I never thought I would be raising chickens, turkeys and sheep within 6 years of graduating from seminary. I think I maybe anticipated gardening at the most. During seminary in Chicago, there was a high emphasis on ministry in urban settings. It made sense at the time as we strove to practice building community where we lived. We were used to apartments squeezed too closely together dating back to the 1970s. We were used to restaurants and experiences closely located to our tiny living space. We were used to an abundance of people.
After graduating seminary, I was placed here, in the Treasure Valley at Faith Lutheran Church in Caldwell. While it was not totally “in the boonies” as the saying goes, Caldwell definitely has a rural memory and many of its residents still continue this lifestyle. I brought my education and urban/suburban experiences to this first placement and was met with a great deal of further learning such as how to care for a variety of animals, using power tools, the rhythm of farming schedules, smelling manure, and the struggles surrounding replacing farmland with an ever-expanding commercial housing enterprise in this area.
Our family’s time in Caldwell and the broader Treasure Valley has opened us to extraordinary kindness and relationship-building dynamics which seminary explored only lightly. As an example, in more urban settings, conversations about the weather are portrayed as tedious. In this part of Idaho, however, conversations about the weather speak to livelihoods, especially as watering conditions fluctuate.
In 2017, it was reported that rural congregations make up 28% of the ELCA’s roughly 10,000 congregations. This is higher than any other population dynamic reported. Most first call placements happen in rural areas (between 50-70% in any given year). It would make sense for seminaries and other church institutions to involve more rural exposure in order to prepare leaders, especially inexperienced leaders, for a different context than many are used to. We have become excited to share many of the gifts imparted in our life here from getting dirty in the muck of animals and compost to the depth of community which goes beyond whether or not we think we deserve it – much like God’s grace.
The ability to engage in a ministry opportunity which relates rural and urban locations speaks to how God’s very self is committed to engage with us beyond any distance or barrier we might imagine. Places like the Treasure Valley can be a great model of how different geographies and population dynamics can be complementary and relational.
Currently, our journey is leading us to Shalom Hill Farm in Windom, Minnesota to assume the roles of Executive Directors. Shalom Hill Farm’s mission is to educate and advocate for rural life, culture, and ministry. Thanks to the gifts of the Treasure Valley, we are excited to step into this mission and will carry the gems of the Gem State with us. We will remember these past 6 years with fondness and love.
Thank you, Treasure Valley.