What do you think a rural church looks like? Listen to new ideas from real-life leaders who are reaching new people in places already accustomed to church. Featuring David Blackwell of Florence, Montana, Chris and Jaidy Smith from Ramseur, North Carolina and Allen Jessee from Abingdon, Virginia.

Allen Jessee is the Lead Pastor of Highlands Fellowship and has served in ministry since 1983. Allen has lived in Southwest Virginia his entire life. After graduating from Lebanon High School, he attended Emory and Henry College and received a degree in Chemistry. He continued his education at Liberty University, receiving his Master’s degree in Biblical Studies, graduated from Luther Rice Seminary with a Masters of Divinity degree and returned to Liberty University for his Doctorate of Ministry. Allen and his wife, Brenda, have five children; two are “homemade”, Martha and Joseph, and three are “heart-made”, Bella and Timmy from Ethiopia, and Chris.

Chris and Jaidymar Smith are a pastoral team serving in central North Carolina at Jordan Memorial UMC and La Luz De Cristo IMU. Jaidy was born and raised in Puerto Rico while Chris is a native North Carolinian, they met in Puerto Rico and began a life together nearly 14 years ago. Their marriage reflects two cultures coming together which is reflected in their ministry. Through their Fresh Expressions they seek ways to bridge cultural and language barriers in order to create spaces for authentic love based communities.

David Blackwell came to Florence Carlton Church in Montana in 2005. He preaches, teaches, works with leaders, and enjoys getting to know people. “My greatest joy in ministry is watching the light of Christ come on in somebody’s eyes…when they say ’I can do this.’” David and his wife Beth married in 1985 and have been partners in ministry for 38 years. They are blessed with four children (and spouses) and five grandchildren. He loves music, 19th century American history, and any sport with a scoreboard. David earned his M.Div./R.E. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and was ordained in 1986.

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Related Resources

Rural Renewal Summit: A Two-Day Digital Event Exploring New Possibilities for Small-Town Churches – April 21 & 22, 2023

What is a Fresh Expression?

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Allen Jessee at Highlands Fellowship

Chris Smith via Jordan Memorial UMC

Jaidymar Smith via Facebook or Instagram

David Blackwell at Florence Carlton Church

Join our Facebook group: Rural Renewal Podcast Community

Email us: podcasts@freshexpressions.com

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Jeanette Staats
About the Author

Jeanette Staats

Jeanette has over 20 years of diverse experience in collegiate ministry, specializing in general oversight, staff coaching and development, children's ministry, and discipleship. She holds a B.A. in English with an emphasis in Professional Writing from Virginia Tech and a Graduate Certificate in Theological Studies from the John Leland Center for Theological Studies. She also serves on the board for The Ecclesia Network. Jeanette is an avid Hokie fan and rarely misses an opportunity to watch a collegiate sporting event.