“Flannery O'Connor spoke of a "Christ-haunted south." I believe we live in a "resurrection-haunted rustbelt." I'd love to tell stories of churches who are practicing resurrection hope amid the rust. ”
In 2016, the publication of Hillbilly Elegy became a runaway success.
At the end of the book Vance asks, “Are we tough enough to build a church that forces kids like me to engage with the world rather than withdraw from it?” is worthy of extended study in order to discern the best practices of churches in the rustbelt who are tough, who are engaged, and who are relational with kids like J.D. Vance.
This study will explore what hopeful practices have been and are being cultivated in rustbelt churches to encourage ‘toughness,’ engage the complexities of this world, and extend relational ministry to their communities that know all too well the weathering forces of economic decline, institutional decay, and population dispersion?
The struggle of the church in these communities is to address the triad of presenting concerns: economic deficiency, industrial decline and population re-distribution; while at the same time addressing the human emotions of shame, grief, anger and loss that emerge.
Vance's next book will be a critique of rustbelt churches. I am pursuing this study as a constructive counterpoint to his analysis. I believe there are thriving churches in the rustbelt who are tough, complex and engaged. I would like to tell their story.
Study methods will include background reading, travel, ethnographic research of local congregations, and interviews with pastors, session and congregation members.
While this may appear to be a ‘political’ study, given the role of Hillbilly Elegy in the 2016 Presidential election, the focus of this study is to examine the robust practical theology of rustbelt churches. Given the divisive nature of the current political setting, as well as the potential for those divisions to escalate as we look to a 2020 election, I believe this study is timely and essential to equip pastors and congregations to move forward in hope by serving as missional leaders in their rustbelt setting.