Rolling up your sleeves

MeganRohrer
03/27/2012

Rolling up your sleeves

Getting dirty at the Free Farm.

The most unusual prayer I’ve ever written was a blessing for fertilizer. This was one of many prayers I wrote for the blessing of the Free Farm, where both Bishop Mark Holmerud of the ELCA’s Sierra Pacific Synod and Bishop Marc Andrus of the Episcopal Diocese of California declared the site a church.

Created from materials diverted from the San Francisco dump, on the site where St. Paulus Lutheran Church burnt down in the early '90s, the Free Farm is an assemblage of motley farm folk, hipsters, faith leaders, professors and hippies.

While the work that happens at the farm may not seem like typical church, the medical herb labyrinth created from the bricks of the old church and the fact that the farmers have grown and given away nearly 6,000 pounds of produce to local neighbors revives ancient Lutheran practices.

Did you know that many scholars believe that Martin Luther was the founder of contemporary welfare? Or, that when people came to church they would all bring loaves of bread? The best loaf of bread was used for communion, while the rest congregants took with them when they left the church to give to the hungry in their neighborhood.

Church can happen anywhere

The day that I baptized one of the regular farm volunteers with a garden hose, over the site where the baptismal font used to be in the old church, was the day I really understood that church can happen when we all roll up our sleeves and get to work.

The congregations, youth groups, interns, pastors and other volunteers who get their hands dirty at the Free Farm are a lot like the children on Sunday mornings who get a special lesson that involves seeing, tasting and touching symbols of God’s love and forgiveness.

I heard once that adults remember what happens in the children’s sermon more than they remember what was said in the sermon that is supposed to be for them.

This factoid served as the inspiration for the Community of Travelers service that I created with Tommy Dillon, pastor at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church. This service was designed for individuals who had left the church or who felt like church didn’t meet their needs. Every Sunday at 5 p.m., a diverse group worships and wrestles with the Gospel text for that Sunday in a tactile way that finds the sacred in the ordinary and the ordinary in the sacred.

We use everyday items that worshipers will be certain to see throughout the rest of their week so that their office spaces, homes and cars feel like sacred spaces worthy of prayer and thoughtful living.

Sometimes we write prayers on sticky notes that we place on the congregation’s meditation and prayer space. The following Sunday worshipers at the more traditional services join in our prayers. Sometimes we use children’s board games to illustrate parables about money or the structure of the church. One time we wrote our impossible questions for God on clothing (in reference to God’s wrestling with Jacob and Jeremiah 13:1-11) like: Why does evil exist in the world? Why do bad things happen to children? What is the purpose of cancer?

Sometimes our services are simple potlucks where the communion happens at the same part of the meal as it does in the original story. Other times our object lessons are intentionally provocative. The most provocative so far has been my Lady Gaga Mass, which uses the words of traditional worship services paired with Gaga’s pop tunes.

Gaga Mass

Following Luther’s practice of rewriting the words of songs people sang joyfully in pubs, Gaga Mass raises hearts, prayers and eyebrows. In our first year of Community of Travelers services two adults, new to the church, were baptized and three adults were confirmed. Community of Travelers, like the Free Farm, is a creative space where people get their hands dirty and find faith and ritual.

These are just two of the many ways that ELCA members and Lutherans all over the world are rolling up their sleeves and getting to work. Whether it is for justice projects or to inspire new generations to engage in ancient traditions and worship experiences, members of the ELCA will always be reforming the land and liturgies around us.

If you are bored at your congregation, tradition compels you to shake it up! Find a faith language or congregation that speaks to you and then practice, pray and participate as much as you can. Roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty, for there you will find God.

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Megan M. Rohrer is an ELCA pastor called by five congregations and has been a missionary to the homeless in San Francisco since 2002.

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Finding Jesus in a post-modern world
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