Good Soil, We Would Come to Learn, is 25% Air

by Anne Privett

St. Andrew’s church was at a critical point in a visioning process when COVID hit and everything stopped. As the world put on masks fearing sharing common air, the Holy Spirit breathed. Routines stilled, perspective changed and space was given. On the other side of the country, two Anglicans (newly retired organic farmers Peter and Wendy) packed up their belongings and moved to Kelowna mid-pandemic. They joined St. Andrew’s having only met us on Zoom. Determined not to waste a good crisis, the visioning team found ways to safely continue the work, and we discerned three new mission goals as a parish: Celebrate our Anglican Tradition, Cultivate each one of us as disciples and leaders, and Connect in relationship as we serve our community. Little did we know just how literally the Spirit meant cultivate.

Just before Easter 2021, we were gifted with the use of a plot of land within a larger, working farm, and with the expertise of Peter and Wendy “The Gift Farm Garden” was born. Soil testing and amendments, row preparation, moving deer fences, buying tools, seedlings arriving from neighbours and other farms in the valley, and weeding (so much weeding!). Our Messy Church congregation blessed the land and worshipped on the farm throughout COVID. I will never forget watering 8,000 square feet with three watering cans in the early mornings (it took about 2 hours!). By no small miracle, the lettuce rows continued to produce right through unprecedented Okanagan heat dome temperatures. Our first year brought 1,700 lbs of produce mostly leafy greens!

Cultivating the farmland began to teach us how to do the same in our parish life. Our common soil was really tired and the structures we’d inherited could not provide
space for the life we heard our parish longing for in the visioning process feedback: “we long to be woven together in a tapestry ministry of spiritual growth and belonging, not a culture of programs and roles.” We had Zoom conversations with churches across the country who were asking similar questions. We brainstormed, prayed, did some metaphorical weeding and fence moving and listened. The Spirit led us to restructure our common life by integrating our eleven standing committees into three Circles of Ministry each of which is lead by a pair of Team-Leads. This asked all of us to enter new ground including changing the way I as priest, our Wardens and our Council were used to engaging in leadership.

The Gift Farm Garden is now in its second season and has not only become a central ministry and living metaphor for the parish, but has also completely revitalized our region, growing partnerships between parishes that had lay fallow for the last decade. As a region we are learning to cultivate shared responsibility for ministries rather than ownership of ministries. Fresh, organic produce is gifted to local group homes, our Cathedral’s food bank, organizations in the downtown core and households experiencing food insecurity. And there is even an irrigation system now! Our parish Ministry Circles are in full swing, and by God’s grace and steadfast Spirit we are cultivating a culture of discipleship. Culture change is a lot like small-scale farming: good soil is 25% air.

The Rev’d Canon Anne Privett is the rector of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church and Regional Dean of the Central Okanagan. She lives in Kelowna with her husband Nick, who is also a priest, their cat and hundreds of heads of garlic currently hanging from the ceiling as they cure for the Farm-Garden. Anne invites questions and dialog regarding community gardening, contact her at