Archive | April, 2013

Farming Ministry

18 Apr

The Wesley Fellowship at Grand Valley State University is surrounded by the university’s Sustainable Agriculture Project. Currently there are two large hoop houses (75 ft x40 ft), a smaller greenhouse, a couple acres of open farmland and several raised beds for community gardening. Students, volunteers, and city kids come to the Farm (as we call it) to learn, plant, harvest, weed, and build. It is managed by a grad student, the aptly named Levi Gardner, and serves the campus community with its produce and educational programs. The Wesley Fellowship occupies the 100-year-old farm house in the middle of this operation.

When I first became director at Wesley a year ago, I wasn’t sure what to do with the farm that surrounded my ministry center. There seemed to be a high level of distrust between the students who formed Wesley and the students and leaders of the Farm. The student ministry moved into the house about the same time the Sustainable Agriculture Project was getting started and communication between the two was weak at best. Both were developing new understandings and trying to reach their intended audiences and even with proximity, the assets of ministry together weren’t fully seen.

I worked earnestly my first year to build strong relationships with Levi, his supervisors, and the students who work at the Farm. We don’t all agree that Christianity and sustainable agriculture are intrinsically linked, but I’ve had wonderful conversations with those who see the connection. For me, growing good things from good soil is a fantastic ministry metaphor. Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed is a straightforward accounting of the need for good seed, good soil, good farming techniques and the hope for harvest. And if we agree that local, organic food is better tasting and better for the environment then the metaphoric and practical understandings only increase.

I know that not everyone has a farm at their campus ministry, or even the space to grow a garden, but the metaphor holds. If we provide a space rich in the spiritual nutrients of grace, compassion, and forgiveness then spiritual fruit such as peace, patience, and loving-kindness will blossom in our students. Plant the seeds, water the crops, clear the obstacles, await the harvest, and pray, always pray…


Greg LawtonGreg Lawton was hired as Director of the Wesley Fellowship at Grand Valley State University in July 2011 after serving as the interim campus minister at the Michigan State University Wesley Foundation for a semester. He has served churches in the West Michigan Conference in youth and adult discipleship since 1997 and has degrees in Applied Science (A.A.S., Ferris State University), Hydrogeology (B.S., Western Michigan University) and Christian Education (M.A., Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary). He is also trained in Restorative Justice, Mediation, and other peacemaking techniques. He lives in nearby Wyoming, MI with his cat, Bob. Greg is an ordained Deacon in Full Connection in the United Methodist Church, loves to travel either on mission or for fun, and enjoys church camp and folk music.