Building on the success of the Inaugural “Run for Nazareth Farm” fundraiser last spring, our Catholic community is organizing a second “Team Nazareth Farm” to participate in the 200-mile overnight Ragnar Relay event on September 16-17th (Friday-Saturday) and help raise funds to sustain Nazareth Farm. This challenging but fun overnight relay event will begin in Cumberland, Maryland (not far from Nazareth Farm!) and end in our nation’s capital, Washington, DC. We are excited to report that our team roster is nearly complete, but we are still looking for a couple of enthusiastic runners (all ability levels welcome) for this year’s team. Accommodations will be provided for all participants. This overnight relay is truly a rewarding event’s for all participants and a fun way to help raise needed funds for our community. Last year’s inaugural run brought together many members of extended Nazareth Farm family and generated more than $15,000 in support for the Farm’s mission in Appalachia.
In addition to runners, Nazareth Farm is in need of a few volunteers to help us support the relay team on its journey from Cumberland, Maryland to Washington, DC. If you live in Maryland or within the greater Washington, D.C., area, we could use a few folks to help support the team at the relay handoff points or upon our arrival in Washington Saturday afternoon.
Do think you might be interested in lacing up for this year’s Run for Nazareth Farm? Or can lend a hand as a volunteer? If so, please email this year’s team captain, Adam Siple, at [email protected] soon.
Photos by Br. Peter Heiskell, Tom Wiley, Jillian Clemente, and Haley Curtin
By Tom Wiley, Staff Member
Simplicity has always been one of the four cornerstones of our life here at Nazareth Farm. Living simply at Nazareth Farm happens in many ways. It is rocking in porch chairs, talking with another volunteer, getting to know them. It is pouring a warm bucket shower over your head—with the sky overhead and creek below—to take off the dirt from a week at the worksites. It is making music together late into the night, with only your voices and a guitar as instruments. It is vigilantly turning off electric lights whenever you leave a room. It is conserving a toilet flush of water through the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” system, or simply using an outhouse. It is reusing or recycling whenever we can. It is taking only the food that you can eat in solidarity with those who must live on less. It is caring for pets and garden plants. It is asking a question about fossil-fuel extraction and sustainable solutions. It is hiking through hills, admiring God’s grandeur in nature.
Since our beginning, Nazareth Farm has practiced this cornerstone as a way of living out the Gospel message of God’s creation. We view simple and sustainable living as our striving for right relationship with each other and our natural world. It is an essential message of the transformational service-retreats that we hold for our volunteers year round.
Last summer Pope Francis put out an urgent call addressed to “every person living on this planet” (3) in his encyclical letter Laudato Si’ reminding us of the responsibility which all of us have for our world, which we must love and protect. Recognizing the serious, man-made challenges our earth faces today—everything from climate change to ocean acidification to the extinction of countless species of life from existence—Laudato Si’ proposes “a bold cultural revolution” (114) to help humanity return to a more modest and sustainable lifestyle that will allow us to better care for our earth.
Part of this revolution, the Pope writes, must be a return to simplicity. Here is what he has to say:
We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that “less is more.” A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment. To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfillment. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. (222)
Pope Francis recognizes this return to simplicity as an “alternative understanding of the quality of life,” and he believes that all Christians are called to live out this alternative lifestyle.
On our retreats at Nazareth Farm our volunteers get an opportunity to return to this kind of simplicity. We tell them to ditch the electronics, gadgets, and smartphones that fill up our lives today with so much distraction. We urge them to be attentive to the little things, to see God in all things. In our rustic environment, we can be uniquely awake to nature around us—in the hills and hollows, in the running water of our creek, in the cats, dogs, and chickens who live here with us, and in the small breeze you feel at the summit of our hike on the ridge. On our retreats we also try to be uniquely present to each other in simple, welcoming community, with both our fellow volunteers who come together for a week of service and our neighbors here in Appalachia. During shared prayer, when volunteers share where they saw God during the week, they so often share finding the divine during the simplest of moments.
By opening their hearts to simple moments, our volunteers begin to reflect on how the compulsive consumerism and wastefulness that marks so much of modern life today affects them and their world. Pope Francis writes in Laudato Si’, “Many people know that our current progress and the mere amassing of things and pleasures are not enough to give meaning and joy to the human heart, yet they feel unable to give up what the market sets before them. (209)” On our retreats our volunteers experience giving up some things, such as their daily shower under running water, paper napkins at dinnertime, or the use of electricity when we have our “energy fast” on Wednesday night. These are little actions, just a drop in the ocean of what needs to be done to heal our world. Pope Francis tells us though:
There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle… We must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread. Furthermore, such actions can restore our sense of self-esteem; they can enable us to live more fully and to feel that life on earth is worthwhile. (211-212)
One of the most important gifts we give our volunteers is the knowledge to bring these little actions back to their schools, parishes, and communities. When we do a little action to protect our earth, such as setting up a compost bin for food waste or even just turning off an unnecessary light, we become mindful of our own duties to creation and model that commitment to others, too.
