This blog site has been dormant since September of last year. The absence of blogs does not mean my interest in and convictions about the intersection of theology and agriculture have waned. Sandy and I did move last June from Huntsville, AL where I had served as pastor of a church for ten years to Decatur, AL where I became the pastor of Decatur First United Methodist Church. Is First Church less receptive to my agricultural musings than my last congregation? Actually, I have written less on this blog site about farming and faith because I have been given so many other opportunities for proclaiming and putting into practice the words of our Creator God who said, “by the sweat of your face you will eat bread–until you return to the fertilue land, since from it you were taken; you are soil, to the soil you will return” (Genesis 3:19 Common English Bible).
Over the past year I have been given opportunities to live and speak out of my conviction that reconnecting to the soil is central to biblical faith. The first thing I did before unpacking much of anything was build raised beds in the back yard of the parsonage to grow some of the food Sandy and I eat. At church I have preached numerous sermons that address the close relationship between faith and farming, agriculture and theology. In December of last year the Decatur City Council appointed me to the Morgan County-Decatur Farmers Market Board. I have also been honored to serve on the National Board for the Society of Saint Andrew, a gleaning ministry committed to ending hunger by also eliminating food waste. During the spring, I was invited to teach a weekly class at the church called “Reading the Bible through Agrarian Eyes” using Ellen Davis’ book Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture as a guide to study biblical texts that honor and seek to preserve a healthy agrarian culture wherever God’s people live.
No teaching is complete without complementary action, so the most fulfilling development currently in full swing is a community garden called The Urban Acre located about two miles from our church. A group of thirty church members volunteered to start and maintain this garden. The first concept of the garden was for a 25 x 25 ft. area that 6 people who agreed to help could maintain. When many more church and community members than I expected showed up on May 24 to help, we started expanding the garden so that it is now over 4 times as large as our first design. It is approximately 50 x 65 ft. and contains a great variety of vegetables and fruit. The sign shown below tells the purpose of our community garden.
Down on the Reynolds Farm, which is three hours south of Decatur in Lineville, AL, I have had an active year of keeping the farm going while working full time in ministry. To do that, I employ a part time helper who checks on and feeds the cows 3-4 times a week and I usually spend a Thursday evening through Saturday afternoon there twice a month. I maintain a small cow-calf operation there that, the Lord willing, I plan to quadruple in size when I retire and move closer. In the meantime, I am caring for the land as much as I can, and having cows keeps me working to provide good grazing and hay. I spread 82 tons of lime on the pasture and hay fields this year and fertilized my hay fields in hopes of some drought ending rain. I want to put up 400-500 square bales for the winter but will need the help of the Good Lord with rain and family members and hired help with good backs and heat tolerance to make it happen. I do this because I love to farm, I am committed to caring for the land that has been in my family for 3 generations, I plan to retire there, the Lord willing, and I plan for my sons and grandsons to know, love, and care for this land.
One thing I am now more aware of than I have ever been is the temptation for ministry and church life to become sedentary, and in the process kill us as human beings and kill the church. The more technology we have at our fingertips the less engaged we are with the physical world God created and called us to steward. We think we are doing God’s work through virtual encounters with it, and we miss the Incarnation of God as we do. I make this promise to myself, my supervisors, and to the church I serve: As long as I have the bodily capacity to do it, I will not conclude my years of ministry primarily sitting behind a computer or standing behind a pulpit. My ministry will be more and more out in the community with people of the world and the church putting our hands and sweat into the miraculous, life-giving soil God gives us to grow plants for food and to share that food with the hungry. In that process, we and everyone who joins us in this endeavor will discover and feast upon the Bread of Life. Life began in a garden. The Lord commands us to garden. Jesus was raised from death to eternal life in a garden. We belong in a garden!