Trading Away God’s Creation

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During September, Leanne Pearce Reed is curating a month of blog posts exploring stewardship of all creation. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

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The Landscape of Liturgy: Blessing of the Plants in Worship

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During September, Leanne Pearce Reed is curating a month of blog posts exploring stewardship of all creation. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Ashley Goff

(Editor’s Note: This writing first appeared on Ashley’s blog God of the Sparrow, where she writes on adventures with liturgy, yoga, urban farming, and being inspired by the Planet and its radical, creative earthly creatures. Check it out!)

Four years ago, Church of the Pilgrims started an urban garden with one raised bed. Now we have four raised beds, a root veggie garden, herb garden, large perennial bed, four beehives, and several composts. The produce grown from the garden goes to creating meals for Open Table, our Sunday lunch for hungry neighbors.

plant communion
Table. Font. Cups. Plants.

We’ve done a lot of work in these past four years in incorporating the garden into life at Pilgrims, particularly our liturgical life.

Several weeks ago, we had our spring planting day after worship. Before we plunked everything into the soil, we blessed and honored the plants in worship. How to bless the plants came out of a brainstorming session with Jess Fisher and Dana Olson, our two interns.

I preached on the Emmaus Road, focusing on “recognition” and how breaking of bread (the non-human) and community (human) push us to recognize the Holy One. I’d give this sermon a B, mostly because I was focused on communion that followed.

As part of the invitation to the table, I had people share their hopes and dreams for what they want to recognize in this Eastertide season. I stood next to the font which was in front of our table—everything surrounded by the plants we would soon plant.

Plants growing out of font and table.
Plants growing out of font and table.

We had a lime tree, olive tree, creeping thyme, tomatoes, eggplants, sunflowers, basil, cabbage, peppers, and native plants. These plants were grown by non-Monsanto seeds by Pilgrims or purchased at a farmers market from a local farm.

During Pilgrims baptismal liturgy, we share hopes and dreams for the person being baptized. Someone shares a hope and dream, then they take the pitcher and pour water into the font.

We did something similar with our “recognitions.”

I had planned to have people call out what they hope to recognize/pay attention to within themselves, Pilgrims and the planet in their pews with me pouring into the font.  Jeanne Mayer, a long time member at Pilgrims, was the first one to share. She came up, grabbed the pitcher out of my hand, shared in front of  everyone. This is the pattern in our baptism. Not sure what I was thinking…me holding the pitcher for everyone. Thankfully Jeanne pushed me out of the way.

One-by-one 10+ people shared. The recognitions focused on growth, perspective, expansiveness, and community.

Our intern, Jess Fisher, arranges the scene.
Our intern, Jess Fisher, arranges the scene.

People were then invited to come forward to our open table, singing “Come to the table of Grace”, and take a little communion cup, dip it into the font with the water full of hopes, and water the plants.

As we gathered around the table, we prayed, shared our hopes and dreams for the plants, and continued with an improv Prayer of Great Thanksgiving.

After worship, 15 of us went to our garden and planted our hopes and dreams.

 

Ashley Goff is a pastor at Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, DC and regular blogger at God of the Sparrow.

Senses and Sacraments

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During September, Leanne Pearce Reed is curating a month of blog posts exploring stewardship of all creation. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter! Read more

The Landscape of Urban Farming: I’ve Got a Garden Coach!

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During September, Leanne Pearce Reed is curating a month of blog posts exploring stewardship of all creation. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Ashley Goff

(Editor’s Note: This writing first appeared on Ashley’s blog God of the Sparrow, where she writes on adventures with liturgy, yoga, urban farming, and being inspired by the Planet and its radical, creative earthly creatures. Check it out!)

After 5  years of urban farming at Church of the Pilgrims and at my own homestead, I realized I had hit the limits of my knowledge with urban farming, particularly with soil science, companion planting, and pesticides.

Most of my knowledge on farming has come from swapping stories with other garden folks and doing some reading. But it’s hard for me to retain what I read on farming unless I am putting it into practice right in that very moment.

During the summer, my Facebook newsfeed led me to this organization: Love and Carrots.

Love and Carrots was started by Meredith Shepherd and believes this:

We at Love & Carrots believe the local food movement is a critical catalyst in environmental activism. In the United States the potential for impact by way of everyday choices is immense, yet after decades of consumerism-as-champion, our culture does not easily lend itself widespread change through daily choices. We believe food is a good start. Choosing what to eat is one of the easiest ways to be a proactive environmental steward, and eating locally is the simplest solution with the most impact so far. Urban Agriculture is the local food movement at its best and tackles a multifaceted problem. It is food production right at the site of high level consumption, it is greening spaces, it is education, its zero food miles, and its the healthy alternative.

