Face-to-face relationships are a rural value

By S Roy Kaufman | Mar 5, 2013

RR Loretta Epp

Many regular readers of this column may know that my wife and companion for the past 43 years died in October. Loretta was a beautiful and gifted woman of course (I’m not prejudiced), but what strikes me as I reflect on her life is what a quintessentially rural person she was.

Loretta was born in southwest Minnesota, the eldest daughter of a farm couple who courted and married during the height of World War II. She was a year old when her father returned from service with the army in France, and then he and Loretta’s mother embarked on a career of farming on a succession of rented farms. They never owned the farms they worked, and today most of those farms have been completely erased from the landscape. But they were conscientious farmers, caring for the land and the buildings owned by their landlords and working hard to provide for themselves and their growing family of four children.

For all its hardship in hard work and the lack of an abundance of material resources, Loretta grew up deeply loved and well-nurtured as a person and in her Christian faith. She always remembered her childhood and youth on the farm fondly, surrounded by nature and animals and the love of her family. Upward mobility was nonetheless evident in Loretta’s family, as in most post-World War II farm families, as Loretta went off to nurse’s training, eventually completing her bachelor of science in nursing.

Then, of course, she met me and we married. Our first 2 ½ years of marriage were spent in a foreign rural culture on the island of Crete, Greece. There we both learned to appreciate and cherish the rural life of Cretan villages, and there our first child was born. And when we returned to the U.S., I abandoned dreams of graduate school and sought a call from a small rural church to be their pastor, since I had seminary training. Thus began a 38 year pilgrimage in four rural congregations in three states and one province in Canada that ended just over two years ago with our retirement here in Freeman.

In each of these rural settings, Loretta adopted the church family as her own and entered deeply into congregational life as a teacher, musician, mentor to women, and friend. While she would have made an excellent nurse and while I encouraged her in that, she chose instead to devote herself to the nurturing of the family and the life of the community. She (and I) learned to garden and can, raising and preserving a large share of the food we ate through the years. She baked bread from the wheat I ground with a small mill. (I can only hope I can make her bread as well as she did!)

By devoting herself to the welfare of her family and the community in which she lived, Loretta was only doing what rural people the world over devote themselves to do. For rural folks, the family and the community—those face-to-face relationships in which we live close to God’s creation—take priority over careers and success and all the more well-known and recognized achievements that are typically sought after and celebrated in our culture. It is what leads me to say that she was a quintessentially rural person. And this is why rural communities and the people who live in them and sustain them are so important to me. This is the setting where people are best nurtured to be whole, well-rounded people, the kind of people who themselves nurture and sustain the common life of a community wherever they live.