At Nazareth Farm we owe so much of our practice of sustainable simplicity to our neighbors in Appalachia who demonstrate this practice with their lives. Appalachia abounds with knowledge of how to live in respectful harmony with nature. People in Doddridge County often have a great commitment to this land. Many have made economic sacrifices to live in such a naturally beautiful location. Their lifestyle here is often marked by a thriftiness of resources guided by a practical, caring wisdom passed on through generations. I think of our neighbor who came by and walked through our tool racks, telling us how to get a longer life out of each tool, instead of throwing them out and buying new ones. I think of our neighbors who get part of their diet from the land around them: by maintaining beautiful vegetable gardens, by canning their extra harvest, by harvesting ramps and paw-paws from the hills (two Appalachian delicacies), and by using and storing all of the meat they hunt. Often this creative practice of ecological responsibility is carried out in Appalachia when people have limited material and fiscal means. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis observes about such situations:
An admirable creativity and generosity is shown by persons and groups who respond to environmental limitations by alleviating the adverse effects of their surroundings and learning to orient their lives amid disorder and uncertainty… At times a commendable human ecology is practiced by the poor despite numerous hardships. (148)
Any of our volunteers who come to Appalachia with an open-minded attitude of encounter have much to learn from our neighbors here about the practice of human ecology.
We feel an urgent need to educate our volunteers about sustainability in large part because we know the stakes for Appalachia are so high. Fossil-fuel extraction plays a dramatic role in the story of this place. From coal mining to the natural gas drilling so prevalent today, fossil-fuel extraction in Appalachia has been a driver of economic production, but often it is had its cost on the land and people of this region. Appalachia’s coal and natural gas have powered the American economy for generations, and the people here are rightly proud of their role in our country’s prosperity. Too often, however, it seems that too little of the wealth generated from this area’s resources was invested back in this land and its people. Too often this mining left deep scars of environmental devastation that will take a long time to heal. Pope Francis evocatively writes in Laudato Si, “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. (21)” When you look at a denuded plain of rocky soil that was once a mountain, now stripped of its peak through mountaintop removal, when you see a 900-foot deep coal slurry impoundment filled with the chemical refuse of coal mining, when you see a hillside that you once treasured now torn apart and occupied by a hydro-fracturing pad several hundred feet across, it is easy to see what the Pope means here.
It is our great responsibility then to educate our volunteers who come here in as much of the story of fossil-fuel extraction and sustainable solutions as we can. We tell them about our neighbor who is grateful to have a job with a natural gas company, even though it requires him to work long hours and have less time with his family than he would like. We tell them about the mineral rights to this land that were usually sold by the people who live on the surface of the land long ago, and the disparity that creates. We tell them about the hydro-fracturing drilling of natural gas, often called fracking, which takes place at eight different large wells in Doddridge County. There is much debate about the safety of hydro-fracturing drilling. Many assure us that when properly regulated, it is a safe process. Others raise concerns about the potential impact of chemicals injected into the earth draining into the water aquifers people drink from, or the ground tremors that may result from disturbing the earth thousands of feet below its surface. Again, Pope Francis gives us some guidance about what a debate should look like:
Environmental impact assessment should not come after the drawing up of a business proposition or the proposal of a particular policy, plan or program. It should be part of the process from the beginning, and be carried out in a way which is interdisciplinary, transparent and free of all economic or political pressure. It should be linked to a study of working conditions and possible effects on people’s physical and mental health, on the local economy and on public safety…The local population should have a special place at the table; they are concerned about their own future and that of their children, and can consider goals transcending immediate economic interest. (183)
Our overwhelming concern is always for the people who live here among the resource extraction. One of our neighbors spoke clearly about this when he said about hydro-fracturing drilling: “I don’t mind a person making an honest living, but I want them to respect the people who have been living on this land a lot longer than they’ve been making money off of it.”
