The Chesapeake Bay is one of the most fascinating ecosystems on earth, as it is one of the world’s largest estuaries, a confluence of the salt water of the ocean and the freshwater of Maryland’s rivers. Because of this unique intersection, the Chesapeake Bay is home to one of the world’s most unique and biologically diverse ecosystems. It is only because of the mixing of salt and freshwater that such an ecosystem can exist. Any attempt to define it by a single narrative – as ocean, river, bay, or coast – leaves out something vitally important. Conservation of this essential ecosystem requires diversity, creativity, and care.
In my experience, the church has often defined itself with single narrative thinking – “megachurch,” “progressive,” “missional,” or “traditional,” to name a few. In this way, we have access to simple definitions, programs, and methods of organizing our church and our life, yet they fail to adequately address dynamic ecosystems where faith is intended to bloom.
As The Keep & Till works to figure out who and what we are, our approach is not necessarily to produce a simple definition but to treat ourselves as an estuary – a place where a variety of foci and spiritualities come into contact with each other. Our hope is to create a unique and diverse ecclesial ecosystem that can bear witness to a faith that anticipates redemption for all of God’s creation.
This is why we started Headwaters – A Rural and Agrarian Ministry Conference. We know that there are many wonderful and thoughtful ecclesial streams emerging – the food movement and a renewed focus on rural communities and climate justice and the like. Our hope was to allow them all to flow together in one place and to see how that might inspire us as we live the life of an emerging community of faith. At Headwaters, we brought together a handful of young emerging church leaders who all bring a particular focus and expertise and who all anticipated that mixing these foci might do something interesting and prophetic.
I (@terraanimata) had the honor of opening the day, and I provided our clearest definition of our “agrarian” ministry to date. Influenced by Wendell Berry’s notions of “industrial” and “agrarian,” I argued that we can use these categories to diagnose decay in the rural church and envision a more holistic community of faith. “Industrial church” views faith as a product, and uses the tools of colonialism to impose a generic faith on all places as it ignores the life and culture of a particular place. “Agrarian church” anticipates salvation for all things: it begins with “me” and encompasses the life of a local ecosystem, culminating in a world made new.
Kendall Vanderslice is an author and student at Duke Divinity School who wrote a master’s thesis on commensality while at Boston University. She traced the history of food throughout scripture, culminating in a robust eucharistic theology. By taking a deeper look at the spirituality of food, she suggested healthier ways that we can interact with the ground beneath our feet, with our own bodies, and with our local communities.
Jennie Chamelin, another Keep & Till co-founder, challenged us to rethink a church culture that seeks to replace secular busyness with Christian busyness. She cast a vision for the church as a place of rest and genuine place of community where the work of Christian education and child development happens not in a boxed-off classroom but in the context of the life we share together and the talents and gifts we offer to the community as a whole.
Josh Scott, pastor of Morgantown Community Church in Kentucky explored the notion of tradition in the church. Tradition is frequently treated as an anchor that holds us in place, but it can hold us back from discovery. Josh suggested tradition is best understood as a wind, enabling us to explore the immense dimensions of God’s justice and generosity. His encouragement to rural churches is the steady work of presence and patience as we reframe the narrative of salvation for a new era.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our emcee for the day, the Rev. Derrick Weston, neighborhood pastor at Arlington Presbyterian Church in Virginia. Derrick shares our heart for food security and environmental justice but comes at it from an urban ministry context. His presence and wisdom begged new questions for us: How do urban and rural ecosystems interact? How can we discover the deep similarities between these two settings? How can these two ecosystems serve as parts of a complementary wholeness?
The lesson of Headwaters was that the next generation of church will not happen as we stay within the particular bounds of our history. New environments will have to be created as we discover shared callings and visions, creating new “estuaries” of faith yet again. Hopefully Headwaters contributed to this kind of hope. It certainly did for us, and Keep & Till is now challenged to discover what we shall be in this place, and we are deeply grateful for all who contributed to this confluence.
For those who may wonder, we have every intention of hosting Headwaters next year (probably in late October 2018). If you’d like to be a part, please let us know by leaving a comment below.