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Currents in Theology and Mission

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The latest edition of the on-line journal of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and Wartburg Theological Seminary  includes proceedings from our IRCA conference in 2023 with the theme, “Flourishing: Land, People, Community.”

The word flourishing was chosen with intention both as encouragement to seek out and celebrate rural realities that are flourishing, but also as aspirational to encourage work toward God’s intent for the flourishing of all God’s land and people. The issue includes the Bible study, keynote address, and a collection of articles that give snapshots of the state of rural and small-town contexts globally.

Hosting the Next IRCA Conference

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Friends!  Do you think you could host the next IRCA Conference?

Being chair of the planning committee for the Brandon Conference of 2007 was one of the great experiences of my life. I urge all IRCA members to think about it. One of the wonderful benefits of meeting in YOUR country is that many people from your country can attend a local conference, where only a few can fly to another.

Here are some suggestions of what you would want to consider. 

  1. Ecumenical Team for planning local arrangements –  I found it valuable to reach out across denominations to form a planning group. For example for Brandon there were people with a variety of talents and connections involved. The IRCA chair works closely with this team, when possible, travelling to visit in the early stages of the planning and the head of the planning team forms strong connections with IRCA leadership group (executive), joining meetings regularly as the conference time draws close.
  2. Sharing the task – the local team takes responsibilities for all things local – the venue, accommodation, transport, field trips, local visits and hosting experiences.  IRCA leadership takes responsibility for the conference program, working with the local team to incorporate local activities and experiences. This responsibility includes a formal aspect for us as a global organization, that is, time spent visioning, doing the business of elections and making plans for the future.  EVERYONE at the meeting (including on Zoom) is a voting member of IRCA for the occasion. (All of us receiving this newsletter are members of IRCA, that is, members of the IRCA family.)  
  3. Venue – this is a major decision to make very early in your deliberations. Is it a rural setting? Are there good flight connections, especially for overseas travelers? Can the venue provide accommodation as well as conference facilities? Will it be affordable? Sometimes a college is able to be used – during vacation time. Sometimes a reasonably priced hotel. You’ll need to clarify the provision of food, for meals and breaks. Those attending will hopefully be open to differences of diet in different countries, but it is good if variety can be provided.   It is important to have the dates more than a year before the time, so that people can make travel plans. The 2023 Conference was held to coordinate with another conference that is held locally every year, which was an interesting dynamic. Capability for Zoom and online connections is vital, as future IRCA conferences will be a mix of face-to-face and distance participants. Environmental, health and economic constraints, as well as visa problems between countries, will limit the ease of travel for many.
  4. Transportation – this is a vital component of planning. Lincoln, New Zealand, was likely the easiest, with only 30 minutes of good roading to get from the international airport to the venue. Often it is much more. The time waiting and the time of transportation is a valuable time for community building.
  5. Visas – one of the reasons we need dates established a year and more ahead of the conference is that for many countries visas need to be applied for, and the sooner the process is begun, the better. The IRCA Secretary takes care of the official IRCA correspondence required for the visas, but local involvement is crucial for gaining knowledge of precise visa requirements. 
  6. Finances – This year the Conference planning started with money in the bank account.  That had not happened before, and the IRCA Treasurer had an ongoing job to do.  The account was transferred to Iowa, and was available to give scholarships to delegates from some parts of the world.  One huge difference between 2007 and the more recent conferences was the presence of Eventbrite by which we could pay.  In 2007 people arrived with their cheques in hand!
  7. Field Trips – this is an opportunity for delegates from around the world to see some of the projects and innovations that are happening in your rural area.  It is an opportunity for a large group to divide up into smaller interest groups.  In Dubuque we were able to do more than one field trip; in Brandon we had three options which took the three groups off in different directions for the whole day.
  8. Keynote speakers  – the IRCA Executive can advise on this.
  9. Worship – in earlier Conferences, there was a local team that led the worship.  In more recent years, worship has been provided by global regions. This works very well as there can be online connections to bring in more worship leaders. An important part of IRCA Conferences is that on Sunday morning conference participants scatter around different churches in the local area, experiencing local worship with different flavours and different traditions. Local congregations are always very excited to offer hospitality to global guests.
  10. Entertainment – there is always an evening of entertainment.  This year we had a ceilidh; it was great fun.  Other years, regions have performed their special entertainment, perhaps a dance, a pantomime, a song.
  11. Conference Scattered – The idea of this is that an important part of the Conference takes part away from the conference venue (for those who are able to take extra time), in which we meet local people, and see local life and worship in local churches. In 2007 we called it “conference scattered” and arranged home stays across the whole of Canada, converging thereafter for “conference gathered” in Brandon. In Altenkirchen, Germany, a group met before the conference and stayed together in Neckarelz, getting a feel for the rural situation in the country and getting to know each other.  In Malawi, similarly, a group stayed together in at Luwinga Lodge in Mzuzu and visited rural villages and programs in the area. In New Zealand we had hosts for a weekend, and enjoyed a bus tour in a group. In Dubuque, we took the weekend in the middle of the Conference to go off on home stays. This plan gave all the participants the opportunity for local hosting.
  12. Youth Conference – a wonderful innovation that took place in Lilongwe, Malawi, was a youth component to the IRCA Conference.  Participants were asked to see if they could bring youth, (it happened to be their grandchildren), and these youth were able to participate with Christian youth of Malawi.  It was a very precious gift.

