Fellowship and Worship as Messy Church

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Ellen Crawford True is curating reflections on intergenerational ministry. What does it look like for the church to do and be church together? What does it feel like to understand ourselves as vital parts of the body? What can it mean to seek to be faithful as children of God together, no matter what comes next? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Suzie Gerrard Fletcher

Five years ago, I moved to a rural charge with three United congregations in the Church of Scotland.  The Sunday School as was had ceased to function during the vacancy, and soon after I arrived, it was decided we would try and do something completely different: Messy Church. An interested group of folk gathered for a training course and three months later held our first Messy Church. It is a great opportunity for people of all ages to worship together, and to create a sense of belonging. Broadly based around fellowship, it is both a fun and creative way to introduce people to Jesus through hospitality, friendship, stories and worship. And, to share together in a meal, which for many families and churches, is a rare occasion in this day and age.

Messy Church is its original form is a fresh expression of church that began in a Anglican church in Portsmouth as a way of being church for people who don’t do traditional church, for whatever reason. It is a church of all ages… and lots of churches have picked up on the idea and been able to adapt it for their own situations, both in the UK and overseas. It has grown and estimates are that well over 500,000 people belong to Messy Church, and that number is growing all the time. A typical session includes an introduction, crafts, a celebration (worship) and a hot meal.

In our situation, we have a craft leader and worship leader (myself), and should have had a catering team. We generally meet on the same Sunday from 4-6pm in the afternoon every month (some do it on a weekday or Saturday). There’s a brief introduction to the theme as folk are gathering and then everyone is let loose to go and explore eight different activities which help to tell the story in different ways. The emphasis is on crafts, being sure there is something for all ages and genders, and the adults come alongside and take part whilst lending a hand to younger children. We have a person at each table (ages ranging from teenagers to the elderly) to help explain how their activities relate to the story.

After about an hour, we call everyone to the front of the hall, as our hall is separate to the Church itself, and have a time of singing songs, telling the Bible story in a creative way, a participatory prayer and Messy Grace (blessing done in a circle), before we line up to share in a meal which we serve around one large circle of tables because our numbers allow for that.  The materials used are very helpful in organising each session.  

About half of those who come have/had some loose connection to church, whilst the other half have not. For most of these families, Messy Church is church and apart from special services, they do attend on Sunday morning, and after education of the elders aren’t expected to.  This sort of fellowship is new and different more many in the UK, and it is wonderful to see God at work in generations of people who might otherwise have never known much of the faith.

Messy Church is enabled, resourced and supported by BRF (Bible Reading Fellowship), a registered charity, as one of its core ministries.

suzie fletcherSuzie Garrard Fletcher is a parish minister in the Church of Scotland, where she serves a united charge of three small rural congregations. She graduated from Presbyterian College in 1996 and has a dual degree (M Div and MA in Christian Education) from Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education, as was, and went to Scotland for a year, but she and her husband loved it so much she applied for admission to the Church of Scotland and has been working in Scotland since her ordination in 2001. They have three small children, with another on the way, and enjoy family life in a small village on the North Sea, with the convenience of the beautiful historic and cultural city of Edinburgh, just forty miles away.

Intergenerational Ministry: Not Just for Youth Ministry Anymore

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Ellen Crawford True is curating reflections on intergenerational ministry. What does it look like for the church to do and be church together? What does it feel like to understand ourselves as vital parts of the body? What can it mean to seek to be faithful as children of God together, no matter what comes next? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Kyle Anderson

For me, with an undergraduate degree and a decade of vocational experience in youth ministry, the idea of intergenerational ministry seems commonplace. For anyone with a background in youth ministry, it is almost assumed that intergenerational ministry is the way to do youth ministry.

_MG_6780Before I began seminary and while I was working at my last church, the Fuller Youth Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary published their research entitled Sticky Faith. The concern of the research was creating a faith that “sticks” once students graduate from high school and transition on from our youth ministries. Intergenerational ministry – the pairing of students with spiritually mature adults from the congregation – was one of the things which helped to contribute to sticky faith. In fact, the idea of adult mentorship within the congregation becomes one of the three sticky faith pillars.

