshops, Round Two

3:00 pm –  Concurrent Workshops, Round Three

 6:00 pm –  Dinner

 7:00 pm –  Movie (Farmers for America) or Taize Worship

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

 9:00 am –  Bible Study let by Rev. Dr. Troy Troftgruben

10:00 am –  Dr. Mary Emily Briehl Duba, Plenary Speaker

11:00 am –  Eucharist Service

12:00 pm –  Boxed Lunches and Farewell

Breakout Sessions


Rev. Dr. Leah Schade

Based on her book, Preaching in the Purple Zone: Ministry in the Red-Blue Divide, Dr. Schade will help clergy and lay leaders walk through the “sermon-dialogue-sermon” method for use in their own congregations.  We’ll discuss how to choose “cool,” “warm,” or “hot” topics, and how to plan sermons and deliberative dialogues to address the chosen issue.


Rev. Dr. Leah Schade

Deliberative dialogue is a form of civil discourse that allows participants from diverse backgrounds to listen deeply about a community concern that matters to them, respectfully discuss the pros and cons of different approaches to the issue, identify shared values, and suggest next steps for moving forward. This workshop will offer tips and strategies for both clergy and laity to effectively moderate a deliberative dialogue forum in their congregation and/or community.


Rev. William Poland

Are you in a dysfunctional church? Do you know what a rural dysfunctional church is? Together with God’s ultimate Wisdom help move your congregation to change from a dysfunctional to a functional church. We will learn how to recognize sources of conflict, patriarch and matriarch leadership, and unhealthy dynamics. Begin to enjoy the rural community of the church!


Rev. Matthew Larson

Tensions and conflict are normal in the church but are sources of anxiety and dread for many congregations. We rarely discuss conflict from a theological perspective, but it’s important to understand the unspoken assumptions a congregation has about the relationship between God and our human disagreements and skirmishes. Is it possible to be in conflict and yet remain connected in the Body of Christ? How do we assess our congregation’s “theology of conflict”? This workshop will help you to unearth our hidden beliefs about how God relates to us and our congregations in the midst of conflict so that you can equip your church to handle tensions in a healthier and growth-producing way.


Adrienne DeSutter

Despite its romantic reputation, farming is ranked one of the most stressful occupations and a leading career for depression and suicide. Learn what makes farmers vulnerable to behavioral health conditions, what warning signs to watch for, and what you can do – as a trusted member of your community – to help protect your farm families.


Matthew Russell

Our faith calls us to action as the world transitions from the scarcity model of the fossil fuel era into a new global economy built on the abundance of creation. This workshop will review the costs and benefits of the last 100 years and how the shared values of our faith traditions are necessary for helping the world navigate into the next “revolution.” Moving away from fossil fuels is the biggest, most important transition in the history of humanity.

Online registrations require payment by credit card. If you would prefer to pay by check,  download a printable form here and mail your check registration and check to: Wartburg Theological Seminary, Attn: Lorice Amlin, 333 Wartburg Pl, Dubuque, IA 52003.