So friends, there has been a lot of variety over the years in the specifics of the way the Conferences have been run, but there are constants that hold the Conferences together, and each one gives delegates a taste of the host country. Think about how you could see your country become a host, welcoming rural Christians from around the world. God bless you as you make your application/suggestion to the IRCA Executive through the secretary. Click here for email

Catherine Christie

Rest in Peace, Janice

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With great sadness we have heard that our dear IRCA friend Janice Purdie died last month.

The newspaper notice read:

PURDIE, Janice Margaret. Passed away peacefully at Hamilton on Saturday 1 July 2023 Aged 81 years Treasured eldest daughter of the late Ian and Peg Purdie. Dearly loved sister of Royce, Meryll, Heather, Euan and Christine. Admired auntie, cousin and friend to many. Janice’s funeral will be held at Chartwell Cooperating Church at 1.00 on Thursday 6 July 2023. No flowers by request. “With her Lord whom she loved and served” All communications to the Purdie family C/- PO Box 5523, Frankton, Hamilton, 3242.

Janice attended many, many Trans-Tasman and IRCA gatherings and was a stalwart in her local church and community in Paeroa.

This is a newspaper story from earlier in the year:

Good OnYa Janice! Paeroa volunteer honoured

Looking through our IRCA photo gallery, there are many lovely memories of Janice.

Moe mai moe e kui. He wahine toa koe.

Takoto rangimārie i roto i ngā ringaringa aroha o tōu Kaihanga.

Rest now, our dear elder, you have been a true woman of strength (like the woman on Proverbs 31!).

Rest in peace in the loving arms of your Creator

IRCA Oceania

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Thursday 31 August at 1300 NZST

Among those at the IRCA 2023 Sequel gathering in May this year there was a keenness to keep ourselves connected. Aware of a changing world, with travel more difficult economically and from environmental considerations, it seemed a no brainer to make good use of the experience and expertise we developed over recent years with being face-to-face at a distance, i.e. over the internet.

In that spirit we are inviting all who are interested to join a ZOOM session at the end of this month. The time of day will hopefully fit for people across the whole region, from Western Australia to the islands of Polynesia. 

We will open with connecting together – short self-introductions and identifying any topics of interest or stories we’d like to share later in the session. Rev Jill McDonald from Hawkes will then speak about the community ministry “Bridging Hawkes Bay” that they are developing in the region. An article in our first IRCA Oceania Stories linked to her presentation earlier in the year at a chaplaincy workshop, outlining church and community responses to cyclone Gabrielle that caused devastation across the whole region. Check it out her presentation here.

Also, Wessley Manasa Vatanitawake has a proposal for us for IRCA Oceania 2024.

Following that we can pick up any stories or topics of interest from the group.  We’ll aim for 90 minutes for the initial session, as it is pretty much guesswork how much time we’d like to spend together. It will however be fine to come and go as you are available. 

Email [email protected] for the link to the meeting.  1300 NZST Thursday 31 August. 

Time Zone Converter

Our History

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In 1993, a small group of international rural church leaders gathered in England to celebrate 21 years of the Arthur Rank Centre. This ecumenical centre is the focus for the rural work of all the churches of Great Britain and helps the churches understand their rural context much more clearly. Plans were made for a future international conference.

“Rural Culture and Spirituality” was the theme of the conference held in Durham, England in August 1998. About 100 people from a variety of countries attended and at the end of the Conference the International Rural Church Ecumenical Association, as it was then called, was established (IRCEA).

The first Secretary of the association was Michael Cruchley, the Director of the Arthur Rank Centre at the time. Lloyd Vidler, a minister with the Uniting Church of Australia, was appointed the first Chairperson.

A Council for World Mission school in South Africa in 1999 and a meeting of overseas participants of the Trans-Tasman Rural Ministry Conference in Northland, New Zealand in 2000 helped links develop further. The Rev B.D. Prasada Rao was at each of these and through his efforts and encouragement, the Church of South India became the host for the second conference in Chennai, November 2002. The theme of this conference set a theme that would carry through into the future for IRCA: “Voice of the Voiceless”.

