As I personally have sought to grow vocationally in being a more faithful pastor, I have come to see new and fresh opportunities for me to enhance my education. Mindful of my context and the daily work and lives of many whom I serve, I am realizing (I confess) just how little I really know about farming. The communities I serve are first and foremost rural with deep historical roots in living and working off the land, and the majority of my parishioners continue to work or are connected in some way to agriculture—this should not be missed, and cannot be ignored. If ever I lose sight of this and its importance in my serving these people, I fail to be as faithful of a pastor as I have been called. As such, more and more I am seeing (a BIG) part of my continuing education as engaging my parishioners at and around their homesteads and farms. The classroom, in an informal sense, has taken many forms, such as riding in a truck cab on a back dirt road, walking through lines of corn stalks and rows of beans, leaning up against a grain bin, and sitting on a couch or at the kitchen table. Though there is much I know, or would like to think I know, from the formal theological and pastoral education I received prior to my serving here, daily I am reminded how much more there is still to learn in and about this unique place and these faithful people—and I am blessed by each opportunity I am given to grow in this ongoing education.
Yes, I feel fairly confident in exploring faith questions, I’m mediocre when it comes to leading worship, I meet discussing theological concepts with (perhaps over-)enthusiasm, and I can still parse my way so-so through the ancient Hebrew and Greek languages of Scripture—among other pastoral skills (and these are all good and necessary for being a pastor)—but my education and “job” don’t stop there. Beyond the seminary classroom, past the shelves of theological books, and outside the front door of the church sanctuary, the learning continues—very much complementing and enhancing the work I am always being called to do. For every handful of knowledge I may think I have, there are silos-full of invaluable information which fancy degrees cannot begin to touch—education which I’m not sure I ever could have thought I might need to know in my current vocation. There is much I simply don’t know—for which I find myself greatly humbled (and many times embarrassed). For instance, though I’m starting to hear more about it, I don’t know the differential reasons between till and no-till farming. Listening with a keen ear everywhere I go, I’m slowly catching on but still don’t know quite a bit of the lingo among farmers regarding planting and harvesting. When it comes to small adjustments of living in a new place, such as a different system of measuring rainfall, I’m amazed by new questions that are filling my mind—like pondering what 90/100ths of rain means on a flat field of tasseling corn versus a terraced field of young 3.2 soybeans which have just been sprayed. I hear certain dates referenced—some in joyful reminiscence and others in sickening despair—and I find myself wanting to ask and learn more about what years meant abundance and which ones scarcity for local farmers, and how each has shaped one’s outlook on the future. The information, questions, and education at any given moment is spewing in or out at high speed, like an auger transferring grain from bin to truck. Daily I’m learning that aside from what I think I know, there is much I haven’t got the slightest clue about—knowledge which, though it sometimes makes my head spin, is crucial for me to acquire in being a more faithful pastor. But don’t get me wrong, I’m so excited and eager about diving more deeply into all of this—I want to better understand what I currently don’t know. So, to continue growing in who God and my congregations have called me to be, I am learning farming.
And so I give thanks to those in these communities who have and are continuing to give of themselves and their time to help teach me about this context, what it means for people’s daily lives, and how it is shaped by (or shapes) one’s faith active in the world. Education never stops—we are always learning. This is especially true for pastors. Though it can be embarrassing to come face-to-face with my ignorance regarding farming, I look upon such means of learning and growing as making me and my ministry more faithful in this place. Continuing education for pastors is more than just a budget line item, a leadership expectation fulfilled with stamped and signed certificates, or a superfluous benefit of the job—it’s what keeps us fresh in our critical thinking, questioning, and serving faithfully. In my opinion, the pastor who serves, for instance, a rural community but isn’t seeking to grow in learning about the local context is not considering the fullness of their call to constantly and diligently learn and grow in their service for others. Though I may never fully grasp all of what farming entails, I do hope and pray that in taking the time, going where I otherwise may have driven past, listening, and engaging farming I can perhaps tend to this community more faithfully as God has called me to do. One thing is certain thus far in my learning farming—I am being blessed by countless opportunities: to see the vast beauty of God’s creation in a new (to me) context, engage various vocations that are participating in furthering the kingdom of God in the world, and grow in relationships with God’s people in this place. Thank you to my teachers—my parishioners. I hope I’m a better student for you all than I have been in other, past contexts. <:-l