As someone who was paid to do youth ministry (i.e. looking for results), this was exactly the kind of resource I was looking for! And it really is great. I’d recommend their books and resources to every congregation, pastor, youth worker, and parent out there (stickyfaith.org).

But what is it about intergenerational ministry that works? In the context of youth ministry, I think intergenerational ministry has become a tool or a resource to be used towards a greater end. When we do this, I think we are missing two theologically significant truths about the church and ministry.

  1. Our ministries in the world are only truly ministry if they are connected to God’s larger act of ministry. In other words, we are not the “doers” of ministry. We are invited into participation in something that God is already doing in our congregations, communities, and the world. We cannot simply apply a particular methodology to a ministry and expect a particular outcome; God doesn’t work that way. This is what Peter rebukes Simon the magician for in Acts 8. Simon offers Peter and John money to teach him how to impart the Holy Spirit and perform miracles.
  2. The youth ministry isn’t simply a sub group that will become the church in the future. In fact we need our young people – their ideas, opinions, perspectives, leadership – if we are truly to be the church. Think of the relationship between Samuel and Eli in 1 Samuel 3: Samuel had this experience with God that Eli did not. However, Samuel needed Eli’s help in interpreting God’s message to him. It was by neither of their efforts alone, but rather in their coming together, as equals, that the fullness of God’s revelation was revealed.

When we view intergenerational ministry as a tool to be implemented toward a greater end, we are missing the theological profundity of exactly what is happening. Intergenerational ministry doesn’t work because we “do” it well, but rather because it represents a truer, deeper, more profound sense of what God has created the church to be. I’d suggest that intergenerational ministry isn’t simply a resource, but rather it is the context, very place that God is at work within the church. I think this is the essence of NEXT Church, to engage this theological nuance in such a way that sparks imagination and creativity regarding new ways of being the church in our communities and the world.

The Book of Order puts it this way (which I love!): the polity of the PCUSA “presupposes the fellowship of women, men, and children united in covenant relationship with one another and with God through Jesus Christ. The organization rests on the fellowship and is not designed to work without trust and love.” (G-1.0102) (emphasis added)

NEXT Church is about being willing to risk everything for the sake of love of God and neighbor. When we reflect on intergenerational ministry it means letting go. It means providing a space for all, women, men, and children, in a meaningful way. It means moving from a model of assimilation to a model of mentorship. And for some (perhaps most) this is a radical redefining of what it means to be the church.

KyleKyle Anderson loves the church and working with students, and likes to play golf, travel, and take photos. Kyle lives in Princeton, NJ, with his wife and son where he is currently pursuing his MDiv at Princeton Theological Seminary.

And A Child Shall Lead Them

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Ellen Crawford True is curating reflections on intergenerational ministry. What does it look like for the church to do and be church together? What does it feel like to understand ourselves as vital parts of the body? What can it mean to seek to be faithful as children of God together, no matter what comes next? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Gretchen Sausville

Her name is Lily. She is a bright eyed, fair haired ten year old who began worshipping with us 6 years ago. When Lily and her parents first came to Westminster, we knew that this was not an average four year old. Lily was unafraid and outgoing in church, completely comfortable with her surroundings, endearing herself to everyone in the church family. She boldly spoke during time for children, enthusiastically sang hymns, chatted about the sermon to her parents during worship, and was less than thrilled to miss any part of the Sunday morning festivities.  Lily brought her parents to all church events, and knew everyone’s name in the congregation by the time she was five. If she didn’t know your name, she made sure that you knew hers!

child reading bible smallAs Lily grows, so does her faith and presence. Lately, she plays the Steinway piano in the sanctuary as folks traipse out into the hall for coffee hour, as her younger friends run through the sanctuary. She is the first to raise her hand when questions are asked, the first to draw a picture for the worship bulletin, the first to help the now 4 year olds navigate worship stations or “the good stuff” at coffee hour. She prays boldly for friends and pets and gives sermon feedback regularly. Not every child is like Lily, yet Lily has encouraged every child to be themselves at church. She has inspired a younger generation to be known, to be proud, and to be kids in church. In so doing, Lily has inspired the older generations too, reminding them that church is where every age and stage are welcome. She has chosen church members as her “grandparents for the day” at school, and calls up Granny Annie, who lives across the street, to take her to worship when her parents are unable. Lily loves church and the church loves Lily.

