Indiana church reaches blue-collar community with truck, tractor events
In rural Indiana, Middlebury Community Church of the Nazarene takes the word “community” seriously. Events like “Drive Your Tractor to Church” and “Truckers Bobtail Cruise-In” reflect the church’s local community and underline the church’s efforts to make all community members feel welcome, loved, and valued.
One of Middlebury Community Church’s first-ever events after its inception in 2017 was a Drive Your Tractor to Church event. The idea came from Lead Pastor Gary Sheets’ son and included a “blessing of the tractors.” A group in nearby Shipshewana heard about the event and invited Sheets to participate in its “Blessing of the Trucks” event.
Both events are similar as the farmers and truckers drive their tractors and truck cabs to the church lot and open them up for the community to see. Sheets said some of the vehicles are worth anywhere from $300-500k.
The church then invites the drivers to a church service and meal along with a church-wide prayer of blessing over the trucks and tractors. Sheets said he and his church want to honor these truckers and farmers.
“A lot of these truckers are on the road seven days a week,” Sheets said. “For them to be able to come to an in-person church service is a real blessing for them. And they stay in the church and visit a long time. It just makes for a great day to honor them.”
Gary Straight, a truck driver from Wisconsin, connected with the church thanks to the bobtail drive-in and Blessing of the Trucks. He stops by every chance he gets and talks with Sheets regularly.
“I had a very hardened attitude towards organized religion,” Straight said. “Gary Sheets and Middlebury Community Church of the Nazarene has helped me to take great strides in softening those harsh attitudes. My understanding of Christ has grown. I try to be more Christlike, and I am still a work in progress.”
The town of Middlebury itself is just over 3,000 residents, but the surrounding community is loaded with farmsteads and fields of crops. It’s home to industrial factories as well as a large Amish population.
“As a community church, we are meeting people right in the cabs of their tractors and right in the cabs of their trucks,” Sheets said. “We’re doing it always with the message of Jesus Christ, and it’s changing people’s lives.”
Many farmers and truck drivers who attend the events feel like their hard work and blue-collar profession is undervalued, something the church and Sheets have been trying to combat. Suicide rates for farmers have sky-rocketed in recent years, so Sheets focused his recent tractor Sunday sermon on where their value lies.
“We talked about [their] value being in Jesus Christ, not in the land you own,” Sheets said. “You don’t have to try and be a hero by getting insurance money and killing yourself to save the family farm.”
Sheets said 12 farmers raised their hand and said that they’d recently had those dark thoughts. One farmer told him how valued the church had helped him feel again.
“We’ve had terrible thoughts before, and we’ve had very dark hours,” the farmer said. “It’s nice to be loved in our own community, by a church who takes time to say, ‘You guys are still important in America,’ because a lot of family farms are not feeling that these days.”