This is a story you might not be fully aware of. Back in April, this was the Farm Church garden…
Looks like a big ol’ lawn, doesn’t it? It does and it is, but what you can’t quite see in this photo is that there is almost no topsoil. Underneath the grass is a giant sheet of red clay that’d been baking in the hot North Carolina sun for years and years. In fact, when we tried to till this soil with some pretty powerful tillers, the clay said, “No, I don’t think so.”
Here’s Allen wrestling with this beast of a tiller, and while some of the grass is getting pulled, the clay is sharply and quite effectively rebuking his efforts. My tiller is in the background, idle because quite frankly, I needed a breather. Cutting into hard-packed, sun-baked clay was an experience our muscles remembered sorely for days.
Then we made one of our better decisions. We hired this guy:
We’re so grateful for Dave and his little but mighty tractor. In just a couple of days, he got our garden beds broken up to the point where we could get started.
We have 24 beds, each 4 feet x 25 feet. (so 2,400 total square feet of tillage) Here they are topped with a little finished compost…
Months and months ago, we began to cultivate this dream of a church that meets on a farm and leverages all of the resources of that farm to address food insecurity. And while we’re not there yet (we meet on a different farm in Durham and this farm still has a way to go) it is so utterly thrilling to see this dream become a reality. Each bed cut, each weed pulled, each shovel-full turned… It’s way more than a lawn becoming a garden – it’s truly a dream coming to life.
And then this happened…
People! Farm Church people! They came, they tilled, they dug, weeded, talked, laughed, prayed, turn compost…
It’s been happening every week, and this has been the joy of Farm Church – that we are becoming a place where people sense God’s direction in the deliberate cultivation of soil, the gradual transformation of land, and the miracles of growth and life we see each week in the garden and in each other.
To all of you who’ve been in tune with our journey these past few months, once again thank you. I hope that one of these days you can sink a trowel into the soil with us and plant a few seeds. But even if that never happens, I want you to know that you are a part of Farm Church. Thank you for your prayers, for your support, and for your belief that this new way of being church is even possible in the first place. From all of us at Farm Church, we’re so, so grateful.
Grace and Peace,
Last week we at Farm Church produced our first wheelbarrow full of composted soil. Maybe you hear that and you think (perhaps sarcastically), “Wow. Soil. Incredible. You don’t say.” To which I say, “Yes, I know! Soil made from banana peels, grass clippings, carrot peels, melon rinds, eggshells, wood chips… Rick, black, living soil! Yes!” Because I’m not just talking about any old dirt or even the “good stuff” you buy in a bag at the hardware store. The soil I’m referring to is the culmination of many families lightening their trash load and opting instead to save veggie and fruit scraps in 5-gallon buckets on their back porches. I’m talking about Sally, a woman who is part of Farm Church and has made numerous trips to coffee shops to collect their spent coffee grounds. I’m talking about our volunteers who have mixed kitchen scraps with dead leaves with grass clippings with hardwood mulch – turning and turning. I’m talking about Farm Church’s tiniest volunteers – worms and microbes going to work on that pile for weeks and weeks, gradually transforming it into a nutrient-packed concoction ready for our garden.
So last week we took a moment to just stand there and marvel at our wheelbarrow, brimming with wonderful, loamy, black soil that we made. Then we took a tablespoon, scooped up some of our finished compost, and we passed it around the circle. Our actions were not unlike those of connoisseurs inspecting a fine wine or a team of chefs smelling a newly made soup. We eyeballed it, we held it up to the light, we sniffed it… Mmmm, earthy with a citrus bouquet.
And then we allowed our minds to be blissfully sucked into the mind-blowing, soul-expanding vortex of this tiny piece of incredible information:
One tablespoon of soil contains more living organisms than there are people on the entire planet.
[Insert sound of mind being blown here]
Can you believe that? One tablespoon! Over seven billion microscopic lifeforms living, thriving, eating, growing, reproducing, dying… A massive ecosystem managing life in that little spoon. It’s utterly amazing.
The scripture that came to mind was from the gospel of John where Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) And while I’m pretty sure that Jesus wasn’t thinking about finished compost in that context, I’m struck that my own sense of abundant life isn’t often that, well, abundant.
Say the word “abundance” and I can easily picture a closet stuffed with too many shirts, a storage unit brimming with tools I struggle to find, a pantry with probably more than a few outdated items… Or I picture the abundance I sometimes wish I had – the abundance I fool myself into thinking will be the solution to life’s dilemmas – the big paycheck, the deep bank account, the plentiful retirement savings…
Holding that tablespoon teeming with unseen, abundant life, I couldn’t help but think about the abundance all around me, and abundance I often take for granted – the rich diversity in my city, the endless moments of opportunity that await each day, prospects and possibilities for goodness, kindness, and mercy that come around each corner, yearning to bless each encounter, each word, each relationship… This is the unseen abundance I often forget about, but it’s plentiful and it’s everywhere.
Think about it this way. If one tablespoon of soil could be so amazingly abundant with life, what might that suggest about the world around you? What unseen abundance is waiting to bless your existence? And speaking of your existence, how are you perhaps more abundant than you thought you were?
(This post originally appeared on the NEXT CHURCH blog.)
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?
Lying 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.
A micro-risk is an easy to try, fun to play with, ok-if-you-fail small risk that, when combined with other micro-risks over time, nurtures a culture of faithful, strategic risk-taking - the kind of culture we need in our churches. You'll find a few here, (here, here, and here), but if you're hungry for more, you can check out my Micro-Risk Playbook here.