My spouse and I are planning out a permaculture garden in the backyard of our new house. We don’t know much about permaculture yet, but we are learning. We are starting with the soil. The yard had been covered with concrete, so we are starting from scratch. We hauled several truckloads of leaf and tree mulch from the city and are watching it compost in place over the summer. There are a few volunteer pumpkins from discarded Halloween pumpkins that were mixed in the mulch, and we threw a few seeds in to see if they would sprout, but this is really a time for the organic material to decompose and welcome microbes and other creatures to make their home in our new garden. We are also augmenting the soil with our household compost, and we plan to plant a temporary groundcover in the fall that can be worked into the soil. Eventually, we will find plants, bushes and trees that allow for the soil to replenish itself while feeding the flora, thus the name permaculture.
Modern agriculture works from a different philosophy. We plant and harvest until the natural nutrients in the soil are exhausted. Then we may add fertilizer to the soil as a replacement for the natural nutrients. Or we may rotate the crops so that different nutrients are used. Or we may plant a temporary ground cover to plow into the soil and let the ground lie fallow while the soil absorbs the nutrients of the organic matter.
Even though most of us live far from our agrarian roots, I think they still have lessons to teach us.
In my work with congregational leaders I see some leaders who work hard in service of the church, and become burned out—sometimes to the point that they no longer want to be part of the church community. Some of these leaders might renew themselves with a volunteer sabbatical, but more often they have learned to associate church with a depletion of their time and energy.
But I also see other leaders who also work just as hard in service of the church, but don’t burn out. What is the difference? The leaders who are able to sustain hard work are in a mutual life-giving relationship with their faith community. These leaders find ways (or—better yet—the church leadership creates systems) so that the work is meaningful and impactful, and leaders’ hearts and spirits are fed and nurtured. The depth of planning worship, or participating in a small group is an important complement to the work of taking minutes or tracking the budget.
As we remind ourselves in our seventh principle, we are interconnected and interdependent in mutuality. May we create faith communities that live into that ideal.
Rev. Renee Ruchotzke
Congregational Life Staff, Central East Region