Recently, I received a call on a Friday evening, that Lily was in the hospital, the fever had come on quickly and she was very sick. As Lily sat in the hospital that night, her body fighting infection and fever, she prayed boldly, and she requested her parents call the pastors and Granny Annie. Little did she know, they already had, and prayers for this little one where being shared and lifted up amidst the congregation. Lily’s prognosis was pneumonia and several more days in the hospital. When her fever broke, Granny Annie and I went to Children’s Hospital to see her.  We had to wear gowns, masks, and gloves, a sight that made Lily laugh. As I prayed, she prayed too, clutching the hand of one of her favorite church people, Granny Annie. There in a tiny hospital room, the generations of the faithful were gathered, led by a child’s faith.

On Sunday, Lily’s absence was palatable. Her many adoptive grandparents were concerned and asking what kind of cookies to make her, her teachers planned their visits, and Lily sent a text stating how sad she was to be missing church! Later that evening, the call came that Lily was home, she had taken a turn for the better, and the only thing her parents could attribute it to, was the prayers of the church community.

Lily is special to our church family, as are all of our young ones. The young ones remind us how to be children of God and lose ourselves fully into God’s love and community. They remind us how to reach out to one another, unafraid to share our hurts, our fears, and our joys, as an act of worship. They remind us of our need for a church family and that donuts are always good at coffee hour!

gretchen sausvilleGretchen N. Sausville serves as Associate Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, CT.  A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, she is passionate about preaching and creative worship, helping people think about faith outside the box, and developing interfaith conversations and partnerships between Presbyterian and Jewish communities.  When not at work she is often performing on stage, traveling abroad with her backpack, cooking, or practicing yoga. Gretchen lives in West Hartford with her puppy, Beaken, and blogs at thestandbyetraveler.com.

An Intergenerational Experience of the Church

by Ellen Crawford True

If I close my eyes I can see the hallway of my home church. The linoleum tiles are slick under my 3-year-old feet as I run to hug my best friend by the choir room. In the blink of an eye, I see the loving exasperation on my confirmation class teacher’s face. I’m too busy chatting with her son to listen to her celebrating the legacy of John Calvin whose serious face stares at me from the slide on the screen behind her. Blink again and I hear basketballs dribbling on the gym floor on a chilly Thursday night in January while my patient coach urges us to run a little faster and play a little smarter. (They can’t cut you from a church team, even if you have a non-existent vertical leap and are five feet tall on a good day.) I can feel the air swirling around me as four other classmates and I dance in the sanctuary while the choir sings a Christmas cantata. Another blink, and I am walking down that aisle to say my marriage vows moments after the church ladies–armed with safety pins and stain remover–have finished fussing over me and making sure everything is just so. Two years later I am kneeling in that same aisle to feel hands pressed on my head and shoulders while prayers are lifted at my ordination. It is the same place where we celebrate the resurrection at my mother’s memorial service, the same place where the church welcomes my daughter at her baptism.

Jess Fisher-2In each of these moments I see the faces and hear the voices of men, women, and children who have been church. At its best, my experience of faith has always been an intergenerational one, long before such a notion was trending. There were coaches, parents, Sunday school teachers, nursery workers. There were preschoolers and junior highs, circle leaders and the men’s bible study that gathered every so often on Friday mornings in my family’s living room. That was church for me. In many ways, it still is.

In recent years there has been an intentional move to recover this intergenerational emphasis in the church. Some of this movement has grown out of necessity: it doesn’t make sense to have Sunday school divided into too many different age groups when there are only a few children, one youth, and a handful of young adults present on Sunday mornings, so we look to be and do church all mixed together. But the more powerful motivation has been to regain something that gets lost in the larger world. Just as we are too often segmented and separated by gender, class, race, orientation, and ability, we are divvied up by age. As is the case with every division, something crucial and sacred is lost along the way, at least for me. My faith is deepened when I get time to color with three-year-olds. My heart is lifted when I laugh and pray with seventy-year-olds. I am challenged and encouraged when I hang out with and worship alongside people who don’t know the same eighties movie references I do, people who couldn’t name a single Prince song until just a few weeks ago. Something sacred happens when we do church together. I see holiness when I watch those three-year-olds and those seventy-year-olds color, laugh, pray, and tell stories together. In those moments, I catch a glimpse of the kingdom of God.