Love and Carrots offers a coaching program—a Love and Carrots farmer comes out twice a month to your garden for garden maintenance + educate you on life in the garden.

Score.

Emailed. Met. Set-up a schedule.

Morgan, on the right, and Emily, our intern, in Pilgrims Sacred Greens garden.

Morgan, on the right, and Emily, former Pilgrims intern, in Pilgrims Sacred Greens garden.

I now have a garden coach—Morgan.

Twice a month, Morgan comes to Pilgrims  and we farm together. Plus I get to ask Morgan a bazillion questions about soil, pesticides, harvesting….whatever…..

Pilgrims garden was ready to be taken to the next level—not as in put in 5 more raised beds—but just in the intricacies of farming with what, when, and how to plant. There is so much to farming that my mind had been swirling with information, not sure how to get organized with a plan on such amazing details like what to do with tomato blight, what veggies can be planted next to each other, and what the hell to do with the stupid insects that come and terrorize the plants?

Morgan has taught me to mix-up what’s planted in one raised bed. For example: planting bok choy, mustard greens, and spinach together. These veggies are from the same family and the variety of plants in the bed confuses bugs that can annihilate the greens. This type of growing is practical and creative—I have to think through the strategy of how to create growth. It also creates beauty with the various textures and colors of the veggie leaves.  Mono-planting just isn’t effective. Diversity in planting increases potential for robust growth and beauty.  Having Morgan as a coach has pushed me to get out of my already-within-5-years systems of farming. Morgan has pushed open my ways and patterns to create a more beautiful Eden.

Pilgrims garden is ready for the next level, and so I am with urban farming.

I love the feeling of hitting my threshold of knowledge and experience, pulling in whatever resources needed to take me to the next level. A garden is an ever expanding, dynamic, life-giving place. I love watching lettuce grow and be shared with hungry people. I also love that the energy of the garden works within my own interior self—that I, too, need to go to the next level in order to work with the natural processes of life that are there for the taking.

Farm Church – Part 2

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During September, Leanne Pearce Reed is curating a month of blog posts exploring stewardship of all creation. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Ben Johnston-Krase

In July of last year I had a dream that I had received a call to serve a new church and that I had accepted that call sight unseen. When I arrived on my first day, I discovered that this church was, in fact, a farm. And I woke up.

As dreams go, this one was short on detail but strikingly vivid with its suggestion: a church on a farm… a farm as a church… farm church?

farm churchLying there I began to wonder what a farm church would look like. I imagined a congregation gathering to worship, maybe in a barn or outside in an orchard. And then after worship, I thought, for Sunday school kids could take care of chickens… and harvest eggs… and maybe their families could deliver those eggs to a food pantry on the way home…

Ideas started racing through my mind: farm-to-food-pantry ministries, bluegrass worship music, an actual choir loft… But what really caught my attention was a thought I had about a family that had joined First Presbyterian Church of Racine, where I had been serving for the previous six years. On the Sunday they joined, they shared with me that they had been laughing at themselves earlier that morning—laughing because they were actually joining a Christian church.

Church participation wasn’t on their to-do list that year. It wasn’t even on their radar. But one thing led to another and the Holy Spirit got involved somehow and there they were, finding themselves strangely at home in our congregation, looking for ways to get involved, and, in a move that would have utterly shocked their 6-month-ago selves, asking about joining.

I thought about the mom and dad in that family. They fit the profile of those I often refer to as “spiritually hungry but institutionally suspicious.” Spiritually engaged, mindful, prayerful… Open to conversations about God and religion, and eager to integrate those conversations into life practice. But suspicious of the Church, its traditions, worship forms, and generally, its institutional weight. But there they were, deeply investing themselves in our congregation, and laughing at themselves because of it.

Still just half awake from my dream, I thought of that family and bet that if we had a Farm Church they would have come a lot sooner. This was all at 3:17 in the morning, and by 4:00 I bought the domain name, www.FarmChurch.Org.

Fast forward a year and a month and a few days. The “For Sale” sign is in the yard and I’m sitting on my living room couch surrounded by a forest of stacked moving boxes. Next stop: Farm Church. Sort of. The next stop is actually an urban apartment in Durham, NC where we’ll live while we invest in the community and work to discern a location in the area. I say “we” not just because my family is coming with me (bless them) but because one of my dearest friends in the world, Allen (a bona fide farmer who I called the day after my dream) and his family are coming too (seriously, bless them).

I don’t know where much of anything is in this house because it’s all packed. For a good while I was careful about labeling boxes as I went, but honestly, opening some of these is going to be like Christmas morning because I have no idea what’s inside. (Ooooo! A bottle of chipotle sauce. Honey, you shouldn’t have. Seriously, this is a box of linens. You shouldn’t have.)

