I did not have any great ideas on how to start putting my faith into action. In fact, I was mostly just full of anxiety. We still had overwhelming medical debt and nothing in terms of savings. I continued to feel that I was falling short, not only of my desire to connect others to farm, food, and faith, but also to my recent baptismal vow to seek and serve the Lord.

We had begun attending the Episcopal Church in 2006 after a long search that brought us through many church doors.  After the first Sunday, I knew I had found a church home. As someone who had entered farming looking to answer religious question, liturgy was overwhelmingly powerful. Here in the ancient practices of the church was the combination of material and spiritual I was always looking for.  In the transformation of the bread and wine, wheat and grapes, to the body and blood of Christ, I could begin to see transformation everywhere, even in my small actions as a farmer. I was baptized in the Episcopal Church in 2007, and Sarah in 2008.

Sarah and I began investigating ideas that would evolve into the Common Friars and the Good Earth Farm in the winter of 2007. I traveled around the county and the diocese, learning from food pantry workers and church leaders alike. 

While we certainly felt called to begin this work, and were investigating what that might mean, we had no land, tools or money.  In the spring of 2008, I began growing starts in a makeshift greenhouse with the hopes of finding someplace to put them.

For years I was aware of a unique property bordering the bike path, with rusty train cars permanently parked, a historic white brick farmhouse, and beautiful bottom land.  After several potential farm sites fell through, I decided to look up the owners of the bike path property and write them a letter. The letter laid out all we wanted to do, from donating produce to filling their historic house with folks committed to a life of discipleship. Two days later I received a call from Robert Depue saying “when can you start?”

Armitage House

Robert and Margret Depue’s amazing trust and generosity gave us our start. In August of 2008, we moved into the farmhouse built in 1832 ready to add another chapter to a long history of people trying to make their way on the end of Armitage Road.

When it came down to it, Sarah and I just started trusting that things would be made clear. In July of 2008, those plants we had started ended up in beautiful river bottom soil, and the Good Earth Farm began. The farm’s name, Good Earth, chosen by a friend, is an oblique reference to the parable of the sower.  The parable underscores our highest aim on the farm, to cultivate the good soil, a place where God can be heard and the resulting roots can run deep.

At that point I had worked on farms, on and off, for ten years. I had been an intern, then manager, of market gardens, orchards, and pasture based dairies.  Sarah and I had been married for five years, all of it with one or both of us working on the farm.  During most of that time I would go back and forth between loving the work and feeling like I was missing something. “How we work, what we do,” Wendell Berry writes, “are questions of the highest and gravest religious significance. In answering them we practice, or do not practice our religion.”  

One reason I was drawn to farming is that it can be a holistic vocation. It requires mental, physical, and emotional aptitude so that you can provide for yourself and others. The same desire for holistic life led me to monastic charisms of the Christian faith. Integration of prayer, work, study, and rest are all made parts of the daily routine. While I had spent considerable time reading and discussing common life and monastic tradition, the task of starting such a community seemed daunting, especially for an introvert. Yet again we were provided for. We became friends with a fellow parishioner, A.J. Stack. He moved in with us in February of 2009, and the Common Friars began. 

Our focus from the start was how we structure our lives to serve Christ, how we root ourselves in the brokenness of our community and world, and how we grow something beautiful out of that soil. This emphasis evolved, with the support of the Bishop, to structuring ourselves as a new religious order in the Episcopal Church.  We started our life together through a draft rule of life, praying the Daily Office, sharing resources, and thinking about how to form ourselves for mission.

Our relationship with a denomination and our desire to structure ourselves as a new monastic order indicate another core value. We believe in connecting with our beautiful and troubled Church tradition. Living in the liturgy of the church allows us to connect with those who have spoken those same words long before us and those who will speak them long after we are gone.

We chose the name Common Friars; “common” for the way that we were living together and for the unique way we were trying to live into monastic tradition. Friar, although literally meaning brother, spoke to us because of our desire to live outward first, inspired by the mendicant tradition of begging and preaching.

Heady conversations with inspired leaders and the ideals of an agrarian monasticism, have always lingered out in the weeds. Both have been important, but it has been experience and the leading of the Holy Spirit that have continued to shape our direction.