Last Sunday was a big dill at Farm Church. For one day, we change our name to Pickle Church. “What’s that?” you ask? Well, try to imagine a congregation making about 80 jars of pickles in the middle of worship. Pickling + Church = Pickle Church.
Why? That may be the more pertinent question. The “why” behind Pickle Church begins with a simple cucumber and an acute awareness of the ways in which even that simple cucumber embodies the handiwork of a creative, loving God. Its shape, its color, its ripening on the vine, its nutrition, its smell… God has been at work fashioning that cucumber, blessing it with life and a vitality all its own. Sitting there on the cutting board, that cucumber is a psalm of praise to a God who knows how to make good things! And so when we give thanks for God’s gift of just one simple cucumber – when we recognize the DNA of God’s creative action in that one simple fruit – how can we not begin to see it in other places? In all our good food, in our neighbor’s eyes, in the movements and needs of strangers, in the whole spinning, expansive universe! That’s essentially why we did Pickle Church.
We pickled cucumbers, okra, jalepeño peppers, onions, carrots… And in the “sermons” that took place around our tables, we asked each other questions:
All along the way with Farm Church, we’ve been striving to blur the lines between worship, work, and play – to suggest that, in fact, our worship of God is lived out in our day-to-day lives in ways that deepen our sense of the Spirit and compel us to care for the needs of others. Our aim with Pickle Church (and coming soon… Sauerkraut Church, Salad Church...?) was to pronounce God’s presence in the gifts of the earth and even to suggest that our kitchens and dinner tables might become sanctuaries of adoration and thanksgiving for the good gifts of heaven and earth.
At the close of our worship we gathered around this prayer/poem, written by the late John O’Donohue called “Grace After Meals.” It’s become a favorite of mine. We often think of saying “grace” before meals. Once in a while, it’s good to pray when the meal is over. If it ever strikes you to try it, here’s a great prayer to share…
GRACE AFTER MEALS
by John O’Donohue
We end this meal with grace
For the joy and nourishment of food,
The slowed time away from the world
To come into presence with each other
And sense the subtle lives behind our faces,
The different colours of our voices,
The edges of hungers we keep private,
The circle of love that unites us.
We pray the wise spirit who keeps us
To change the structures that make others hunger
And that after such grace we might now go forth
And impart dignity wherever we partake.
According to Seth Godin, there are four steps to marketing. Here they are…
Step 1: Invent a thing worth making, a story worth telling, a contribution worth talking about.
Step 2: Design and build it in a way that people will actually benefit from and care about.
Step 3: Tell the story to the right people in the right way. (This is the story everyone gets all excited about.)
Step 4: The last step is so often overlooked: The part where you show up, regularly, consistently and generously, for years and years, to organize and lead and build confidence in the change you seek to make.
For just over two years, Farm Church has reveled in steps 1-3. Dreaming up the concept of Farm Church, honing the vision, imagining a church that meets on a farm and leverages all of the resources of that farm to address hunger… Choosing Durham, North Carolina and moving our families there, spending months networking with faith groups, nonprofits, and individuals, forging relationships with those who would help us take off… And oh my gosh, telling the story to people in the right way - honing our elevator speech, sharing at farmers markets, music festivals, in the pick-up line at school… For months now, we’ve pretty much nailed steps 1-3.
Now here we are. Step 4 – the oft overlooked – the part where we start showing up, regularly, consistently, and generously, for years and years, organizing and building confidence in the chance we seek to make. And I must confess, Godin’s words feel a little daunting to me! But I’m also drawn to his assertion that there are no substitutes for day-in, day-out work of living into our dreams.
I’ve also started to wonder about facets of Step 4 that are already happening…
Step 4 has started to come into focus as individuals and families keep showing up to be Farm Church Sunday morning after Sunday morning, Wednesday night after Wednesday night.
Step 4 showed up when we harvested our very first yellow squash a few weeks ago and stopped to imagine the thousands and thousands of pounds that will follow over the months and years ahead.
Step 4 came to mind when Farm Church gathered this past Sunday and we wrestled with the problem of human pain and suffering.
Step 4 has been unfolding in our weekly Wednesday night gatherings at the Farm Church garden, where we’ve begun a long-term relationship with some North Carolina red clay soil. Compost, compost, and more compost!
Step 4 occurred to me the other day when a few of us were wrestling Bermuda grass from the ground at the Farm Church garden. If you’ve not encountered Bermuda grass before, you’ve been spared a battle with a most devious, never-say-die weed that simply will not go quietly to weed heaven, if such a place exists.
Step 4 happened a few Sundays ago when, during a quiet moment in worship, I looked up and noticed a couple of people with their heads together, quietly praying.
There this amazing lyric in an Avett Brothers’ song, “Head Full of Doubt,” and it’s been rattling around in my head for a few months now (Thanks Raimee!) -
Decide what to be and go be it
There was a dream and one day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it
Those words come to mind as I contemplate the way that Farm Church has moved from a middle-of-the-night dream to its evolving reality of people, worship, theology, seeds, compost, zucchini, children, chickens, questions, gardens… Breaking into our dreams and demanding their freedom in this world is the wonderful, hard work of Step 4. It’s experienced in the quiet but lasting commitments we make to each other, to our work, and to our future.
Looking back on the last few months, I am so profoundly grateful for those who have joined the Farm Church story in some way. I really feel like together we are, in Godin’s words, “leading and building confidence in the change we seek to make.”
So, yeah. Grateful. Humbled. A little overwhelmed. And ready to take another step.
How about you? What’s your “Step 4” these days?
The Story of the Land
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.