In the coming weeks, we will hear from a variety of voices from across the church as they reflect on intergenerational ministry. Like every other buzzword in church circles, it’s not about a one-size-fits-all program. It’s not a silver bullet that will solve all of our problems or alleviate all of our anxiety. But in their reflections, we will hear hope. The posts will be written by pastors, seminary students, educators, and church members about what it looks like for the church to do and be church together, what it feels like to understand ourselves as vital parts of the body, what it can mean to seek to be faithful as children of God together, no matter what comes next.

EllenCrawfordTrueA native of Nashville, TN, Ellen Crawford True graduated from Davidson College and Union Presbyterian Seminary. She has served churches in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. She’s a fan of grits, biscuits, running, dancing, and Steph Curry. She lives in Camp Hill, PA with her husband Dave, their daughter Abby, and their dog Homer. She serves as Pastor and Head of Staff of Christ Presbyterian Church, also in Camp Hill.

From Hope to Reality

By Jessica Tate

The Christian story is full of grand visions –

  • the kingdom of God where the last will be first, and the hungry will be filled, and the lowly lifted up,
  • Jesus’ promise of life abundant,
  • swords turned to plowshares and lions lying with lambs,
  • beloved community, in which all things are held in common, the sick are tended, bread is broken, worship is shared,
  • a promised new heaven and new earth where death will be no more, where war and crying and pain will be no more.

Most congregations are filled with church leaders who hold visions for their own communities –

  • worship services that honor God, invite people more deeply into the mystery of faith, and inspire those who attend,
  • mission endeavors that build relationships, show love for neighbor, and make a significant difference in the community,
  • Christian formation that is so engaging and life changing you don’t want to miss it and will eagerly invite a friend,
  • witness in the community that is authentic, humble, and shares the good news of the gospel in ways that people can hear it,
  • true community where people see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, where honesty is valued and forgiveness regularly practiced.

These visions – the grand and the specific – are essential.

And they are not enough.

Casting a vision doesn’t make it so. I regularly have conversations with church leaders who say, “We can see the vision, but we can’t figure out how to get from point A to point B, let alone steps all the way down the line.” That’s usually accompanied by a litany of reasons ranging from, “I don’t know how to lead a congregation into this,” to “They (it’s always someone else) are throwing up road blocks at every turn.”

People are stuck. Pastors are stuck. Sessions are stuck. Congregations are stuck.

It is that “stuck-ness” that compelled me to attend Auburn Theological Seminary’s Coach Training Program last month. (It’s a week intensive, followed by six-months of teleclasses in an International Coach Federation accredited program led by professional coaches who are also religious leaders – I highly recommend it.)

An athletic coach helps players on a team stay motivated, work together, and sharpen their skills (or as Dean Smith put it: play hard, play together, and play smart). Coaching works in ministry in similar ways. It is a tool that can help us in the church to stay focused and motivated toward the visions our faith sets out for us, to work together to move toward those visions, and to develop and sharpen the skills we need to move closer to God’s vision for us. The International Coach Federation defines coaching as, “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

One of the essential elements of coaching is action planning, or the process of taking the vision and making an actual, measureable plan. As one of the Auburn coach trainers, Chris Holmes said, “Coaching takes hope and makes it a reality.”

The quick template for making an action plan is to answer these three questions:

  • What will you do? (What’s a first step toward the vision?)
  • When will it be done? (What’s the timeline?)
  • Who will be your accountability on this? (How does it stay on the front burner?)

An important related question, that asks us to be honest with ourselves and helps us gauge how likely we are to move forward, is:

On a scale of 1 to 10, how committed are you to this vision?

The NEXT Church blog this month will focus on the art of coaching and the practice of ministry. Some posts will layout insights or frameworks of coaching and some will be stories of coaching that transformed a pastor or congregation. We hope they will inspire you. We hope that inspiration will turn into actual movement in your own life and ministry so that we might move closer to that vision of the church we long for, closer to the vision of the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Jessica Tate1Jessica Tate is the Director of NEXT Church. She lives in Washington, DC. 