Finally, at Nazareth Farm we must consider how home repair itself factors into the care for creation. After all, we are, at our heart, a home-repair organization in Appalachia. We must remember that the human creature is part of God’s creation, too, and that the home people live in is a large part of their environment. Pope Francis thinks of this concern as well:
Authentic development includes efforts to bring about an integral improvement in the quality of human life, and this entails considering the setting in which people live their lives. These settings influence the way we think, feel and act. In our rooms, our homes, our workplaces and neighborhoods, we use our environment as a way of expressing our identity. We make every effort to adapt to our environment, but when it is disorderly, chaotic or saturated with noise and ugliness, such overstimulation makes it difficult to find ourselves integrated and happy. (147)
Caring for the human environment then means caring for its physical manifestation as rooms, homes, and shelter from the elements. When we replace someone’s roof that is leaking, when we build a new porch that they can enjoy a view of nature from, when we repaint a house to help maintain it and make it more aesthetically pleasing to the eye, we are improving and repairing their environment. Often in this home repair, we can make our homeowner’s houses more environmentally sustainable, too. We can better insulate windows and doors or install metal skirting on the bottom of trailer homes, so that they better keep heat in and use less energy. These changes help people save money on their heating bill, too. Such improvements increase the quality and happiness of human life in its environment.
Pope Francis gave his prophetic encyclical Laudato Si’ a meaning title. The document’s full title is Laudato Si’ (Praised Be You): On Care for Our Common Home. That subtitle On Care for Our Common Home is a powerful metaphor for a home-repair organization like Nazareth Farm. It is a reminder that caring for our common home can mean more than the repair of constructed houses. It is also caring for this natural world that we all live in, this creation that God has given to us as a gift. Pope Francis gives us this goal:
The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home. (13)
Nazareth Farm, energized by our faith and guided by our cornerstone of simplicity, will continue to carry our work of the home repair of this common home that we all share. We are grateful for the gift of Pope Francis’ words in Laudato Si, which will embolden us in this task. Pope Francis has reminded us of the need to work together—with our volunteers who come here from all over the country, with our neighbors here in Appalachia, with the church and all people of goodwill—to build up this home that we share together. We do this work hand in hand with the Loving God who created us and gave us the gift of our world together.
“I want to fall in love with you.” That is the kind of phrase that we hear this time of year as dates are scheduled and chocolates and flowers are exchanged. When I think of that phrase I am reminded of the refrain from the song “Love Song for a Savior” by Jars of Clay. For the hip young kids, just trust me that it was just about the coolest Christian pop song of the 1990s. The song takes the predictable idea of a love song between a couple and sets it between a person and God.
In a romantic relationship we know how people express love to one another. Gifts, kind words, caring acts, loving touch are just a few. If we are lucky we get to see these acts played out in our lives and the lives of those around us.
As I reflect on Valentine’s Day here at the Farm, I am on the same page as Jars of Clay, thinking about the relationship of love God has with us. I am lucky to live at a place in Nazareth Farm in which God expresses his love to everyone who visits the farm in many ways. Just to name a few…
strangers greeted by a hug in the parking lot
the beauty of creation seen during a hike or under a sky full of stars
delicious meals where everyone has a place at the table
time and energy helping God repair peoples homes and lives
God does want us to fall in love with him. We can see this in the parable of the prodigal son. When the selfish son returns home, the father treats him like the most important person in the world. Even though we might play the role of selfish son or daughter some times, God loves us recklessly, in ways that we probably think are foolish. God wants us to fall in love with him as much as he already loves us. While I believe the farm is a special place that God reveals his love, he is there with us every day as well. It is a good reminder for us to ask that special question “Where have I seen God today? Where have I seen God this week?” If we can pay attention, I believe we can see the ways that God is courting us to fall deeper and deeper in love with him.
Where Love and Justice Meet
By Tom Wiley, Staff Member
At the farm we often talk about the four cornerstones that guide this community: prayer, service, community, and simplicity. As someone who has been with this community for just about a year now, I would say though that the essence of this community, our starting point, is love and care for God and others.
This work of love begins with the call that I would like to think all of our volunteers and staff feel on some level—the call to go out from our daily lives and our own communities to do service among the people of Appalachia. This love grows as our volunteers work with the homeowners who invite us into their homes to do home repair. It deepens as we pray and worship together, looking for the divine in all that we do. It takes root in the simplicity of our environmentally conscious lifestyle that calls us to turn off lights, conserve water, recycle, compost, and spend time in nature. It increases as we live together in community on a retreat that is often lighthearted and a lot of fun, but also a time when deep connections and friendships can be made. This love, in all of its dimensions, can help us find new meaning in our own lives and also give us the desire to better know the people here in Appalachia.
