By Carol Schuck Scheiber, Managing Editor, Originally Published in Vision, A Publication of the National Religious Vocation Conference
(Re-posted with permission)
With nonurban areas in the United States making up 97 percent of the land but only 19 percent of its population, religious serving in rural ministries cover a lot of ground. Here’s a look at some of the ways sisters, brothers, and priests are making inroads in America’s backcountry.
While the glories of God’s creation are often writ large in pastoral settings with waving wheat and mountains majesty, life in rural America is not without its problems. Joblessness, isolation, addiction, pollution, and lack of access to infrastructure, internet, safe water, food, and healthcare all rank as significant challenges for people living in the country. Religious communities have gone out of their way in more ways than one to meet these challenges. In the following pages, VISION shines a spotlight on the positive impact religious are having on the U.S. rural landscape.
Trappists nurture the land under them
The Trappist monks of New Melleray established their abbey in farm country after leaving the original Mount Melleray in Ireland during one of the worst ecological disasters of the past two centuries: the Irish Potato Famine, which killed roughly a million people. Thus, the monks’ stewardship of the property surrounding their eastern Iowa monastery is built on a deep respect for natural balance in God’s creation.
Today the spiritual descendants of their Irish founders are committed to organic gardening, sustainable farming, and land conservation. In recent years they even suspended cultivation on some of the land so that it can return to a natural state. “We have come full circle as we are now converting some farm acres and field edges back to native prairie to improve soil health, control run off, and provide habitat for endangered pollinators and butterflies,” writes Brother Joseph Kronebusch, O.C.S.O. (photo above).
The monks’ interest in the land is very much connected to their spirituality. When they are not keeping to their schedule of numerous prayer periods each day, they tend to a large garden (among other types of labor). “Work in our organic vegetable garden and orchard can be an especially rich experience for the contemplative mind,” continues Kronebusch, “as you are all at once immersed in the beauty of God’s creation, serving the needs of your brothers, and in solidarity with the earth and all its peoples.”