RURAL COMMUNITIES in the U.S. wrestle with many of the same problems facing the rest of the country—persistent unemployment, access to quality health care, air and water degradation, a broken immigration policy. Other issues—such as supporting sustainable farming practices and drawing young people into agriculture, lack of broadband access, and the challenges of small-town economic development—are more unique to rural life.
Even though the 46.2 million people living in rural U.S. counties constitute only 15 percent of the country’s total population (spread across 72 percent of the nation’s land area), we are all connected—urban, suburban, and rural—by foodways, waterways, wilderness areas, and our national politics. As one Midwest-based organizer put it, “many progressives fundamentally don’t understand rural America—they don’t even know why they should care about it. You can’t understand the power of the tea party without understanding rural America. It is the key to the House of Representatives, and progressives will be hamstrung until they can make inroads in a few key congressional districts.”
But that organizer and others also draw power and hope from the deep history of populism in the rural Midwest and parts of the South, and the endurance of community-oriented values that aren’t just “heartland” clichés.
While many young people are itching to leave rural areas and small towns—anxious to find better jobs, educational opportunities, or city culture—others have always stayed put or returned after time away. And some “city cousins” move to rural America, enjoying the opportunity to work on issues they care about (with the bonus of a brilliant night sky). Here are four stories of young people investing in rural communities in the Midwest. —The Editors
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PEORIA, Ill. — When Max and Nancy Carson got married at St. Ann Catholic Church in 1974, the organ music was accompanied by the unmistakable sound of balls crashing into bowling pins.
"I said 'I do' and bowling balls were flying," said Max Carson, 62, who didn't know then that the St. Boniface Bowling Alley, built in 1945, was housed in the church basement. Now he plays in the Has-Beens League every Wednesday morning in the four-lane alley.
"I always joke that if I preach too long, people go downstairs and start bowling," said St. Ann's pastor, the Rev. Terry Cassidy.
St. Ann's little bowling alley is almost as popular now as it was after parishioners created the hideaway, which has a bar and dining room. It was rebuilt after a fire in the 1960s. Two leagues, one for men and another for women, play on Wednesdays, and parties are booked for almost every Friday and Saturday night, manager Jim Seppelt said.
Church bowling alleys are disappearing fast. There are probably fewer than 200 left, said Neil Stremmel, of the U.S. Bowling Congress.
Though I treasure my Pentecostal heritage, these days I feel like an outsider looking in, because though it started out as a pacifist movement in the early 20th century, today Pentecostalism (at least in America) is largely known as a religion that spawns extremist movements that trumpet militarism and bigotry.
Chief exhibit: The Call
Founded by Lou Engle, The Call is a movement that regularly holds massive prayer events in stadiums across the country. Engle is part of a network called the New Apostolic Reformation, which believes that God is raising up an end-times army of apostles and prophets to take over earthly governments before Jesus comes back.
A few of its prominent leaders are Peter Wagner, Cindy Jacobs, Rick Joyner, and Mike Bickle. Though the end-times theology of these individuals may vary, the underlying principle that binds them together is the idea that Christians are called to dominate earthly governments and civil society, and that apostles and prophets are supposed to pave the way to make that happen.