2019 Rural Ministry Conference

Building Resilience Among Leaders & Communities

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


Rev. Dr. Craig Nessan is Academic Dean and Professor of Contextual Theology at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. He teaches courses in the areas of contextual theology, pastoral theology, and theological ethics. Dr. Nessan has served eleven years as a parish pastor in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Cape Girardeau, Missouri. In addition to other articles, reviews, and books, Dr. Nessan is the author of Shalom Church: The Body of Christ as Ministering Community (2010), Beyond Maintenance to Mission: A Theology of the Congregation (2010, Revised Edition), and Transforming Leadership: New Vision for a Church in Mission (2008—with Norma Cook Everist).

Rev. Dr. Annette Bourland Huizenga is dean of UDTS seminary and Associate Professor of New Testament. Her scholarly interests circle around the social- historical contexts of early Christian communities. Raised in the United Methodist Church she worked worked as a DCE in United Methodist Churches in the Chicago area. Annette was ordained to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament at LaSalle Street Church-Chicago (non-denominational), where she served as one of the pastors for ten years. Her current books include Moral Education for Women in the Pastoral and Pythagorean Letters: Philosophers of the Household and 1-2 Timothy, Titus written for the Wisdom Commentary series.


Breakout Leaders

Pleanary Speaker

Jon Decker, MSE LMHC ACADC currently works as a treatment supervisor for the Substance Abuse Services Center (SASC) a local non-profit agency specializing in gambling, alcohol, and drug use disorders. He graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with an undergraduate degree in psychology and from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville with master’s degrees in School Counseling and Community Mental Health Counseling. As a licensed mental health therapist with an advanced certification in addictions, he has over 13 years’ experience serving individuals on an outpatient basis addressing co-occurring issues.

Jennifer Prinz is Portico Benefit Services’ regional representative covering the ELCA Region 5 (Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Upper Peninsula of Michigan). Jennifer has more than 25 years of communications and relationship-building experience, in both faith-based and health care organizations. She previously worked as a gift planner for the ELCA Foundation, serving the state of Illinois. Prior to that, she was Director of Professional Development at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa.

Rev. Dr. Martha Brunell is an experienced pastor in the United Church of Christ, spiritual director, retreat and workshop leader, and writer. Over the course of her ministry she also co-founded a domestic violence agency, served as a hospice chaplain, wrote curriculum, and taught adjunct at Eden Seminary and Aquinas Institute of Theology in Saint Louis. She is currently the pastor of Mayfield Congregational UCC in Sycamore, IL, has an active spiritual direction practice, and leads a number of retreats and workshops across several states.

Rev. Michael Kasevich is a graduate of Excelsior College in Albany, New York and has received his Master of Divinity from Bangor Theological Seminary in Bangor Maine. He is ordained in the United Church of Christ and now serves St. Paul United Church of Christ in Old Monroe, Missouri. Previously he has served churches in Connecticut and Maine. Rev. Kasevich and his wife Linda have four children, 14 grandchildren, and ten great grandchildren. Rev. Kasevich enjoys living the rural life. He relaxes and enjoys riding his Harley Davidson when time allows.

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary in Lexington, Kentucky. An ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for 18 years, Leah earned both her MDiv and PhD degrees from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (now United Lutheran Seminary). Her forthcoming book, Preaching in the Purple Zone: Ministry in the Red/Blue Divide, will be published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2019. The book explores how clergy and churches can address controversial justice issues using nonpartisan, biblically-centered approaches and deliberative dialogue.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

 3:00 pm –  Registration, Refreshments, and Resource

 5:30 pm –  Introductions and Greetings

 6:00 pm –  Dinner

 7:00 pm –  Rev. Dr. Craig Nessan, Keynote Speaker

Monday, March 4, 2019

 9:00 am –  Bible Study, Rev. Dr. Annette Huizenga

10:00 am –  Rev. Dr. Craig Nessan, Keynote Speaker Lunch

11:15 am –  Lunch

12:30 pm –  Concurrent Workshops, Round One Break

 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 or Taize Worship

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

 9:00 am –  Bible Study, Rev. Dr. Annette Huizenga

10:00 am –  Jon Decker, General Session

11:00 am –  Eucharist Service

12:00 pm –  Boxed Lunches and Farewell

Breakout Sessions


Jennifer Prinz

Resilience is not perfection, but the ability to move forward in imperfect realities. Whether it’s leading the church, dealing with difficult situations, or navigating the inevitable bumps and setbacks of life, it is possible to not just survive, but thrive. Discover how to cultivate your God-given strengths and develop healthy practices that will give you the stamina, confidence, and inner peace you need to be a resilient leader.


Rev. Dr. Martha Brunell

The title of this workshop is a phrase from the poet Wendell Berry. Spiritual practices offer containers of structure, rhythm, surprise, wakefulness, companionship, and resilience for the ongoing spiral of change in our unfolding lives. We are going to use metaphors from one spiritual practice, the labyrinth, to illumine the role of a variety of spiritual practices that can hold, enliven, root, and free who we are and the journey we are on. Ministry is a demanding pathway. Hear the invitation to pause as your explore practices to sustain your days ahead.


Rev. Michael Kasevich

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. Dr. Leah D. Schade

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.


Rev. Dr. Craig Nessan

This breakout session allows participants to explore topics raised in the plenary in further detail, ask questions, share experiences, and continue the conversation around resilience.