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Pastor’s ministry in Elmore gives her insights to share with others

As a rural pastor living in Tekoa, Wash., and serving the Elmore United Methodist Church (UMC), in the woods 10 miles north of Potlatch, Idaho, on Highway 95, Kathy Kramer delights in her ministry in the Palouse.

Kathy Kramer
Kathy Kramer appreciates doing ministry in a rural setting

A quick stop at a Latah or Whitman County grocery, hardware, café, pharmacy, post office, bank or hospital often evolves into hours, because she enjoys spending time listening to the people she meets.

If people sense she’s on the run somewhere, they may call out to her, “I’ll pray for you and the people you’re going to see.”

“They know I would normally stop and chat, because I love people,” she said.

Kathy brings appreciation of rural America from Iowa roots to her ministry both as pastor of the Elmore church and as co-director of Rural Ministry Resources (RMR) in the Pacific Northwest.

In a recent interview, she described her background, ministry and Rural Ministry Resources.

Born in 1947 in Ames, Iowa, where her father resumed studies at Iowa State College after he was in World War II, she was two when he graduated and they moved to Mapleton, Iowa.  He taught vocational agriculture at the high school.  Her mother played organ and was church secretary at the Methodist church.

“Faith and love of the land made their imprint on me there,” said Kathy, who played in her father’s shop after school, accompanied him visiting his Future Farmers of America students, sat on the organ bench listening to her mother practice or watched her crank out Sunday’s bulletin on a mimeograph machine.

Occasionally, she stood tiptoe behind the pulpit “practicing” her Sunday sermons.  At St. John’s and at Titonic Methodist churches, Kathy at 16 gave her first sermon on Student Sunday.

Rhythms of living faith, organ crescendos, mimeo machines, grazing cattle, and seasons of planting and harvest blended for her growing up in a nurturing rural farm community.

“I was surrounded by good, hard-working, faithful people who tilled the land and loved the Lord,” Kathy said.

After high school, she attended the United Methodist Morningside College in nearby Sioux City, Iowa.  After graduating, she taught elementary education a few years, married, raised two sons, Matt and John, took lay speaking classes and was active in churches each place they lived.

A family move to the Pacific Northwest opened opportunities that led Kathy into rural ministry.

“In the 1970s, clergy realized anew the essential, viable role small, rural, familial churches were to ministry,” she said.

Representatives from the Eastern Washington Idaho Synod of the Evangelical Church in America, the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest, Presbyterian Church (USA)—in conjunction with Cooperative Extension offices of Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman and the University of Idaho (UI) in Moscow—started Rural Ministry Resources.  The first director was the Rev. King Rockhill, who served Garfield UMC.

“RMR was instrumental in beginning a training program for lay persons to serve churches that could not afford full-time ordained clergy,” Kathy said.

In 1986, when she was living in Kennewick, she told the United Methodist district superintendent she had always felt God was calling her to be a pastor. 

With need for pastors “in areas of limited and declining populations” (LIMPOP)” Rural Ministry Resources had a training program for people who grew up in church and wanted to be pastors.

After training in that July, Kathy came to the Elmore church as pulpit supply.  That gave the congregation and her a chance to see if they liked one another.

“When I drove down Highway 95 to Elmore, I felt like I was coming home,” she said.

Along with her family, she moved into the parsonage, a double-wide trailer beside the church. Although the Elmore area once had a sawmill and country school, now the church is in the countryside just off Highway 95.  Originally Evangelical United Brethren, the church merged with Methodists in the 1960s to form the United Methodist Church.  Its rural setting and familial tone draws people from many churches.

In the spirit of Rural Ministry Resources’ blending needs and ministries, while serving as Elmore’s pastor, Kathy also worked with students at the UI Campus Christian Center in Moscow from 1986 to 1996.

While the Elmore United Methodist Church has 44 members on the rolls, 22 live too far away to come, but they choose to remain members.  An average of 35 to 45 attend worship on Sunday, with about 180 different people attending over a year.

While the church is rural, drawing from nearby farms and ranches, Potlatch and Tensed, teachers from Latah and Whitman County schools, professors from the UI and WSU, loggers, health care workers, forest service families and retired people are among those who may gather Sundays.

