Fred Bahnson, Director of the WFU School of Divinity Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative, gave a TEDx Talk in Manhattan in February which reflects on his forthcoming book, Soil and Sacrament

In the talk, Bahnson shared his journeys from the garden that he helped start outside Mebane, North Carolina to the many faith communities he has now visited around the country, all making similar connections between the foundations of faith and the work of the land. Fifteen years ago, upon graduating divinity school, Bahnson found himself in a congregation not of people but of plants.

Partnering with a local Methodist congregation, Bahnson founded Anathoth community garden to be supported by and to provide food for the local community. “We saw planting gardens and seeking peace as really symbiotic activities – exactly what the church should be doing,” Bahnson said.

This symbiosis carried over to the church and strengthened relationships within the community. “We brought the gifts of the garden to the church…and we brought the gifts of the church to the garden,” he noted. Community members came to the garden to get their hands dirty, to participate in some of the educational activities, and to attend bi-weekly potlucks.

This connection between soil and sacrament, between the earth and the divine love, led Bahnson on a quest to connect with other communities who were linking faith with farming. “Around the country, there’s really a movement, a food and faith movement,” he discovered. This search for other groups in the movement is the inspiration for his new book. A Benedictine monastery, a Pentecostal coffee shop, a Jewish organic farm – these are just some of the examples of the way this movement is spreading all over.

On his journey, Bahnson garnered many insights from other leaders in the movement. Brother Dizmas, one of the Benedictines, declared, “I came to the monastery because I wanted to learn to put the faith in my hands.” Nigel Savage, director of Hazon – the largest Jewish environmental group in the country, offered this insight: “Sabbath shouldn’t just be for Jews – the world needs a Sabbath.”

From his interactions with other faith community leaders he offered these three lessons: 1. Put the faith in your hands. Don’t let it just stay in your head. 2. Support leadership from the margins – those most wounded by the systems of oppression and degradation. 3. The world needs a Sabbath – a rest from over-tilling and overuse. These principles now guide Bahnson in his writing and his teaching at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity.

Watch the full TEDx Talk here: