Germinal Roots for Rural Church Movement on the Canadian Prairies

notes prepared by Joyce Sasse Sept. 2015 & Feb. 2016 and published in

Gleanings from a Prairie Pastor, 2021, p. 22-24 available for downloading at

It is said that telling our story helps us make sense of our lives. As I think back over my call to ministry and go over the files I’ve collected since becoming involved in the Rural Church movement, I realize the privilege I’ve had to be exposed to multiple educational opportunities having to do with the Social Gospel and finding ways the church could work in partnership with the residents of rural communities to help build and maintain spiritually healthy congregants and communities.

In addition to the insights gained through learning and training opportunities obtained by befriending persons involved in the Western Co-operative College, my orientation in preparations for serving as a United Church missionary focused on “Partnership” with those in the countries that received us. We learned much more than we had to offer on the mission field.

Reflecting on the Feminist Movement from the time when I was the only woman in my seminary (1960’s) has helped me understand why I often responded in different ways to what my male classmates and teachers did. I enjoy being a woman in my profession, and I enjoy working with those who come from different perspectives.

Attending the International Rural Church Conference in Durham, England in 1998 brought all of these understandings together. I found many others who shared my passion for ministry. Also, I was able to articulate the fact that “Rural is a Culture”!

The Rural Church Movement on the Canadian Prairies, including the Centre for Rural Church Leadership and Ministry (CiRCLe-M) and the Canadian Rural Church Network (CRCN), has strong germinal roots.

The passion for community development work rising out of a faith-based theological context was given birth in Denmark in the 1800’s with the Danish Folk School Movement.

By 1909 one of the earliest key initiatives of Dr. Walter Murray (founding President, U. of S.) was to develop a University of Saskatchewan Extension Outreach program that would reach people throughout the province.

By 1912 Dr. Murray also saw to the establishment of the Presbyterian Theological College (to become St. Andrews College), with a Faculty whose theology was rooted in the Social Gospel. Community-based theological education of St. Andrews’ students continues to the present time. It was so significant that, by the turn of the century, the College showed its readiness to be a key supporter of CiRCLe-M.

Dr. Bill Ramp’s overview of Agrarian Activist Traditions and Rural Ministry was presented at a Queen’s Theological College Symposium on Rural Ministry in 2004. Within a short time this bi-annual event became known as the R. Alex Sim Rural Ministry Symposium.

In Nova Scotia during the Twenties, when social and economic conditions were desperate, the Antigonish Movement came to life under the dedicated leadership of Moses Coady. It laid the groundwork for the Co-operative and Credit Union Movements, and became the training ground for faith-filled rural community leaders like R. Alex Sim.

Alex Sim told the Farm Radio Forum Story in his own words, but also made significant contribution as a committed churchman and adult educator in many regions of the country. “Land and Community: Crisis in Canada’s Countryside” was published in 1988. A short while later “The Plight of the Rural Church” was put in print.

While a student at St. Andrews College I had opportunity to work with key staff at the Western Co-operative College (a root of the Co-operative College of Canada) and sat in on some of their classes. (Sharing My Life: Building the Co-operative Movement) This was also the time when I first connected with the work of Alex Sim and Tommy Douglas (during the years when MediCare was being introduced through Saskatchewan to the rest of Canada).

I was hired by the Saddle-Bag Rural Ministry Project to creatively look at the way lay-based rural ministry might be carried out. Alex Sim was a much appreciated mentor during the latter part of this project.

The Canadian Rural Church Network grew out of my attendance at the International Rural Church Association Conference in Durham, England (1998). I returned with the understanding that “Rural was a Culture” and was shared by rural communities around the world. Spiritual values included deep respect for the Creator, deep appreciation for land/landscape and community, awareness of presence of pain, paradox of people who were both strongly independent and inter-dependent. These are people who communicate best by story-telling.

My belief was that we needed to develop a network of like-minded persons (nationally and internationally) who could share insights and understandings with each other. Furthermore, as the Farm Forum used radio in the previous generation, we could now use the internet to develop communication strategies.

CRCN is largely about communications. CiRCLe-M is largely about content. The two are meant to work together.