This work of love gives us the desire to work for justice, too. This is because ultimately we must ask the question, “How can we love someone and treat her or him unjustly?” At the end of each retreat week I always hope that our volunteers have learned something about the need to respect the dignity of all people, and everything that implies. I hope they continue to ask questions about issues of justice and discover what justice looks like in their own communities. I hope they continue to care for and conserve God’s creation, which they experienced in all its beauty during their week here in the mountains. I hope they continue to live in solidarity with people here in Appalachia and maybe return someday. Love and justice meet in a special way at Nazareth Farm, and I hope that this community continues to grow in both.
When there was LOVE
By Silva Matti, Student at Rochester Institute of Technology and volunteer in January 2016
It was Thursday night
Snowy cold night and everyone sitting in a big circle
Passing a cross †
Telling the most memorable moments in Naz farm:
Some said meeting others
Some said group work!
Some said simplicity, and many other treasured experiences
Some even said LOVE,
But wait, LOVE! how did they recognize it?
And the answer was in the majority’s response:
Yes, SMILE was all over the place,
Smiles that came out from sincere hearts:
Even Laughter (lots of this)
OH, and there was these smiles with teary eyes!!
Teary eyes for saying goodbyes with a smile of “you were not a stranger but a friend that I haven’t met before.”
When there was LOVE, There was Smile
Where there was LOVE, There was Smile
Where is LOVE, There will always be Smile
Speak LOVE: SMILE
Because last year’s Inaugural Run for Nazareth Farm was such an extraordinary success, we have decided to repeat the effort again this coming May, and we are looking for enthusiastic runners (of all ability levels) for this year’s “Team Nazareth Farm,” which will participate in the 200-mile Ragnar Relay in beautiful Cape Cod, Massachusetts. This year’s relay race takes place on May 13-14th (Friday-Saturday). This amazing race, which spans the entire length of Cape Cod, is run as a 12-person relay in which each member of the team runs three times within a 24-hour period. It is a truly fun and rewarding event and a great way to help raise needed funds for our community. Last year’s effort brought together many members of extended Nazareth Farm family and generated more than $15,000 in support for the Farm’s mission in Appalachia.
Do think you might be interested in lacing up for this year’s Run for Nazareth Farm? If so, please email this year’s team captain, Adam Siple, at [email protected]. And please don’t delay; the team registration deadline is in early March.
Nazareth Farm once again hosted its annual community Christmas party on December 12th at Doddridge County Park. The day was filled with great games, crafts, music, food, snacks, conversation, and, of course, a visit by Santa and Mrs. Claus. Lots of fun and merriment were had by all. We would like to give a special thanks to all of our volunteers who gave their time to help us out, to those whose donations make events like this possible, to Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, and Twinkles the Elf, and to everyone who came out to celebrate Christmas with us.
Nazareth Farm will host its annual Christmas Party on Saturday, December 12 from 1:00pm to 4:00pm at the Doddridge County Park main lodge building. The Park is located on Snow Bird Rd, 1.1 miles off US Rte. 50 in West Union, WV.
Everyone is invited no matter where they live or how old they are. There will be food, cookies and refreshments for everyone as well as many exciting activities for the kids. Children will get the chance to meet and take a picture with Santa, Mrs. Claus and a real north pole elf! Each child will receive a present from Santa and also a new book. There will also be many games and crafts for all the children.
Nazareth Farm is a not for profit organization that transforms lives through a service-retreat experience. We are devoted to living out the Gospel message through the cornerstones of community, simplicity, prayer, and service. We serve alongside our neighbors to address substandard housing by providing home repair. We celebrate the richness of Appalachia and experience God by building relationships between our volunteers and the local community. Our annual Christmas party is a long standing tradition and an opportunity to bring joy to our local community and get to know our neighbors. And to help us all prepare to celebrate Christmas.
Please call Brian Suehs-Vassel, the Director of Nazareth Farm if you have any questions at 304-782-2742, or visit our website www.nazarethfarm.org.
Nazareth Farm is excited to launch our new blog that will appear here on our new website! This blog will be a place to share reflections, photos, your lyrics to “review of the day” songs, and whatever else you feel belongs on a Nazareth Farm blog. The staff will be writing and creating some content based on our own experiences of living out the four cornerstones year-round. We also invite all of you in our larger Nazareth Farm community to email at [email protected] with your own reflections, photos, or anything else that you think would be good for our blog, so we can post it here for all to see.
This is also where we will be posting photos of our completed worksites so you can see the progress made since your volunteer week. Below is a photo gallery of just a few of our 40 projects that we’re thankful for completing in 2015. You can click on any of the photos below to scroll through the gallery.