Story Magazine - Winter, 2010

CSA: Clergy Sustaining Agriculture

by Melanie Boulay Becker, Correspondent

"Nature's chief tool for sustainability is diversity," said Jeff Hawkins, '80. Hawkins is executive director of Hope CSA, a working and teaching ministry for pastors that is located on Hawkins' 99-acre farm in North Manchester, Ind. "Just as sustainable farming requires producing a variety of crops, having only one way of being church is more fragile and less sustainable," said Hawkins, a former pastor. "The farm teaches students an organic way of life through direct experience."

Hawkins believes the lessons nature provides for attendees readily translate to the church through his unique ministry at Hope CSA (Hands-On Pastoral Education using Clergy Sustaining Agriculture). "The small, diversified sustainable farm offers an agrarian paradigm which challenges the industrial structure under which today's church functions," he said.

Hawkins' ecumenical teaching ministry offers a course in experiential learning and academic study to assist pastors in becoming healthier and more effective leaders. Drawing on the resources of the small, diversified family farm that once belonged to his grandparents, he draws on nature's ways to teach the natural process that makes for well-being or, as he likes to call it, "holy health," or "soteria" in Greek. He believes that holy health incorporates a person's health in all forms: spiritual, emotional,
intellectual, physical, interpersonal, environmental and vocational.

Hawkins' self-described "Old MacDonald" farm grows vegetables and raises pigs, cattle, meat chickens, laying hens and turkeys. Ministry participants spend the morning doing chores and light farm work, at noon eat a hearty meal and then enjoy an hour of quiet, and conclude the day by participating in discussion.

While he has the capacity to host additional attendees, Hawkins reports that the regular attendees make up the bulk of his program. A quarter of them have attended nearly every year since he started the program in 2003, half have been there two to four years, and the remaining quarter are new to the program.

According to Hawkins, the type of support his program provides is crucial to the well-being of congregations and pastors since the two are intertwined. "I'm a student of family and natural systems theory," he explained. "One idea promoted by this theory is that no system is ever healthier than its leader, so if a church's leader is not taking his or her health seriously, it's hard for the congregation to do so."

Research bears out the toll that ministry takes on pastors. The Pulpit & Pew project at Duke University, a 2001 comprehensive survey of Christian clergy in the United States, uncovered troubling factors affecting pastoral health. These included unresolved congregational conflict, stress from congregational demands and challenges that prevent pastors from having quality family time or time for recreation and renewal. Other factors negatively affecting pastoral health include being on call as a pastor 24/7 and feeling lonely and isolated. These and other findings served as the basis for Jackson Carroll's 2006 book, "God's Potters: Pastoral Leadership and the Shaping of Congregations."

Addressing the stress and isolation pastors face is a key benefit of Hope CSA, said Hawkins. "Hope CSA provides safe collegiality. There are very few safe places today for pastors to be who they are. Discussion at most clergy gatherings tends to focus on complaining or bragging. That doesn't happen here."

Instead Hawkins finds that open conversation naturally flows when participants are on the farm. The most authentic conversation on the farm occurs when people are working together rather than seated around a table involved in premeditated discussion. "When people labor together, something special happens," said Hawkins. "There's a direct relationship between the inner landscape and the outer landscape."