Sam Chamelin, a contributor to Christian Food Movement and founder of The Keep & Till, writes about sustainable agriculture and rural churches as part of a Bearings Online essay series on rural Christians. From the essay:
Driving the back roads of my little piece of rural Maryland, it’s common to see a beautiful country church completely surrounded by fields of wheat, soybeans, and corn. I suspect you could call up your own image of such a church—one you could describe in great detail, perhaps tinged with powerful memories.
Yet the romanticized church in rural America is mired in precipitous decline as entire populations relocate for urban and suburban opportunities. Meanwhile, agriculture has made massive, disruptive strides towards consolidation and industrialization. Smaller parcels of land, once known as “family farms,” now hold more value to developers. Agriculture gets bigger and more efficient, while the church and the communities she serves continue to erode.
At first, it appeared that globalism and its attending economic upheaval would be good for both agriculture and the church. The move to industrial farming provided a living for many and an influx of capital found its way into rural churches. Those churches returned the favor by hosting a “blessing of the tractors,” icons of expanding scale and increasing reliance on petroleum and chemicals. Rogation days and “Harvest Home Sundays” celebrated the work of agriculture, but they rarely included environmental and communal notes in their liturgies. The methods of agricultural production were rarely addressed from pulpits, serving as a silent blessing on the industrialization happening around them.