The proposed 2006 3rd conference in Korea did not proceed, but Rev Catherine Christie and the Canadian Rural Churches Network entered the breach and agreed to host the third conference in Brandon, Manitoba, July 2007. Its theme was “Cry from the Heart”.

The 4th Conference held in Altenkirchen, Germany in September, 2010, saw IRCA take its next step in adopting a constitution and seeking greater “legitimacy” and connection with denominations and the World Council of Churches. The theme of this conference was “Hunger – The Global Challenge”, an issue that was impacting Europe within its own countries and, in relation to migration and post-colonial responsibilities, from the South.

The 5th conference was in Lilongwe, Malawi in July 2014, with the theme “Holding on to Hope”. At this event the CEO of the Arthur Rank Centre, Jerry Marshall. was appointed Chair. In 2016, for administrative simplicity, the committee asked the Arthur Rank Centre to hold and manage the accounts under the supervision of the IRCA Executive Treasurer.

The 6th conference, “Growing Together” was held in April 2018 in Lincoln, New Zealand. As well as two excellent key notes, we took a learning community approach and provided the 100 delegates with the material to be adapted for their own context. The local team were superb and the event was very enthusiastically received. Rev Dr Mark Yackel-Juleen was appointed Chair.

The 7th conference, “Flourishing: Land, People, Community”, was held in April 2023 in Dubuque, Iowa, USA. Originally planned for 2022, Covid-19 interrupted travel plans, as well as budgets. In 2022 a ZOOM alternative was arranged, aligned with the annual Rural Ministry Conference at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, with people from around the world joining in to share stories, prayer, and song as we moved with the sun around the world in 24 hours. The 2023 face-to-face conference also aligned with the Wartburg Seminary’s annual rural conference, enabling part of the time to be a joint event, with considerable enriching of experience for the locals. Dr Heather Major was appointed Chair at the Dubuque conference and the hope was that the next gathering would return to the 4-yearly routine in 2026.

Mind Your Own (Small) Business – International Edition

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Jerry Marshall, former chair of IRCA and chair of TEN – Transformational Enterprise Network – has just released an International Edition of this training kit for setting up a business. Click on the image to access the workbook.

The catchphrase for TEN is “create and develop impact businesses to fight poverty”. This is a valuable tool for struggling rural communities wherever they are in the world.

Rural Chaplaincy

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A new page has been added to our Resources section. Check it out here

Travelling a rural road

Quadrennial conference updates

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A reminder that the registration/payment deadline is March 27.  The transportation gas surcharge of $75 is also due at this time. Your registration will be cancelled if full payment or other arrangements have not been made by that date.

All persons will need to show proof of a covid-10 vaccination to enter the U.S.  More information as to what type of proof is needed can be found here.

Please send your flight arrangements as soon as you have them.  They can be entered on the form found here.  If you need to stay additional days because of the flight schedule, you are responsible for paying for those nights even if you have received a scholarship.  A payment portal will be up shortly.

Make sure you have a valid US visa or a valid ESTA (mostly European Countries).  You will not be allowed to enter the US without one.

If you have any questions, please email [email protected]

We are looking forward to seeing everyone and are praying that your trips will go smoothly.


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The next IRCA quadrennial meeting will be from April 13- 19 in Dubuque, Iowa, United States of America.  Located in America’s heartland on the banks of the Mississippi River, Dubuque has been voted one of America’s best small cities and has won several environmental awards. 

The theme this year is Flourishing:  Land, People and Community. The Bible tells us that God is a God of abundance, yet many of us live in settings/contexts that emphasize scarcity. Can we get beyond the numbers to share the stories of God’s abundance among us?

Highlights of the program include:

              A three day joint conference with the Wartburg Lutheran Seminary’s Center for Theology and Land Rural Ministry Conference. (April 15 -18, 2023.)

              Field trips and excursions options include (subject to confirmation):  a city tour of Dubuque, a narrated Mississippi River Cruise, a visit to New Melleray Abbey (sustainable forestry practices),  and the Four Mounds Conference Center.

              Meeting people from around the world who share a common interest in rural ministry.

              Spending the weekend (April 14 & 15) visiting and worshipping with a regional rural family.

We will be staying at the Best Western Dubuque.  Registration costs are USD1,000 if paid by November 30, 2022 and includes all housing, meals, local transportation and excursions.  The registration site should be open sometime in early September.

I hope you will be able to come.

Rev. Dr. Mark Yackel-Juleen

Open Access Laudato Si’ Integral Theology Collection

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Check out the new website of the Laudato Si’ Research Institute.

To quote the website:

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis emphasised the importance of a united, global response to the current ecological crisis. Yet dialogue and learning on integral ecology is often hindered by limited access to the academic publications on the subject, which are not affordable for many individuals and institutions in lower-income countries.

Check it out by clicking on this link