If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you might have seen that we are selling our beloved Preservation Acres and heading off for a new adventure. A new adventure that we are over the moon to tell you about.
But first, a little back story for those new to our story.
About 16 years ago, with help from the Holy Spirit via Phyllis Tickle and her Farm in Lucy series, Nathan and I began to discern a call to the land. We began to hear a call to a new family vocation—one that was rooted in community and creation and great intentionality. A call to a different way of moving and being in the world, to a deeper and sometimes slower way of living life – for ourselves, our family, and my ministry.
In 2015, I wrote a book about this call and our experience pursuing it. I wrote about all the things that went wrong at first (broken foot, chicken massacre, dead dog…), and I wrote about how help came in the form of St. Benedict and the words of Jeremiah 29:4-14. Scaffolding was built through Benedict and Jeremiah that would help us live into this call no matter our location. We learned to water the grass under our feet instead of waiting for greener pastures “someday.” We learned how to open our hands to what was instead of always pining for what could be.
And then, as these often go, things changed. I was called to be the Minister of Children, Youth, and Families at St. Peter’s in Conway. A call that meant moving to a more rural county in Arkansas. And so, after months of looking, and with God’s help, we purchased Preservation Acres – almost 8 acres, fitted with a pond, a barn/shop, lots of room for gardens, and a solid house ready for fixing up.
We signed the papers, jumped in, and set about making it our own, changing the house, renewing the land, raising chickens, a pig, some goats, and our boys. We wanted to create a place that nourished us and others in our community – a place for gathering and growing. A place for liturgical shenanigans and crowded tables and digging in the dirt. It was a place where people could feel loved upon this earth, just as they were.
Some of what we had prayed for and dreamed about came to pass – we got to hold multiple Agri-liturgical events for our St. Peter’s community. We started the ultimate not-so-small Small Group and found a deep community; we hosted weddings and birthday parties, farm-to-soul eucharist, fireworks over our pond, and Ascension Day kite flying. We planted 3000 sq feet of gardens and huge pumpkin patches. We fished in the pond, ate wild berries, gave away more eggs than we could eat, and celebrated our boy’s high school (and one college) graduations. And Preservation Acres is where the seeds of Good News Gardens first began to sprout in late spring of 2020, as a global pandemic and racial violence changed our lives forever, reminding us that our call to love our neighbor is often a matter of life and death.
It has been an incredible, God-filled, hardworking, sweat-and-tears seven years here at Preservation acres.
Not all of our dreams were realized.
First, PA was just a little too off the beaten path for many of our friends and family. Especially those spread out across the country and sometimes for those just a few hours away, which was often discouraging. Our deep desire to fill up our rooms with guests who could just come and retreat and rest and enjoy the gifts of the farm for a day or two or three was only realized occasionally.
Secondly, as our boys grew and spent more and more time away from the farm, and as I began to travel more for churchwide (as opposed to congregational) work in my new role for The Episcopal Church, Nathan often found himself trying to manage PA alone, while also commuting to and from work in Little Rock 10-hour shifts. A predicament that brought more frustration than joy.
Which leads us to the perhaps the greatest problem we never managed to solve at PA: Nathan finding a way to care for the land, not just as a hobby but as part of his professional vocation as well. For a whole host of reasons (that would fill another blog post) – we could never find the way to make that transition. And as time went on, with Nathan tallying up more and more years in the IT industry, it became harder and harder to know how he would be able to make a professional turn here in Arkansas. But as our desire for him to make this transition to an agri-based profession grew, our lives were once again changing.
And so, we began to think about making a move. A move that would put us geographically closer to my work and many of my colleagues and friends who shared similar vocational calls. As someone who experiences the presence of God most significantly amid in-person vocational community, this is something that the core of my being is in desperate need of, especially as I transition out of full-time mothering. As we began to imagine what the next half (or more, God willing) of our life would look like, we began to wonder if there was situation out in the world that included more of a faith-based community vibe and would also allow Nathan to live into his long-held desire to earn his living from caring for the land itself. Maybe a seminary or a camp with a farm, something like a “farminary”? Maybe something all together different? We weren’t sure. But we had the sense that something was coming, if we just kept our eyes and hearts open.
