This originally appeared as part of the Daily Sip, a website from Charles LaFond, an Episcopal Priest who raises money for the homeless and lives on a horse farm in New Mexico with his dog Kai. offering daily meditations and reflections
What might the church of the future look like? I have an idea. It has to do with bread and alfalfa, clay and earth. People and food and music and a park.
But let me back up a bit and begin at the beginning.
We are harvesting the alfalfa this week; our first cut since the waters returned and the fields of this small New Mexican farm began to come back to life with water and warmth. This photo I took last week from my reading chair on the front porch. Back and forth. Back and forth went the harvester, cutting the alfalfa to lay in the sun and dry before being gathered and bundled for local horses – high-protein food on which to munch this next year.
Every day, three times each day, Kai and I walk in this little field of alfalfa – one of many on this farm but the one which constitutes my front yard – my icon of meditation. Kai leaves small piles of brown matter – digested grains – to feed the roots of the plants…so in a way, we feel that we contribute to the great green of the field. A little. Not much, but some. In a poo kind of way. While Kai searches for the best spot onto which to drop his gift to the planet, I feed the mosquitoes – my feet and ankles exposed as they are to the dark, moist world the bugs inhabit beneath the green leaves of the alfalfa stalks – a quiet world of flight and life for bugs collaborating with plant and soil away from the heat of the desert sun.
I do not pretend to be a farmer. Someone else manages this farm. I just have the delightful privilege of coming home to it each day and sipping tea with this view. It is a restful, silent recovery from the hard work of raising money to house those experiencing homelessness on Albuquerque’s streets.
Being part of the life of a small farm is a valuable contribution to the spiritual life. The apple and peach trees are beginning the work they will accomplish this summer. The alfalfa and grass fields will feed life on farms nearby. The canals and troughs will carry water in their ingenious systems of New Mexican field-flooding every two weeks on this high desert land. Birds gather here and present their sex-symphony each day while predators of all kinds appear and disappear under Kai-the-dog’s attentive ear-perking. Nature unfolds, feeds, lives and dies. As do we.
This all happens each week and then there is the great crescendo. The grower’s market in Richardson Park. I set up my tables to sell my pottery and others set up theirs to sell their vegetables. Kai-the-dog greets people with an aged dignity only a Lab can muster. We crafts-people sell our wares near the park in an arts alley – a community of new friends. People buy their week’s groceries from farmers, shaking the hands which plowed the fields and picked the food from soil’s generosity. Some then comes to the crafts area – an alley by a gallery, where I hope they pick up my mugs to see if the feel is good in their hands…if the color is right with their kitchen, if the size is right for their drinking. They then consider a bread-bowl to match. And an oil lamp for their silent-time with tea and bread. A new spirituality. A new generation. We talk about green chilies and tea and bread. We make friends. They buy a mug. Then a bread-bowl (they come with recipes for quick-bread baked and served right in the bowl!) We make friends some more.
Right this moment, as I sit typing, the tractor is turning the dry alfalfa in the fields (I took this photo last week) while Kai naps under a brown blanket, and I sit under one too (mornings in New Mexico are chilly.) Inside are pots needing to be packed up for sale at the farmer’s market. Each one will be purchased by someone whose conversation will brighten my day. I hope my pots brighten theirs. Much pastoral care happens – both ways.
I was speaking to a clergy person yesterday about writing a new book – one on membership growth in churches. I admitted some hesitation in writing the book at all. I said “The truth is that the church is organic, like plants. The healthy churches and dioceses will live and thrive because they are fed good food and warm sunlight by good people. They do not need my words about membership growth. And the creepy ones will die their natural death – and the last thing I want is for my book on membership growth to extend their fading lives!” he smiled, sheepishly, the way people do when I say impolitic things in church too loudly (We were in his rector’s study.)
The subject matter of our conversation changed and I said that I was excited about the farmer’s market. I told him how I love to wander the stalls before I sell my pots. How I love to choose the week’s loaf of bread and chat with the baker. How I love to choose the week’s vegetables and table-flowers and chat with the farmers about recipes. How I love to buy the week’s cheeses and talk to the cheese-monger about how they were made. How Kai loves to smell the air – so many smells for him. How I love to see everyone eating and laughing and buying and selling and sitting on grass with their new foods eating them right there, picnic style to live music and friendship.
I smiled and said out-loud, before I could self-edit, “That farmer’s market is the new church!” My clergy friend said back “Write that book!”