From Orange City, Iowa, to York, Nebraska, and across the Midwest, young organizers are cultivating hope in rural places.
The Amish are one of the fastest-growing religious groups in North America, according to a new census by researchers at Ohio State University.
The study, released July 27 at the annual meeting of the Rural Sociological Society, suggests a new community sprouting every three and a half weeks.
Nearly 250,000 Amish live in the U.S. and Canada, and the population is expected to exceed 1 million around 2050.
The growth may not be visible outside Amish country, but the rural settlements definitely see the boom.
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.