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Logo that says Rural Church Rising
Oct 27-28, 2023


We are thrilled to announce a new conference created just for those who live outside of cities and suburban areas to equip, empower, and energize their ministry as they reach new people, in new places, and in new ways!

Rural Church Rising is a two-day conference for lay and clergy people serving in rural contexts across the country. This conference takes place in the North Central District of the Florida Annual Conference, one of the most established rural districts participating in Fresh Expressions of church since it was brought to the United States. Participants in Rural Church Rising will have the opportunity to learn from Bishop Tom Berlin, Elaine Heath, Tex Sample, Chris and Jaidymar Smith, Stacey Spence-Baldwin, Luke Edwards, Marlon C. Mack, Sr., Michael Beck, and more through learning sessions and workshops at the Warren Willis Camp in Fruitland Park, FL.


When registering, participants may add a day for the Pre-Conference Retreat, which includes a time led by spiritual director Laura Baber followed by an immersive session led by Michael Beck and a rural ministry networking dinner in Fruitland Park.

Learn from Experts in Innovative Rural Ministry

Gain Additional Learning and Spiritual Renewal

Enjoy Florida's Beautiful Natural Spaces

Participate in Learning Sessions, Activities, and Workshops



October 27-28, 2023


Warren Willis Camp + Conference Center
Fruitland Park, FL


Early Bird Price


Pre-Conference Retreat
A time of spiritual renewal, specialized training, and making connections
Weathered black and white image of a lake

Spiritual Retreat

Join spiritual director and United Methodist Deacon, Laura Baber, as she leads participants through a spiritual retreat on the beautiful lakefront grounds of Warren Willis Camp + Conference Center.

Immersive Session

Explore Fresh Expressions firsthand with a practical training experience from Director of Fresh Expressions Florida and of Fresh Expressions UM, Michael Beck.

Networking Dinner

Gather with fellow rural ministry leaders over a special dinner at a local restaurant and get to know the presenters through one-on-one conversations and making connections.

About Laura Baber

Laura Baber is a Deacon in the United Methodist Church (UMC). She is a member in full standing of the Susquehanna Conference and an affiliate member of the Florida Conference.  Serving as a spiritual director for over 20 years, Laura specializes in guided imagery prayer and creative contemplation/prayer experiences, as well as group spiritual direction. She is active as a leader at St. Mark’s UMC in Ocala Florida. Laura graduated with a BA in English Literature from Randolph-Macon /Woman’s College (1985), a Masters of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary (2007), and completed the Ministry of Spiritual Direction training with the Center for Spiritual Formation (1999).

Laura is the author of Rhythms of Restoration: Practicing Grief on the Path of Grace.  This book is a collection of mini-retreats for the hurting and those who help them.  Laura was raised in a large family on a farm in Virginia and she now lives with her husband John Esbenshade  and their pandemic Havanese puppies Polly and Grace in Ocala, Florida

Laura Baber smiling outdoors with shoulder-length hair, glasses, and a green shirt.


2:00 pm

3:45 pm

4:00 pm

6:45 pm


9:00 am

10:30 am

11:00 am

12:15 pm
1:00 pm
2:30 pm
3:00 pm
3:15 pm
5:00 pm
5:30 pm
6:30 pm
8:00 pm

Immersive Session with Michael Beck


Pre-Conference Retreat

Networking Dinner at Taki's Restaurant

Pre-Conference Breakfast

Arrival and Check-in

Opening Session


Learning Session 1



Workshops 1 and 2


Dinner (Immersive Experience)

Learning Session 2

Campfire Workshop and S'mores 


8:00 am

9:00 am

9:30 am

11:00 am

11:45 am

12:15 pm

1:00 pm

3:00 pm

4:30 pm

5:00 pm

Breakfast and Devotional

Morning Worship

Learning Sessions 3

Q&A Panel

Activity 3


Workshops 3 and 4

Learning Session 4

Closing Session & Sending


Learn directly from scholars and practitioners of rural ministry
Corey Jones in clergy robes preaching from behind a pulpit.

Corey Jones

Pastor, Director of Camp and Retreat Ministries

Rev. Corey Jones has a background in children’s, outreach, camping, and pastoral ministries, serving in different capacities since 2000, including the pastor of St. Mark UMC, Lakeland and St. Luke's UMC, Orlando upon earning his M.Div. from Asbury Theological Seminary in 2012. In 2019, Corey was appointed Senior Pastor of Pasadena Community Church. Beginning July 1, 2023, he will serve as the Executive Director of Florida Camps and Retreats at the Warren Willis UM Camp and Conference Center.

He serves on the Bishop’s Anti-Racism Task Force, Board of Ordained Ministry, Committee on Episcopacy, Florida Delegation, Simpkins Wesley Retreat Board of Trustees, and Florida Southern College’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council. Corey is married to his best friend, Carol, a middle-school mathematics teacher and coach. They have two sons, Gavin Michael and Isiah Jackson. The four of them love swimming, watching sports and movies, playing boardgames, going to the beach and on cruises, and dancing in the kitchen.

Tex Sample slightly smiling in a suit with glasses.

Tex Sample

Author, Storyteller, Specialist in Church and Society

Tex Sample is a specialist in church and society and a much sought-after lecturer, storyteller, workshop leader, and consultant. He is a pastor, ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, and the Robert B. And Kathleen Rogers Professor Emeritus of Church and Society at The Saint Paul School of Theology and has published 13 books. 

Sample was born and grew up in Brookhaven, Mississippi, and as a young man drove a cab, worked in construction, and was a roustabout in the oil field. He writes about ministry and organizing in working-class America. Sample is married to Peggy Jo Sanford Sample. “Tex” is his real name. His father named him after Texanna Gillham, an African-American woman who lived near Shelbyville, Texas. 