Earth Care: Responding to Pope Francis’ Call

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!

“We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” Pope Francis, Laudato Si, Chapter 4, paragraph 139

September 24, 2015.

kepley1I live in northern Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC, which can sometimes be both a blessing and a curse. Yesterday, when Pope Francis addressed Congress, it was a huge blessing! My wife and I joined a number of our friends from Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, an interfaith group in Fairfax County, VA, and the National Capital Presbytery Earth Care Network, a group of 10 churches in the National Capital Presbytery dedicated to earth care, to hear what the pontiff had to say on the National Mall. Oh sure, we could have watched it at home on TV, but being there in-person among an incredibly diverse crowd of people who are passionate about the environment was electrifying! After much speechifying and good music, we got to see and hear His Holiness on a jumbo-tron. Pope Francis did for Congress and the American people what pastors from before Jesus’ time have always tried to do – discern God’s Word for our time and place. The crowd on the grass all around us cheered wildly, as if we were in the chamber. But as my pastor once said to our congregation: “What are you going to do after the cheering stops?”

That brings me to the second event that I attended that day. It was an interfaith gathering at the National Cathedral entitled, Coming Together in Faith on Climate. It included faith leaders from about a dozen different faith traditions from Jewish to Muslim to Episcopalian, Catholic, Evangelical Christian, and AME.   It even included a sitting US Senator, Sheldon Whitehorse of RI. Imam Ebrahim Rasool summed the prevailing sentiment best telling us that the current ecological/social crisis was so threatening to our world that we needed to put aside our religious differences, as Pope Francis had said earlier in the day, and work together to address the situation. The imam reminded us that this is a moral issue with deep theological roots in all of the major world religions, be they Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu. These faith leaders then called on all people of faith everywhere to adopt this five-point strategy “to lead by example.”

  1. Engage: Engage our Congregations and Communities for Climate Solutions. Beginning today, we’re asking every person of faith to go to their house of worship as soon as possible, and speak from their heart to their clergy or spiritual leaders. We’re asking the same of clergy and spiritual leaders – to speak personally, from your heart, to your congregation. Tell them you agree with Pope Francis and a wide array of multi-faith leaders that we have a moral obligation to take action today on climate change and build a sustainable future for our children. Tell them you will lead by example to build support for climate solutions by engaging and inspiring others and take actions that will help restore a healthy atmosphere, and you hope that will lead by example too. And make sure to take this personal pledge: blessedtomorrow.org/join
  2. Energize: Form or Join a Clean Energy Group in our Faith Communities. Thousands of congregations already have active climate- and environment-oriented groups leading the way in switching to clean, renewable energy. But we need thousands more. At the site below, you’ll find links to the amazing organizations that are doing wonderful work helping congregations and individuals energize, so you can (a) maximize energy efficiency; (b) switch to clean, renewable energy for your community of faith, your home, and your neighborhood; and (c) so you can energize your people to push for needed political action. interfaithpowerandlight.org
  3. Divest/Invest: Clean up our Personal and Congregational Investments. Denominations, universities, and seminaries are divesting from fossil fuels, and investing in clean, renewable energy. Now, it’s possible for us as individuals to do so as well – transferring our personal savings, IRA’s, and other investments into companies that are part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Make your personal pledge at idivestinvest.org
  4. Vote: Make Climate One of our Top Three Issues When (Not If) We Vote. We’re asking you to demand needed action from every candidate and elected leader in every election. We’ll provide you with resources to help you learn which candidates are supporting climate change solutions, and which are ignoring or opposing them. faithinpubliclife.org
  5. Educate: Stay Informed and Educate Others. Through your social media and in-person networks, you can become a trusted source of information and inspiration for others. To stay informed and keep learning, sign up for Common Good News for regular updates: convergenceus.org/common-good-news.html

I hope you cheered the Pope’s words, but now that the cheering has died down, what are you going to do about it?


David Kepley

Ruling Elder and Deacon

Providence Presbyterian Church

Fairfax, VA


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.


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




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




[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.