Church #16. Meet Corey Lange. He is the solo pastor at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Arenzville, Illinois. With an averaging worship attendance of 50-60 people on a given Sunday, St. Peter’s is in the middle of the farm country.
“It’s a rural context where the farming community is shrinking!” says Lange. Young people are leaving the family farm in search of work in the cities. This has had a direct impact on schools, local businesses and churches.
But St. Peter’s has a safety net. Around 20-30 years ago, the congregation inherited an old family farm. From donated seeds, the men’s group, which is made up of farmers, plants the seeds, plows and harvests the crop.
Once the crop – either soybeans or corn – is harvested, it is taken to market to be sold. On a given summer the proceeds from the crop can reap between $15,000-$20,000. St. Peter does two things with the money: budget and benevolence.
One half of the proceeds helps to support the $110,00 annual budget. Like any church, there is upkeep on the building, financial stress and staff salaries. “It helps the congregation move forward in ministry!” says Lange.
The other half is given to the men’s group for benevolent use. Amazingly, these farmers work their own farms, eat dinner and then volunteer on the church farm. They are involved in the whole process of planting, growing and harvesting.
But here is the best part: The volunteer farmers decided together what to do with the proceeds. Through matching funds or a direct need, the men’s group seeks out how they can actively support their neighbors. It’s been a win-win situation!
Why does this church farm matter? It matters because of what happens in Deuteronomy 26:1-11 when the Israelites first moved into Canaan. God’s people did not have it easy; they toiled and labored. When the first harvest was done, they gave thanks to God. But then they shared what they had with their neighbor. It’s the formula of “God first, then neighbor” – an ancient pattern that also works on St. Peter’s church farm.