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Framing Rural Ministry: New Photo and Video Projects Showcase Local Pastors, People & Places

Charlie Cotherman

“Do you have a short video that describes your work?”

Over the last few years, folks have asked us this question more than once. Until recently, the answer has always been a somewhat apologetic, “Not yet.” As of last week, however, our answer to this question has changed. We are happy to be able to showcase a new film project that highlights not only our work and vision, but the amazing stories of some of the pastors who are participating in our cohorts.

Show and Tell: Highlighting Pastors through a Variety of Media

Given our visually oriented culture, we knew that attempting to tell our story and the story of the pastors we partner with through the written word alone would only reach a small portion of folks. After establishing communication through an online blog and e-newsletter (you can sign up for mailings at the bottom of our blog page) in our second and third years, a move toward visual storytelling came as a sort of natural progression this year.

As anyone who has worked with visual media knows, to tell stories visually through photography and videography is requires levels of time, effort, and planning that far surpass communicating through the written word alone.

At the PRM this commitment to complementing our written storytelling with visual storytelling led us to hire Grove City College student Gracie Turnbaugh as a photography intern over the past summer. As a PRM photography intern, Gracie’s primary task was to travel through our region capturing images of the pastors, churches, and places that define our region and our work at the PRM. If you have seen our blogs over the past couple of months, chances are that you’ve seen Gracie’s great work.

Gracie's photos help capture interactions like this one between a GCC student and children at Rose Point Reformed Presbyterian Church.

As we were working with Gracie to develop a database of rural ministry photos from our region, we were also working with local videographer Garrett Heath of Okiejoke Media to develop a series of videos highlighting our work at the PRM and the deeply compelling work of some of the rural and rustbelt pastors we have had the privilege of getting to know over the last four years.

Heath has proven to be the perfect fit for the project. As a lifelong resident of rural western Pennsylvania, Heath brings an intuitive grasp of this region to his work. “I grew up in rural western Pennsylvania, went to school here, work here, go to church here, and I'm currently raising a family here,” Heath notes. “The work of the PRM is close to my heart, and the stories of these rural places are part of my own story." Heath also brings the instincts of a storyteller, which he has honed through crafting songs and music videos, to his work, along with an easy-going personality that quickly puts pastors and professors alike at ease. For Pastor Janet Pratt, the subject of our first pastor profile video, this combination of skills and personality made filming a video about her five-church charge easier than she had expected.  “Garrett did an excellent job creating a video that really showcased our churches and the PRM. He made the experience easy…[and] really captured who we are and the community I serve.”

More Visual Storytelling to Come

Our initial foray into telling our story and the stories of some of the pastor with whom we partner has convinced us that visual storytelling is worth the effort it takes to bring concepts to reality. Photography and videography take time and money, but they are powerful tools for sharing the richness of rural experience and the goodness of God in small churches and out-of-the way places. They also allow folks to hear directly from an inspiring group of pastors. For PRM Executive Director Seulgi Byun, this ability to hear directly from pastors is one of its most significant ways film contributes to the PRM’s efforts to showcase pastors and ministry in our region. “One of the goals of the PRM is to amplify the voices of pastors in rural and small-town contexts. Our pastors serve in a variety of contexts and circumstances, and we want to tell their unique and beautiful stories through their own voices.”

We hope you check out Gracie’s photos in our blog posts and Garrett’s videos on our PRM Facebook page or YouTube channel. They highlight pastors, churches, and God-stories that deserve to be seen and heard.

Charlie Cotherman is program director of the Project on Rural Ministry at Grove City College. He is also a pastor at Oil City Vineyard, a church he and his wife Aimee had the privilege of planting in 2016. He has written on rural ministry, church planting, and history for a variety of publications including Christianity Today, Evangelicals, Radix, and Modern Reformation. He is the author of To Think Christianly: A History of L'Abri, Regent College, and the Christian Study Center Movement and a contributing editor of Sent to Flourish: Guide to Planting and Multiplying Churches. He lives with his wife, four children, and a spoiled cat and dog in Oil City, Pennsylvania.