In the place I know the lines of boats still head out like a silent prayer on the first day of lobster fishing. The old store that supported and supplied this community through generations was closed last year. The church building stands right next door. With no land, other than that it stands on, people wonder whether those who buy the store property will let them park on their lot.
In the place I know the population swells in the summer with people coming home from away. The winds are strong, and the rows of carrots sometimes don’t grow in straight lines. People I know meet Living Presence in wood lots and paths. Though the faith community is a little ashamed and uncertain, as are many rural congregations, they are relearning a language of the holy that includes the word, beloved.
You here, in this place, this somewhere, are beloved. You are enough. You are somewhere!
God is in this place.
As Brad Roth reminds us, in the book “God’s Country: Faith, Hope, and The Future of the Rural Church, “we are somewhere because God is somewhere”, God is in this place. “As geographer Tim Cresswell makes clear: “Place, at a basic level, is space invested with meaning in the context of power.” Who defines power? Is the power and gift of rural recognized within the place that it exists? Or, is rural power only regarded to the extent that those in rural places succeed in becoming more proficient in ways not their own?
In the United Church we work hard to celebrate diversity and to involve ourselves in the work of reconciliation and justice. As we should. Still, there is a diversity it has been hard for us to come close to; the diversity of somewheres.
I see this in the preponderance of online solutions being explored, funded, celebrated, sometimes lauded (which should give us pause), as the future of the church. Certainly, just as cities are places of excitement and possibility, so too are online ministries. What would many places have done during the pandemic without them? How much they have brought within reach. How they will contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions as people meet from distant places. Online technologies are a wonderful tool. They are not salvation.
There are additional networks; there are natural, organic networks.
Suzanne Simard ‘s initial research on what became known as the “Wood Wide Web” was rejected for publication initially; modern western scientific ecology had heavily invested in the understanding that trees compete. Her findings around collaboration — shared regeneration networks, elder trees providing benefit for saplings, “Mother Trees” acting as caregivers for the network, and a vast underground system of fungal mycelium — first received skepticism in the scientific community. But eventually — through painstaking perseverance and the overwhelming evidence she and her colleagues presented — it transformed her field. The Pause, On Being’s Saturday Reflection
In the wood wide web, there is still death and decay, but this is not decided by place or empirical power. It is organic.
In the community of God, what has been called the Kingdom, there is also a network. Like the fine filaments of mycelium or the deep roots of tree communities it connects and sustains diversity. It brings us close to one another and grows respect. It is called prayer.
Prayer is harder to talk about than technology, but it needs to be seeded and given space in places large and small. Let’s take deep breaths in the fervour of our excitement over livestreaming and hubs and the scores of those online. Let us be wise and not exclusive of rural places.
In the place I know online networks are unreliable. Many people are elderly, some without computers. Facebook has reached many, but many cannot be reached in this way. More than rudimentary online connections are difficult or impossible. In the pandemic we wrote, we hand-delivered, we phoned. We deepened in prayer. Especially, for those uncomfortable with putting words together we learned silence and unworded prayer. Sometimes we prayed like this.
Have a look out your window.
The sun may be shining God’s warmth.
The heat may have dried up the ground reminding you of your thirst for God’s presence.
The wind may be blowing God’s presence in upheaval or in awe.
The rain may be pouring God’s deep penetrating love into the ground of the
earth and your heart.
Whatever is happening, pause for a moment.
Hold your place (your local place, your home, the world, a person, your self)
in this Love, this penetrating Love.
Just hold it, with no words.
Then gently release
We are somewhere. God is here. We are together.