Rev. Nurya Love Parish talks about Plainsong Farm and the Christian Food Movement. Rev. Parish’s talk was part of a series focused on Food, Faith, Land and Sustainable Agriculture.
This talk was part of a Food & Faith Convening event held in November 2018 at Duke University. The event was developed through a partnership between Duke Divinity School and the Rural Church Program Area of The Duke Endowment, the Duke World Food Policy Center (WFPC). Convening discussions identified several themes that drive the work of faith communities: moving from charity to justice, food sovereignty, and equitable food-oriented development; moving from charity to justice for the land & environment; the need for bridging and relationship building between practitioners, funders, and the academy; and the need for bridging between faith communities and policy. Additionally, several academic themes for future research were identified focused on cross-faith comparative analysis and the broad impact of faith community-based food systems work.
About Nurya Love Parish
Nurya Love Parish is an Episcopal priest and co-founder and Executive Director of Plainsong Farm, a new farm and ministry outside Grand Rapids, Michigan. She created a small guide to the Christian food movement in 2015, which became a website in 2017 and now serves as the primary resource for Christians seeking the intersection between discipleship and sustainable and regenerative agriculture (according to Christianity Today). The guide includes an ecumenical directory of projects and resources, shares news items, and provides a space for cross-pollination for blog writers and thinkers. She co-created the first “FaithLands” gathering in 2018, bringing together land access and transition professionals serving small and beginning farmers and faith-based leaders with stewardship responsibilities for religiously-held land. In addition, she is the part-time priest-in-charge with Holy Spirit Episcopal Church in Belmont Michigan. Her first book, Resurrection Matters: Church Renewal for Creation’s Sake, was published in May 2018.
So I was asked to give a flash talk about the FaithLands Network. I’m Nurya Love Parish. I’m an Episcopal priest. I co-founded a farm ministry in greater Grand Rapids, Michigan. But even though you’re going to see a picture of that farm-based ministry in a minute, that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about this broader work that is underway that has barely begun, and that is still very much beginning.
The FaithLands Network is an interfaith network that came into existence of March of 2018. It came into existence in March of this year through one meeting that everybody thought was just going to be one meeting. At the end of that meeting, everybody thought, oh, we have to keep doing this. At that meeting, we said that this is a new interfaith and secular alliance and learning community seeking to connect religious traditions, agriculture and ecological stewardship, inspiring a spiritual and ethical revolution in our relationship to each other and to the land. It was a gathering of people who didn’t know each other before they were all in the same room. Land access professionals, land trust leaders, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Indigenous, and yet, also, it was a gathering of people that were trying to figure out why they were there, and what they could do together. When it was over, we realized that there was something here that wasn’t finished yet. I got invited by Wake Forest to put together a gathering that was just last month and co-led it with Darriel Harris. That talk was focused on the Christian side of this intersection. But there is no budget at present for any future convenings. Hopefully someone here will feel moved to help with that, because the harvest is great and the laborers are few.
So, this is a screen grab of the Episcopal church’s asset map, which is a new tool my denomination is using. It’s pretty simple. It’s an online map of the church’s ministries, and it’s independently updated by all of the local communities that are represented there. Now, I’m a priest in the Episcopal church, as well as a farm ministry founder. So when I look at that map, I see things that you might not see. I see our church’s average age, which is about 60 years old. That’s one of the first things I see when I look at that map and I say to myself, “How many of the ministries that are currently on that map will be there in 10 to 20 years?”
Then, I also see decisions being made about land stewardship by people who do not yet understand what is possible when it comes to land stewardship. Because they come to it from a position of: “I just go to church. I don’t understand food and land decisions.” But I see something else. I see strategies for climate change mitigation through carbon drawdown into soil, which even though no words were written about it in the Christian scripture, and the church still has not grasped this. I see demonstration projects for what is possible in rural communities happening in church-owned land influencing farmers because farmers have been taught to trust the church. I see land, once again, being tended by Indigenous peoples or being made available to historically marginalized and traumatized people. I see habitat creation on land that is now lawn. I see relocalizing economies, because the availability of church-owned property already dedicated to the work of God, which is health for all creation. I don’t just see these possibilities. I know it is possible. I know it is possible because of Plainsong Farm. So, Plainsong Farm is 20 minutes north of Grand Rapids in Rockford – a semi-rural part of Michigan. Our local community is 96% white people. That’s why this is a slide of white people. But, because I know these people, I know they represent a diversity of churches, Lutheran and Methodist and Episcopal. And, I know they are having a hands-on experience of a parable that Jesus spoke to all of us, not just accessible to white Christians. The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow. He does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But, when the grain is ripe at once, he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come. They’re having a hands-on experience of that parable, which is going to provide wheat for their communion bread, as part of Honore Growers Guild. They are also conserving biodiversity because that’s an heirloom grain. That’s Turkey Red wheat. They are also learning about carbon drawdown because that’s part of what we teach when we do this program. They are also participating in the redevelopment of a small grains economy, because we will blend this grain that we grow as an educational experience with other small-scale growers’ experimental heirloom wheat. But as a religious leader seeking health for creation, what excites me most is that they are learning to see communion with new eyes.
I believe that by beginning to ask where and how their communion bread begins, they will also learn to ask where the rest of their food begins. A spiritual and ethical revolution in our relationship to each other and to land is what God is calling us toward, in my experience as a disciple of Jesus. God has scattered seed on the ground. Look at all the seed that God has scattered even just in this room, and then all of the places that you come from. God will bring a harvest of grace and plenty through God’s will in God’s time. And I pray to be a laborer in that harvest.