Farm Church: A faithful community connecting people to God, food, and the land
The first Farm Church we held, just over a year ago, was one of the best experiences of church I have ever had as a spiritual leader. For years I had been dreaming up ideas about how to combine food and faith, or spirituality and the land, and at last, 18 wonderful people gathered together on borrowed land to do something holy, and meaningful, and fun–we pulled weeds. Yes, pulling weeds is at the heart of one of my proudest moments as a priest.
You see, for months my ministry partners Alex, Greg, and I had been meeting to think, pray, and talk about how we could offer some kind of experience that introduced people to the land, to the soil, plants, seeds, water, sun and air, whose mystical kismet results in farm stands and grocery stores full of carrots, spinach, corn, potatoes, berries, figs, tomatoes, and onions that eventually make their way to our plates, but whose origin we seldom consider. There was something important in the connection between God, food, and the land; we could just feel it and we wanted others to feel it, too. We didn’t know exactly what it would look like, but we knew that if we wanted people to make these connections, we’d need to take them right to the source. What we needed was a farm.
Having little more than a couple of backyards and some garden boxes between ourselves, we were at a bit of a loss, initially, until we realized that we didn’t need our own land, just someone to lend us theirs. Through some friendly connections, we partnered with a local homeless ministry called Community First Village, who was just trying to start a farm of their own and were happy to have a few more farm-hands to help them out. I couldn’t have been happier for the situation we found ourselves in–they needed people for their farm, we needed a farm for our people. I considered it ordained by God!
We arrived for our first gathering in the Genesis Gardens at Community First ready to be put to work. We had music sheets and were ready to sing, we had camp stoves and were ready to make a hot breakfast for everyone to share together, we had boots and gloves and were ready to be put to work. Having been raised in the suburbs, a long way from fields and crops, I’m not sure what I thought we’d be doing–maybe hauling in a harvest of fresh produce or tilling the soil so we could sow a whole vegetable patch of seeds–but in fact our job that day was simply to pull weeds.
Pull weeds? I thought. That’s not fun, I thought to myself. Still, I knew why we’d come, why we’d wanted to bring people to this farm, why we thought and prayed and worked for this day when we could finally show people that spirituality meant getting dirty with God, and that in the garden that isn’t just a metaphor. To the task of pulling weeds, I pressed on with optimism.
While some pulled weeds, a few others shoveled mulch, and still others prepared a hot breakfast that we ate together on wooden picnic tables under a cool morning sun. Discussing the scripture passage we had read before starting our work, where Jesus reminds us to be like the lilies of the field who never fret over what they will eat or what they will wear, we were reminded not to worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have worries of its own. Most of us had heard the passage several times before, but after pulling weeds or shoveling mulch for an hour it meant something different than it had before. But we all fell silent when a young woman, just shy of becoming a teenager, surmised that pulling weeds might be a good way of tuning out our own thoughts and worries and in turn being more in touch with the God who created all the living things around us. Clearly, she was right.
Not only did we understand what she meant, but we’d all experienced for ourselves that morning in a way that we don’t get to very often in our fast paced, urban and suburban lives. And that’s what we do at Farm Church. Now in a new garden with new partners, we till beds, plant seeds, harvest more greens than you can shake a stick at, shovel load after load of mulch, and pull a lot of weeds. It’s hard work, and it’s holy work, and we all leave more connected to God, to our food, and to the land, than we were when we arrived, and for that I am truly grateful!
The Rev. Brin Bon is the associate priest at St. Michaels, Austin. You can learn more about Farm Church here.