The Land: Step One Talk

The Land envisions a faith community that nourishes sacred relationships between the Creator and all of Creation. Our mission is to integrate agricultural practice and spiritual disciplines to facilitate individual and communal transformation. Through worship, small group engagement, and missional activities, “The Land” exists to collectively answer the question, “What does Holy Living look like in the 21st century?” Just as John Wesley sought to inspire people toward a practical theology, “The Land” invites people to experience discipleship as they care for the earth, harvest God’s gifts, and fill the souls and stomachs of their neighbors. Each item located on The Land is created to be a manifestation of this vision, co-opting spiritual ritual and agricultural practice:

  • Community Garden: A handicap-accessible ‘Edible Labyrinth’ located at the northeast edge of the site designed for the integration of 0.8 acres of cultivated beds and 1.2 miles of 5’wide crushed granite path wrapped at a 120’ walkway leading to the center.
  • ‘Green’ Gathering Space: An Outdoor Amphitheater with a capacity of 176 based on the construction of 44 parking spaces (5 handicap accessible) to be located centrally on the south end of the site as it utilizes the natural topography of the site and will be fully accessible via an ADA-approved crushed granite path wrapping from the Edible Labyrinth to the Outdoor Amphitheater.
  • Cathedral Greenhouse: A 4,000-9,500 SF/multi-functional space for worship services and year round growing of produce; a sanctuary for neighbors in need and a meeting place for organizations with like-minded purposes of caring for creation and one another.
  • Barn/Bunk House: A 6,000-8,000 SF/2-story bldg. w/ commercial kitchen and seating for 250 with tables/accommodations for groups of up to 20 people to stay overnight.

At it’s full development, The Land will function as a Laboratory for spiritual growth in the Community, telling the unfolding story of a God has not only created but who continues to create.

After spending the past three years just beneath the surface of an undeveloped property in Aurora, Colorado, The Land Faith Community is steadily breaking ground, reaching new milestones and forming new partnerships. This July, The Land was officially incorporated as a non-profit and celebrated the award of a $2,500 In Kind Marketing Grant from ReThink Church.

In addition, Regis University has taken The Land on as its ‘Scope of Work’ MBA Class Project which dedicates the attention of 6 MBA students over the course of 8-weeks to continue development on financial management processes and fundraising implementation.  Regis University responded to the concept of The Land with enthusiasm, stating that “calling this a Church just doesn’t quite do it justice.” Yet, that is just the intent of The Land. To challenge the perception of the institutional church by redefining what discipleship means in the 21stcentury.  Gathering people together through food, faith, and farming, The Land is an expression of Church in the 21st century—the transformative power of a community seeking to align their everyday actions with their core beliefs.

There is no linear story to tell for The Land’s development; no steps to follow per se. Even if you wanted to get where I am, I couldn’t offer you much advice because most days I am not sure where that place I am even is.

I can share with you that in the 1980s the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Methodist Church began purchasing parcels of land throughout the Denver-Metro area for the future development of faith communities and that the final remaining property to be developed is 9.5 acres located on Powhaton Rd and what will one day be Exposition Avenue. I can share that in September of 2013 our team requested a $5,000 grant from the New Church Development Committee of the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Methodist Church to explore the feasibility for a new faith community on this property.

And I can tell you that on April 2, 2014, the team presented the findings of the feasibility study to the New Church Development Team reporting that while an agriculturally-based faith community was a viable model for this particular property in Southeast Aurora, our dependency on the developer for utilities combined with the stagnation of the surrounding neighborhood development determined that our would be most effectively launched in 3-5 years. For various practical reasons, we imagined that the planting of this church was 7-10 years into the future. I was considering what my pastoral ‘next steps’ would be as we waited.

Then in October of 2014 I was approached by Amy Behres from the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union about the possibility of a group of Somali-Bantu Refugees farming on the property while the project waited for the neighborhood development to begin. To further investigate this possibility, a phone conference with Libby Tart Schoenfelder, a Senior Planner with the City of Aurora, was scheduled to discuss alternative sources of water to irrigate the property. It was during this phone conference that we learned that the new concept for Melcor’s surrounding development was Community Gardens and Orchards and that their property development timeline was being moved up to the Spring of 2015. Soon after this phone conference The Land team gave a preliminary presentation to the City of Aurora Planning Team.

The City became an enthusiastic advocate for the vision, allowing us to propose a temporary water solution to begin development prior to the accessibility to utilities and combining our development with the larger Framework Development Plan of the Harmony development. With the momentum the City of Aurora provided, the Conference responded by granting the team a request for 250k from the Legacy Fund in May of 2015. This financial support from the Conference provided the confidence to the church where I currently serve to continue supporting my full time salary while adjusting my job description to include serving as a missionary to The Land beginning in July 2016.

In a snapshot this is how we have gotten to where we are yet none of these surface dates and serendipitous stories even begin to reflect the reality of how The Land has gotten to where it is today.

Shekinah is a Hebrew word that refers to a collective vision that brings together dispersed fragments of divinity. It is usually understood as a light disseminating presence, bringing an awareness of God to a time and place where God is not expected to be-a place. It’s not a public spectacle but more like a selective showing at God’s direction to encourage or affirm, to reveal a reality of something that we do not yet have eyes to see.

People like you and me need that Shekinah story. Our congregations need it. Most of what we do in getting our congregations going doesn’t look anything like what people expect it to.

The story of Shekinah is set in Jerusalem at a time when Jews were returning from their Babylonian captivity. Babylon had destroyed Jerusalem and its magnificent Solomonic temple. Meanwhile the Persian king, Cyrus, had conquered Babylon and gave the Jews permission to return to their homeland. He also generously made provision for them to rebuild the destroyed temple. Hope was at high tide. The devastation and heartache of those long years of living in a pagan culture among foreign gods was over –they would be able to worship God again on their native soil, reenter the splendid sacred precincts, and begin again to serve God in the place redolent with storied memories.

And this is the story as we know it.

Except there is more, the story according to mystical Judaism of the Middle Ages continues sharing that when the people arrived they took one look at the restored temple and wept at what they saw. The Solomonic temple of that for five hundred years had provided a glorious centering for their life as a people of God had been replaced by what looked to them like a tarpaper shack. The squalid replacement broke their hearts, and they wept. As they wept, a dazzling, light-resplendent presence descended, the Shekinah-God’s personal presence-and filled that humble, modest, makeshift, sorry excuse for a temple with glory. They lifted their arms in praise. They were truly home. God was truly present. The Shekinah faded out. The glory stayed.

I can’t give you a play by play of how you should start a successful new faith community or even why one would embrace such a task. Probably because in my experience it isn’t something you do but something that happens around you, slowly but surely, rising up from the ground at the same time things seem to be crumbling around us. It takes faith to believe in the building up of the invisible; in the manifestation of Shekinah. We dare to design a church that expresses the way we intend to live in this place and worship in this place and these places, these temples, will rarely look like Church as our institutions define them.

It takes vigilance to witness and tell the stories of these births in terms of the only common thread visible throughout these mixed up journey through ruins and rainbows. The common thread of God’s presence, Shekinah, showing up each time I reach the place I thought I was supposed to be only to discover there was so much more work to be done. Each time I reach the end of the rope only to discover there are 500 more yards buried just beneath the surface. Each time I cry, or laugh, or grow impatient or ambiguous, God shows up. And I learn over and over to fall in love with the process not the product. To fall in love with a people not a place. A dream not a destination.

The Land is a church that does not look like a church with a pastor who does not look like a pastor. What better place for a modern day Shekinah to remind a lonely world they are never alone.