I come from five generations of farmers who settled on Lake Erie in northern Ohio. I am a product of their stories and ethos and extended family norms. I learned Universalism from their example. We are all related, laterally and horizontally. When I left for college my Grampa told me he was delighted in my choice of vocations (teacher) as there are three especially noble paths: teaching, ministry, and farming. Two out of three, Grampa. I can see you smiling in the Cloud of Witnesses.
I have to admit, that I do feel some guilt having left the farm, which I love so much. I feel I have somehow betrayed my beloved ancestors. And at the same time, I know they are cheering me on, right there when I need them. Once I moved to the Pacific NW (in the 1990s) I got involved in the movement to save family farms in our region and to connect those farms to local restaurants. My Grampa was pleased. It was my annual Christmas gift to him.
I spent most of last week in my family in the land of my origin. My favorite Uncle just died. I spent time on the farm cleaning and organizing with my cousin, which was really a method of creating space to talk and collectively grieve. It was good.
While sweeping out the barn, long void of animals, now full of abandoned equipment and a fishing boat, I meditated on what might come. My brother and I moved across country in early adulthood. My cousin stayed. We are the only ones in our generation of this lineage. And I am the only one to have children.
My generation is stepping into leadership and decisions once held by my parents’ generation. My own children, our ancestors’ progenies, may one day inherit this farm. And by that, I don’t mean just the land. I also mean the stories, the ethos, and the extended family norms, as I did. These will guide them in their life choices and inheritance decisions. I feel confident that I’ve handed these on properly and strongly. But what about the practical and technical means of farm stewardship? I am not currently prepared. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to prepare both myself and my children.
My aunt chose to turn the fertile piece of property handed down to her into a land trust, specifically a sanctuary for ducks. Absolutely in line with the family values in which it was given. She was prepared to honor the gift in a way that respects both the ancestors and who she uniquely is in the world. I want that ability for my children. I want that for all of us, whatever we are inheriting from our relations who went before.
In the face of unknowns, how are we preparing our children (of all ages) to inherit our family farms, our family inheritance? Who owned the land before my people settled there? What is our relationship now? What could it be? What were the challenges and blessings of each generation that tilled the soil? How did they choose the produce and animals to grow? How did they make their living and build community? Who lives in the community now and what is needed for the common good? What will my children need to know of land use management, land trusts, conservancies, savvy reality business options, philanthropy, and investment?
And yes, the family farm is also a metaphor for congregations. I kept my children at arm’s (continent’s) length of their family farm and regret it. I see many of our congregations keeping our older children and youth at arms length of the actual workings of our institutions, and I think that is a big mistake. If we truly believe that the youth and young adults will inherit our faith, how are we using the precious time we have with them to create savvy religious and community leaders? What skills, stories, and experiences will they need to pick up where we left off and run? How are we integrating our youngers and leveraging mentors for cross learning and engagement? If you believe your congregation does a solid job in preparing our youth and young adults for their inheritance, please email me. I’d like to highlight success stories here this year.
Tandi believes that every congregation should offer full membership to youth who go through Coming of Age. At the very least, explicitly and ceremoniously offer membership to bridging seniors with great enthusiasm and welcome.