“The congregation ranges in age from toddlers to people in their 90s.  PhD’s sit next to folks who had to drop out of school to run family farms,” Kathy said.  “No one can tell the difference, because common sense reigns.”

She finds Elmore a caring, supportive, earthy, loving, fun congregation of people who accept humorous exchanges, sometimes even during worship.

“Our people love the Lord, have deep and abiding faith, and live it out, looking to Jesus as their guide in their daily lives,” she said.

Along with worship, the church offers Sunday school, a men’s Bible study, a daytime women’s Bible study and a United Methodist Women group. 

Its outreach includes supporting UNICEF, Potlatch’s food bank, clothing closet and community Christmas baskets.

“Our members focus on our young people, celebrating their interests and activities.  They also reach out to help and support others,” Kathy said.  “Members seek to live within their means, to love the land and to be good stewards of it and the resources God has entrusted to us.”

They listen, care, give, worship, pray, cry and laugh together.

“They help each other when they have problems,” Kathy said.  “If someone is ill or needs a ride, chores done, wood chopped, a walk or driveway shoveled, others step up to lend a hand.  If a farmer has a health problem and can’t plant or harvest, the neighbors help, doing that farmer’s work before their own.

Kathy and Robert Kramer, who married in 2000, experienced this support as Elmore folks and community helped them through her cancer diagnosis, surgery, chemo and radiation treatments.

Sunday mornings, she shares what the Word of God says about how Jesus lived his life and how God’s people should live their lives by loving God and others.

She said this is the spirit of Methodism’s founder John Wesley: “We are asked what we do with the resources God has entrusted to us.  The answer in sermons and discussions:  ‘We should earn all we can, save all we can, and give all we can of our time, talents and money.’”

After worship, people stay around and chat—in the yard in the summer or around the wood stove in the winter.  Children play ball or hide-and-seek in the yard, or throw snowballs and build snowmen in the winter.  

Kathy finds the rhythms of Elmore UMC heartwarming:  The organ and piano play hymns in sync.  Children sit still with lit Advent candles.  Garbed as shepherds and angels, people of all ages tell the story of Jesus.  Parents rock little ones as they fall asleep in the pews.  Fiddlers tune up instruments.  An errant snow or soccer ball plops against the side of the church.

Those rhythms and memories would not have been part of her life without Rural Ministry Resources having the vision that viable ministry is about more than a church’s size or location.

RMR’s ecumenical rural church and community team and board have served the Pacific Northwest for more than 35 years.  It consists of clergy working together, “loving the Lord, the land and its people,” she said.

RMR’s board members in Washington and Idaho include co-director Cindy Wuts, a Presbyterian pastor serving Harrington and Rocklyn Zion United Methodist churches; Paul Anderson, a Lutheran (ELCA) pastor serving Zion Lutheran and First Presbyterian in Fairfield; Roger Barr, a United Methodist pastor serving the Des Moines UMC; Mary Daniels, a ELCA pastor serving St. John’s Lutheran in Sprague and Good Hope Lutheran in Lind; Dave McCue, a United Methodist pastor serving St. John and Colfax UMC churches, Gary Foster, retired Presbyterian pastor living in St. Maries, and King Rockhill, retired UMC pastor now living in Harvard.

RMR clergy visit pastors and small churches to listen to their needs, gifts and graces, Kathy said.

Incorporated in Idaho, RMR explores how to support small rural and urban churches through education.

“It helps pastors, lay people, churches and communities ‘realize their potential for ministry’ by evaluating their resources using ‘assets-based’ rather than ‘needs-based’ assessments,” she said.  “We support the distinctiveness of each local church setting and seek to help each church find appropriate ways of doing ministry within its own setting.”

Its programs include continuing education, parish development, direct services and special contracts to connect with mission programs of rural churches and communities.

“Our programs reflect challenges of ministry in our times of rapid change,” Kathy said. 

RMR also offers several 24-hour retreats throughout the year, gathering pastors and friends of small, familial churches for support, worship, education, information and relaxation, often involving Cooperative Extension.

An October retreat surveyed both “Ministry in Multicultural Settings” and “Embracing Rural Strengths to Create Thriving Communities.”

For information, call  284-6107 or email

Copyright © February 2013 - The Fig Tree