Caring for Creation: Deaconess and Home Missioner Ministries With the Environment
by Myka Kennedy Stephens
About 10 minutes away from the local filling station on a secluded farm road stands a humble collection of buildings. There’s a farmhouse from the previous century, a barn with a metal roof and across the road is a more modern looking one-story ranch home. The unsuspecting traveler wandering along these back roads of central Oklahoma would never guess that this is most certainly a holy place where God’s presence is sought after and found.
Every year, Turtle Rock Farm offers dozens of workshops and hosts retreats for a variety of small groups ranging in age from the very young to the very old. Visitors come from Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and farther to experience a mixture of sustainable farm life and spiritual renewal. They come to learn about beekeeping or to walk the natural labyrinth mown into the prairie grass. Deaconess Pat Hoerth, along with her sister, welcomes these visitors to her family’s farm and takes great joy in helping them reconnect with God’s creation.
“Spirituality and sustainability go hand in hand; you can’t be in nature and see God’s love and not want to live more sustainably, and you can’t sustain sustainability without caring deeply about God’s creation,” explains Ms. Hoerth. The goals of Turtle Rock Farm are to raise awareness of our interdependent relationship with creation and to provide support and education for sustainable living practices. While her father was a conservationist and child of the Dust Bowl, Ms. Hoerth manages her family’s farm with new knowledge of living with the land gained in the past generation. Chemicals are no longer used, and crops are now fed with naturally derived fertilizers created from waste generated at the farm. Living with an extreme drought that has plagued the central United States for two years now, she can attest to the importance of sustainable practices for the survival of the farm.
Ms. Hoerth is just one deaconess who lives out her call to ministries of love, justice, and service through caring for creation and sustainable living. This call to ministry has taken Home Missioner Jeff Murrell all the way to Afghanistan. A member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mr. Murrell is now serving as chief of the Operational Energy Division for the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan Joint Engineering Directorate, Joint Programs Integration Office. He discusses energy use and efficiency with military and civilian leaders while advocating for, designing and implementing waste-to-energy and solar projects in Kabul and the surrounding areas. “As a home missioner with a mission focus in energy and environment, these are exciting times in God’s world,” he reflects.
For Deaconess Cameron Kempson, the call to care for God’s creation was more personal and prompted her to alter her lifestyle with sustainable practices, organic gardening and homesteading. She has transformed her suburban home into a small farm, with fruit and vegetable gardens now filling what was once her front lawn. The transformation goes beyond the land and to her spirit, as this cancer survivor has discovered how God tends her soul as she tends the garden. She recalls how profound this transformation was for her: “In my metamorphosis from pre- to post-cancer, I had changed, my spirit had changed. I realized that I played an important role in creation, that in essence, I was a part of God’s farm. My role was not only to tend to my spirit and my land but to nurture the earth and the creatures and plants in it.”
Ms. Kempson has become what she calls an ecovangelist, “someone who is compelled by the teachings of her faith to advocate for sustainable environmental practices.” She does this primarily through her blog, Growing Grace Farm, named for the peace and centeredness she experiences through her farming activities. Hundreds of readers follow her daily reflections and meaningful experiences about farming and gardening. “I began blogging about Growing Grace Farm as a way of expressing my new passion for connecting spirituality with farming,” she explains. What began as sharing a passion has now become a “vehicle for ministry and education for people all over the world.”
Education and advocacy for our environment has become crucially important for our future survival. It is not uncommon for some children and youth to have fears and anxieties about being outdoors and around nature. This is often attributed to the increasing amounts of time they spend indoors. Ms. Hoerth witnessed two members of an urban youth group go into a panic attack while walking through the prairie at Turtle Rock Farm because they were afraid of grass touching their skin. She insists, “It’s so important that our children learn to be at home in the natural world. It’s important for their development and for the health of the planet.” Her ministry, along with those of Mr. Murrell and Ms. Kempson, encourage us to seek God in creation and take better care of the world around us.
Myka Kennedy Stephens is a United Methodist deaconess appointed as an independent information professional in the Northern Illinois Annual Conference. Her services include writing, website design and maintenance, indexing and cataloging, and church library consulting. She is also founder and developer of Mission: Information, an online resource for library and information ministries.