The scene in front of me is emblematic of our lives at the moment—clearly changing, upended, in disarray, but purposely moving. And I’m excited about the dream, the chickens, the soil, compost, and crops. But perhaps what excites me most is the challenge to be and become church with people who, for all sorts of reasons, might call themselves spiritually hungry but institutionally suspicious—folks who find themselves in this postmodern, post-denominational, post-Christian age still wondering about God, still eager to wade into deep matters of Spirit, still willing to dream about their lives and the world around them in light of Christ’s call.


Ben Johnston-Krase, co-Planter of Farm Church

benjkrase@gmail.com

www.farmchurch.org

www.facebook.org/FarmChurch.org

Meet Our 2015-2016 YAV: Angela Williams

For the second year, NEXT Church is proud to have a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) working with the office. Angela Williams comes to us fresh from a first year serving as a Young Adult Volunteer in the Philippines in 2014-2015.

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Farm Church

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During September, Leanne Pearce Reed is curating a month of blog posts exploring stewardship of all creation. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

 

By Allen Brimer

About a year ago, I stumbled across an inspiring idea in the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He writes to Eberhard Bethge on 30 April 1944:

What is bothering me incessantly is the question [of] what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today. The time when people could be told everything by means of words, whether theological or pious, is over, and so is the time of inwardness and conscience – and that means the time of religion in general. We are moving towards a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious anymore… How can Christ become the Lord of the religionless…? Are there religionless Christians? If religion is only a garment of Christianity… then what is a religionless Christianity?[1]

Bonhoeffer’s question arrived in my lap at almost the same time the idea of Farm Church did. My co-planter, Ben Johnston-Krase, dreamed that he took a call to a church sight-unseen. He arrived and people were worshiping in a barn on straw bales and pumpkins and calling themselves ‘Farm Church.’ He called me the next morning and shared his dream to which I said, “That’s it!”

farm churchSince then, we have both left stable pastoral positions in traditional churches to start Farm Church. Everywhere we go, people both in church and out react with enthusiastic curiosity about Farm Church. Time after time, people have said, “I want to see what Farm Church looks like! I can’t wait to come visit! I want to be a part of something that looks like that in my own life!” Some people have even pulled out their checkbooks on the spot and asked, “How can I donate?” – sometimes in large amounts! It is encouraging, affirming, and exhilarating to have received a calling that people are genuinely excited about! It gives me hope that there is something about Farm Church that is answering -however intuitively – Bonhoeffer’s question(s) for those who sense the same things that he did.

On the other hand, I am also challenged and humbled by the vision of Farm Church and its demands. Challenging, even upsetting news is coming to us in a steadily increasing flow from ecological and agricultural sectors. Given the threats before us, I ask myself Bonhoeffer’s question: Who IS Christ for us today? What do a church, a community, a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life mean for a people facing such potential threats?[2]

How can the church address these kinds of questions meaningfully? How can a church on a paved city block with a 200 year old, multi-million dollar building to maintain get its congregation onto soil to form spiritual community around the basic elements of light, life, rain, and seasons so that they come into contact once again with the very elements that gave birth to religion? How can the church of today with all of its institutional baggage release that which is weighing it down in order to dig deeply into the basic areas of human affairs where it might influence humanity spiritually instead of religiously? Could this be what Bonhoeffer meant?

Farm Church is perhaps a new model – a model of church that seeks not to organize itself around buildings and grounds apart from the nit and grit of human affairs, but immersed in them. This model of church can happen, indeed needs to happen in the other sectors of human affairs. What if there was a Corporate Bank Church or a Capitol Hill Church or a Conflict Mediation Church for Reconciliation? I have marveled at groups like Alcoholics Anonymous who have managed to reach broken people spiritually in the very context of their brokenness. What if every church did that?

Bonhoeffer’s prophecy certainly has played out in Europe, where cathedrals and churches stand largely empty. We can clearly see that the same pattern is slowly playing out in the United States as well. Is it because the church has set itself apart from daily life? And who is Christ for us now? What is the Church in a post-religious Christianity?


 

Allen Brimer is co-planter of Farm Church

allenbrimer@gmail.com

www.farmchurch.org

www.facebook.org/FarmChurch.org

[1] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Letters and Papers from Prison. ed. Eberhard Bethge, Enlarged Edition (NY: Touchstone, 1997), 279-80.

[2] Ibid., 280.

Living River: A Retreat on the Cahaba and the Cahaba Environmental Center

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During September, Leanne Pearce Reed is curating a month of blog posts exploring stewardship of all creation. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Kim Hall and Benga Harrison

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. – Psalm 8:1-8

river 1

From the beginning, God gave humankind dominion over creation; thereby, creating humankind’s first call to stewardship. God has never taken that command away. This call to stewardship, to make “disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19), and to “let the little children come to me” (Matt 19:14) inspired the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley to create sacred space – Living River: A Retreat on the Cahaba.

