Durham, North Carolina– It’s Palm Sunday. You stand in rows outside with your fellow gardeners, waving leaves over a man sitting in a wheelbarrow. It is a rural reenactment of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem. Another gardener walks through the crowd with a fleet of wheelbarrow-chariots trailing behind him. Pastor Ben Krase asks you to imagine the contrast between Jesus and Pilate’s entry into the Biblical city. Welcome to Farm Church.
Farm Church is pretty simple – folks get together, tend the garden, and worship the Lord. They strive to be a Christ-centered community that follows Jesus by combining worship, work, and play. The group nurtures faith, hope, and love in their community by providing food for some of the 50,000 food-insecure people in Durham, North Carolina through local non-profit organizations. Although they are a ministry of the Presbyterian Church, all people are welcome to join, no matter what their experience is with farming or God.
Every Sunday at 10 am Farm Church gathers at SEEDS, a local non-profit dedicated to environmental stewardship, and garden together. They begin by greeting one another then share a prayer or story to think about while working. Everyone disperses, getting down in the dirt to nurture the garden while growing in their faith. After an hour of work, everyone returns to the SEEDS building to enjoy singing, prayer, communion, and a message from Pastor Ben Krase or Pastor Allen Brimer. During harvest months, they take it,bless it on the communion table, and send it out. Krase believes that taking care of God’s creation reveals things about God’s character, so he encourages members not only to work the land, but to think about their Creator as they do so.
The First Seed Planted
The idea for Farm Church began with Allen Brimer, who worked on a farm in Indiana before attending McCormick Theological Seminary. There he met Ben Krase and shared his idea for a church that combined farming with ministry. They were excited by the idea and started a community garden, however, after graduation, Brimer went to serve a church in Kentucky and Krase went to serve a church in Texas and later a church in Wisconsin. Farm Church seemed to be forgotten until years later, when Krase had a dream. He described it to me, saying that in it he accepted an offer to serve a church that he had not yet seen. When he went to look at it, there was no building, only a farm. When he awoke, he knew that he had to start Farm Church. Twenty minutes after the dream, Krase bought the domain name: “farmchurch.org”.
However, the creation of Farm Church took longer than purchasing the domain. It was a popular idea; many people, ranging from California to New York, were willing to help jumpstart Farm Church. A great deal of decision making had to go into where Farm Church would be located and what it would be. Krase and Brimer had to determine if Farm Church was meant to be a revival of an existing church or something entirely new. They wanted to be certain of God’s calling so they spent two years praying, planning, searching, and deciding before choosing Durham, North Carolina. Both families packed up their belongings and moved to North Carolina before they even knew where they would be holding Farm Church. They started a production garden on a vacant lot near Duke University where they continue to keep 24, 100 square foot, beds in production.
Farm Church Sprouts
The first meeting for Farm Church was May 1, 2016. Krase remembers the excitement of many close friends and supporters coming to encourage them on their first day. There were about 65 people present, which was more than Krase and Brimer had anticipated, leading them scrambling to find enough chairs to seat people. Krase described the early days of Farm Church as “a blind date” or “production,” where one never really knew what group of people would show up. He claims that it was exciting, but not sustainable.
In the year since then, Farm Church has developed into its own community where the people truly care for and support one another. Krase shared how after Brimer’s recent move, many members of Farm Church offered to come over and clean his apartment. Krase recalls eating tacos with the group afterward and marveling at how such a deep, loving community grew so quickly.
Each Sunday, about 40 to 45 people come to SEEDS to garden, but there are 55 to 65 people who call Farm Church their home church. Most of the members are in their 20’s or 30’s, but there are some children and retired men and women. They come from different backgrounds; some being long-active in church, others with histories of being engaged in church starts, and few who are part of other churches too. Krase estimates that most of them are individuals with Christian backgrounds who became disinterested in church when they felt that they could not relate with it. There are also members of Farm Church who are ambivalent about church but hungry for faith, and some who are unsure of what they believe but enjoy the community and experience that Farm Church provides.
I was told about a young woman in the community who had experienced negative encounters with the Christian Church in the past, but who felt comfortable at Farm Church. She had felt that churches were more focused on having her follow rules than grow as a person, and had not found a place where she could ask questions or share doubts without being ostracized. She heard about Farm Church through a college ministry and has since become a member of the community and also helps lead worship from time to time. She finds that it a place where she can be heard without judgement, even when experiencing doubt.
Abundant Life at Farm Church
When asked about future plans for Farm Church, Krase shared that they plan to add a garden to their church every year. He hopes to start a farm with an entire ecosystem of plants and animals within the next few years. In addition, Krase wants the community to expand by changing the way that church is perceived through the development of people who want to live out the Gospel. He is a firm believer that God calls us not to go to church, but to be the church, and that Farm Church exemplifies this. By working, eating, and sharing together, the members of Farm Church experience the kind of abundant life that Jesus calls his followers to. I come that they may have life, and have it to the full. -John 10:10
Ben Krase encourages others forming and developing churches, saying, “There are good things to be done even in churches facing death and decline. None of that should stop us from doing good ministry.”
If you are interested in learning more about Farm Church or would like to get involved, their website is www.farmchurch.org and they have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.
Emily Daly was a Fresh Expressions Communications Intern the summer of 2017. She graduated from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia in December 2017.