It was at this intersection of wondering and our rapidly approaching “empty nest” that I found myself at Tricia Lyons and Lisa Kimball’s kitchen table, where they began to share the story of “this farm in New Jersey” and the family who was selling a large 18th-century farmhouse, with a dairy barn, pool, deep forest, multiple streams, pastures, a cabin, and more. There, at the table, they begin to share how they had started envisioning the land and farm as a place of radical hospitality, rest, retreat, and creative lifelong learning. How God was whispering visions to them and others of a teaching farm – a “Farminary” – where people could come and learn about creation care, sustainable farming, beekeeping, maple syrup extraction, mindful living, connections between liturgy and creation, etc. How they had been thinking for years of potential partnerships for on-site learning with seminaries, and other parishes or diocesan connections, as well as local schools and colleges looking to explore the spirituality of nature. And, of course, how they thought about evangelism: how can this land and its shelters be given back to God so to be salt, light, and leaven to their community and to the larger Church? Like all of us, how can this farm join the unfolding destiny of redemption for all creation?
So, I sat there and took it all in. Asking questions, hinting that Nathan might be willing to leave Arkansas (would he really?) and that we had begun to wonder about a move that would allow us to live deeper into this very idea (was that possible??)
The following day, I came to breakfast and brought a diagram I had recently drawn in my prayer journal.
A diagram with a heart (my heart) drawn in the center and flowing out from almost everything they had mentioned was my dream for what was next. Including the term “Farminary.” You should have seen Tricia’s face.
From that moment on, I felt that I had entered a fast-running Holy Spirit tributary, headed right into the big ole river of grace.
Soon, Nathan was in the stream with me, and then Miles and then Wylie. Before we knew it, there were visits to New Jersey, regular Zoom calls between Greers and the Lyons-Kimballs, shared folders with property maps, a working “Rule of Land,” and tax documents, and calls to lawyers and inspectors.
And there was prayer. So, so, so much prayer.
As I began to share what this might be with our closest folks, I kept saying, “We will keep walking through open doors. And if the doors close, then we know to stop.”
Well, y’all, the doors never closed.
Seven months later, Lisa, Tricia, and all four Greers have come together to break bread and soil together. As a team we have all invested in this place and this call financially, vocationally, and prayerfully.
This means the Greers are moving to rural New Jersey. The same state I was born in 47 years ago, while my southern-born father was in the Air Force.
We will make our family home in the farmhouse – a family home that will be a central part of this dream of hospitality and gathering. Nathan will work and manage the land (so much!) and structures as his primary profession (though part-time school crossing guard is also on the table.) And I will, God willing, continue my work for the Presiding Bishop’s office. And we will of course do what we do with any place – proceed with intentionality and joy as we seek to create a space that is welcoming and nourishing for all. But while the six of us are the stewards, this holy adventure experiment is not just about us, or for us. This farm is a place for everyone.
As Tricia says over and over “It’s God’s farm!” and all are welcome.
Our intention, for all of us – Lisa, Tricia, myself, Nathan, Wylie, and Miles- from the beginning – is that this farm would and always will be about community far beyond our two households. There are so many folks who are already part of the warp and weft of this place and what God is up to here that to call it “ours” would be wild hubris. I
So what comes next? That is a good question.
As you will hear all of us say over and over, there is still so much discernment to be done – so many ideas swirling around (this crew has never lacked for creativity,) but some of the things we have wondered are:
Will we find a way to host hikers off the Appalachian trail?
Will we be a place where seminarians can practice agri-ministry?
Will it be a place for rest and renewal for lay and clergy ministers experiencing burnt out?
Will it be an inspiring retreat space for ministry teams who want to dream together?
Will we have a free pumpkin patch that brings great joy?
Will Lisa have horses again?
Will we host youth campouts?
Will Jerusalem get to live out her Farmchurch dreams?
Yes! Maybe? We shall see?!
And that is the adventure!
There are so many possibilities, the community is vast, the workers are plenty, and the need is great. I know we all welcome your prayers as this story continues to be written!
As far as our family’s next steps, we have begun the move in increments. Wylie has gone ahead of us to hold down the fort while we work to sell our house in Arkansas and settle things here (and prepare to move Miles to college in NYC in August!)
Lisa and Tricia also have their own space at the farm, which we are currently calling The Cottage, and they will spend as much time here this summer as they can.
And all of us will get to stripping wallpaper and learning the names of new kinds of trees and where the best coffee in town is, and before long, hopefully, you can come join in the fun too! In the meantime, feel free to pray for us – it’s the only way this will ever work.