Sowing seeds for faith, friends
A hayride is part of the Gloria Dei Lutheran and Waverly Lutheran annual
By Megan Nuehring
“Can I hold one? Can we take one home? Do chicks have ears?”
These and other questions were asked by children from Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, St. Paul, Minn., as they stood in a tent learning about livestock, crowding around a pen of chicks. Their questions were answered by members of Waverly Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in rural Martin County, Minn.
Two years ago, six members of Waverly Lutheran Church began brainstorming ways they could reach out beyond the walls of their own congregation. “We asked ourselves, how we could use what we at Waverly are good at to serve God and reach out to others,” says Kirsten Rabbe, a member of the steering committee.
The group came up with the idea of Farm 4 Waverly, a program inspired by the gospel that uses farming to sow the seeds of faith in others.
Two families donated the use of 15 acres of farmland each and another family donated seed for the crops. The crops from this land, corn and soybeans, would be sold and the profit accumulated from these acres used to fund this outreach of the congregation.
“The program was a natural fit for our church, which sits in the middle of a cornfield, and has its roots in agriculture,” says Kirsten.
Connecting rural and urban congregations
The next step was finding a congregation to connect with and learn from.
Kirsten’s daughter, Liz, a student at the University of Minnesota, attends Gloria Dei Lutheran. Liz thought the children of their congregation might be a good fit for this project.
A member of the Farm 4 Waverly Steering Committee approached Pat Derry, the director of Children’s Ministry at Gloria Dei with the idea.
Pat had questions at first regarding the partnership and the duties of their congregation. But through conversation, trust was developed between the congregations and a relationship was formed.
“As with all partnerships, it took careful focusing on goals and clear communication to build a successful relationship,” says Pat.
Pat and Liz began to teach Gloria Dei’s second-grade students and their parents about caring for God’s gifts, using Jesus’ parables, like the story of the Good Shepherd and what it means to make your heart be “good soil.” The children learned how the farmers at Waverly take care of the land and the animals God has entrusted to them, and how God has also given each child things they can care for.
Experiencing autumn harvest together
The following fall, the children and their families from Gloria Dei were invited to come to Waverly Lutheran to experience a day filled with faith, families, new friends and farming. The children were able to experience harvest first-hand at Waverly’s Harvest Homecoming on a windy Sunday in autumn.
All of the members of Waverly were involved in preparing for the event. Waverly families were assigned a second-grade “buddy” to correspond with and “shepherd” throughout the day. The church grounds were turned into a farm with old and modern farming machinery, tents filled with animals, space to run and play games, and members to facilitate learning throughout the day.
The day was geared especially for the children. Worship was adapted, liturgy and all, for children. The Harvest Banquet featured pork chops on a stick and sweet corn. Member farmers taught Gloria Dei families about the farm equipment and how they care for the livestock. Children were able to pet and hold the animals, ride horses, climb on tractors and combines, play country games, bob for apples, learn how to harvest a crop, and most importantly, learn how to care for what God has given them.
“Sowing Seeds was created so children can grow in their faith and their love for the Lord. … Farming, faith and family are so deeply intertwined, it is amazing. What we try to show is how related they are. … Our congregation gives of itself because God has given us so much — the kids understand that,” says Kirsten.
The families and children of Gloria Dei have learned the meaning of caring for what God has given them and why it is important to their faith lives.
“These people have so much to share with us and so much to teach us. The love of these people for their church, for their land, for one another and for God has been a witness to the families of Gloria Dei!” says Pat.
Continuing to grow and learn from each other
The relationship between the two congregations has grown since the first Harvest Homecoming in October 2012.
A month later, Liz and Pat began working with a new group of second-graders, sharing the lessons of stewardship. The following April, members of Waverly visited Gloria Dei in St. Paul to see how their congregation puts their faith into action. In September of this year, Waverly again visited Gloria Dei to help host a sweet corn roast for Rally Day. The following week, a new crop of Gloria Dei children and their families came to Waverly for the second-annual Harvest Homecoming.
As time goes on, Waverly and Gloria Dei will continue working together to harvest a new crop of faithful stewards for the purpose of caring for God’s creation — and each other.
Megan Nuehring is a student at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, majoring in public relations and religion with a minor in leadership.