Chris and Jaidy Smith smiling together. Chris has glasses and Jaidy has curly hair.

Chris and Jaidymar Smith

Pastoral Team, Fresh Expressions Adventurers

Chris and Jaidy 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 also 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.

Elaine Heath smiling outdoors with glasses and gray hair.

Elaine Heath

Author, Speaker, Retreat Leader, Consultant, Abbess

Elaine is an author, speaker, retreat leader, consultant, and abbess. After growing up in poverty, Elaine earned a PhD in theology, was ordained in the United Methodist Church, served as a professor for eleven years at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University and as dean and professor of missional and pastoral theology at Duke Divinity School, Duke University. She retired from Duke to lead Neighborhood Seminary, which she co-founded with several friends.


She now lives with her spouse at Spring Forest, a new monastic community in rural North Carolina, where, along with friends, they tend a forest and small farm. Spring Forest supports refugee resettlement through sponsorships and an ESL program. They also donate fresh produce to area food banks, host a range of spiritual formation ministries, children's programs, and much more.

Marlon Mack slightly smiling in a nice suit with glasses.

Marlon C. Mack, Sr.

Pastor, Fresh Expressions Adventurer

Marlon has served as the Senior Pastor of the Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church of Gary, IN since 2008. He is currently the 1st Vice Moderator of the Indiana Brotherhood Missionary Baptist District Association and the Special Assistant-to-the-President of the General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Indiana, Inc. He holds a B.S. in Biblical Studies from Indiana Wesleyan University and is currently pursuing a Masters of Ministry in the Fresh Expressions House of Studies at United Theological Seminary.

He and his wife Shanta are the proud parents of four sons; Marlon Jr., Marcus, Matthew, and Rashawn, and one daughter, Sara.

Tom Berlin outdoors smiling with a blue shirt.

Tom Berlin

Resident Bishop of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church

Tom Berlin is a native of Winchester, Virginia. He attended Virginia Tech and received a BS in business with a major in public administration. Bishop Berlin received his Master of Divinity from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Ordained in 1987, he has served churches of all sizes in the Virginia Conference, including 25 years as the Lead Pastor of Floris UMC, a multi-site, multi-staff congregation near the nation’s capital. 

The bishop has chaired the Board of Governors at Wesley Theological Seminary, led delegations to General Conference, and served on the Commission on a Way Forward and the team that created the Protocol of Grace and Reconciliation through Separation.

Stacey Spence-Baldwin in a purple polo smiling next to a brown horse.

Stacey Spence-Baldwin

Pastor, Fresh Expressions Adventurer

Rev. Dr. Stacey Spence-Baldwin is a pastor in rural North Central Florida where she currently serves a three-point charge. She recently earned a Doctorate of Ministry in Semiotics, Church, and Culture from Portland Seminary at George Fox University.

Her doctoral work focused on the rural church and its decline or dying because it lacks connection with the Holy Spirit. Her key finding was that when a church embraces the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it will live again. This finding came from her personal experiences of the Holy Spirit resurrecting three small rural churches which were in decline/dying back to life. When congregations allowed the Holy Spirit to prompt their mission work the rural churches, in serious decline, discovered innovative and creative ways in re-innergizing the body of Christ.  One way this is shown is in her passion about horses and therapeutic riding and she uses that passion to cultivate Fresh Expressions of church.

Michael Beck smiling with his tattooed arms crossed in a black shirt.

Michael Beck

Director of Fresh Expressions Florida, Fresh Expressions UM Strategist

Rev. Dr. Michael Beck is a pastor, professor, author, and the Director of Fresh Expressions Florida. Michael and wife Jill are co-pastors of Wildwood/St Marks UMCs, and a network of thirteen fresh expressions led by laity that gather in tattoo parlors, dog parks, burrito joints, and digital spaces. They direct an inpatient rehab, a shelter for those experiencing homelessness, and a local anti-racism movement. Michael also teaches as an adjunct professor at several seminaries. 

Beck earned a Master of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary Orlando and a Doctorate in Semiotics and Future Studies at Portland Seminary with his mentor Leonard Sweet. He’s the author of nine books and serves as Director of the Fresh Expressions House of Studies at United Theological Seminary, Fresh Expressions Strategist for Path 1, and Director of ReMissioning for Fresh Expressions NA.

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Luke Edwards

Associate Director of Church Development, Fresh Expressions Trainer

Luke is the Associate Director of Church Development for the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, a trainer for Fresh Expressions NA and Fresh Expressions UM, a professionally trained ministry coach, and the author of Becoming Church: A Trail Guide for Starting Fresh Expressions. He co-leads a community of dads and father figures called Who Let the Dads Out?. Luke is an ordained elder in the UMC and was the founding pastor of King Street Church, a network of fresh expressions in Boone, NC.

He grew up in an area of western Massachusetts that was recently named the most post-Christian metropolitan area in the US where he joined his first microchurch at 14. Between his upbringing and his work in local, regional, and national levels of the Fresh Expressions movement Luke has a unique perspective into the future of the church in a post-Christian society. He lives in Denver, NC, where he enjoys hiking, coaching his daughter's soccer team, and being a superfan of Charlotte FC.

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More presenters coming soon...


4990 Picciola Rd,

Fruitland Park, FL 34731

The camp is located in Fruitland Park, FL, only a few miles from the intersection of State Highways 441 and 27. It is 60 miles from the Orlando International Airport, 94 miles from the Tampa International Airport, 74 miles from Gainesville Regional Airport, 50 miles from Gainesville-Sanford International Airport, and only 3 miles off the highway, so guests are never too far from stores and supplies.

Situated on the shores of Lake Griffin, there are beautiful outdoor spaces, trails, and activities to for guests to enjoy.

In partnership with...

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