In 2001, the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley sold two camping facilities and purchased a unique and important site in central Alabama. It is located on 440 acres of majestic forests and fronts 4 miles of the Cahaba River, one of the most biodiverse rivers in all of North America.

Living River: A Retreat on the Cahaba continues the presbytery’s long tradition of youth camping and spiritual retreats. It is a place of natural and spiritual beauty where the soul is nourished and the spirit renewed. It is the perfect place to teach the importance of God’s call to stewardship.

Held by the waters of Living River, the Cahaba Environmental Center (CEC) was created with this in mind. What better way to teach people how to take care of the land than by showing them the ways to fall in love with it?

We at the CEC invite students of all ages into our backyard and immerse them in this special place. Students spend between three to five days exploring creation in all forms, from the tiniest carpenter ants to a whitetail deer to the stars sprinkling the night sky on a cool autumn night. At first, the students may be hesitant, scared even of some of the amazing, unpredictable forces of the natural world, but soon, both children and adults at the CEC slowly but surely discover the power of wonder for the natural world. As Rachel Carson said, “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” Whether they understand it yet or not, these children are falling in love with the land and steadily becoming stewards of both land and water here on Earth. Their experience on the Living River property prepares them to care for this sacred space, along with all other natural spaces they come in contact with.

river 2

At the Cahaba Environmental Center and Living River, we hope to open the door to the outdoors. We aim to bridge the gap between science and religion, between the environment and the church, between people and the land. We wish to someday live in a world where people understand the importance of becoming stewards of God’s creation. Our dream is to create this perfect world on a small scale, to build a model for how the world could and should be. And thus, we have created a Living River that we hope will wash away the barriers between people and the natural world, creating a path to stewardship and a commitment to a better world and a better us.


kimKim Hall is Director of the Cahaba Environmental Center, www.cahabaec.org. Contact her at khall@livingriver.org.

 

 

 

BengaBenga Harrison is Development Director for Living River: A Retreat on the Cahaba, www.livingriver.org. Contact her at bharrison@livingriver.org.

Stewardship of Creation

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During September and October, Leanne Pearce Reed is curating a month of blog posts exploring stewardship of all creation. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

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Music and Memory: In the Bleak Midwinter

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Bonny Claxton

I serve as the Chief Financial Officer for the Rochester Presbyterian Home. In that role, I spend a great deal of time with our residents, whom we call “elders.” “Elders,” for us, is a term of respect and dignity. All of our residents are facing memory loss issues of one kind or another, including some with significant levels of dementia or Alzheimer’s.

We know from research and our experience that music is an invaluable resource for people living with dementia and those caring for them. “We tend to remain contactable as musical beings on some level right up to the very end of life,” says Professor Paul Robertson, a concert violinist and academic who has made a study of music in dementia care.

Robertson says: “We know that the auditory system of the brain is the first to fully function at 16 weeks, which means that you are musically receptive long before anything else. So it’s a case of first in, last out when it comes to a dementia-type breakdown of memory.”

We know that’s true for our elders. We recently had a music therapist come in and do an in-service for our staff, helping us to learn how to sing to and with our elders. We regularly have musicians come in and lead sing-alongs with our residents, whether family songs, patriotic numbers, hymns or Christmas carols.

Even when speech and other cognitive functions are diminishing, I have learned that music is a deep-seated form of communication and expression, reaching the deepest places of an elder when nothing else can.

Here’s one example…

As you might guess, we have regular holiday gatherings, and the Christmas season is especially meaningful at the Rochester Presbyterian Home. Many groups of youth and adults come to visit. The youth of our own congregation, Third Presbyterian Church, come in near Christmas every year to visit with our elders and sing carols.

I remember one such gathering. I have always loved the carol “In the Bleak Midwinter.” (Glory to God, 144) I suggested to our song leader that we sing that carol. I was sitting next to Millie, who had lost much of her ability to use words. We began to sing, and the most amazing thing happened… Millie was quietly singing along!

She sang:

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Her spirit changed immediately as those words, and that tune – so embedded in her spirit –came pouring forth.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him –
Give my heart.

It was a special and sacred moment. Memory loss was suspended, as a lifetime of faithfulness returned abundantly.

Whether it’s singing with our children, singing with our elders, or the songs – secular or sacred – that define our own lives, music allows us to tap the deepest parts of our memory, and, in this case, draws us closer to God.


 

Annie and BonnyBonny Claxton

Chief Financial Officer

Rochester Presbyterian Home

Member, Third Presbyterian Church, Rochester