Prayers at Maple Tree Medows

Prayers at Maple Tree Medows
Three Rivers, MI

Sunday, November 28, 2010

St. Joseph's Barn

I visited St. Joseph's Barn at The Hermitage on Dutchsettlement Road, Three Rivers, on Thursday, November 11. David Wenger, one of the directors there along with his wife, Naomi, told me the story of St. Joseph's barn. You will see how I put that story "into the barn's mouth" below.

St. Joseph’s Barn.
My Story.

It is remembered that I was raised in 1898.
But the people who live here now don’t know who made me.

Of course, I have lived here longer than any human.
Only the trees know.
The earth.

But as it is with us barns,
I stand on evidence
of stones laid with care as foundation,
old stall space for cows,
and beams hewn thick and strong,
straight for these one hundred and more years.

Owners in the 70’s lived by me in a double wide
and thought of making me their home.
But it was Gene and Mary Herr in the 80's who had
to make me
“space for God.”

Named after the county
and the carpenter father of Jesus, it took
a carpenter artist to remake me
from the inside out.

My outside gaps where the wind crept in
were sealed
and Jim Schwartz (Centreville)
re-arranged my inner space
while leaving beams and logs, ladders to the hayloft,
as structure.

First three rooms,
then a bath,
a space to gather,
and a two level apartment
hung for long term
Four more rooms,
a bath,
a chapel,

and centering my soul
a spiral stairway
to the kitchen

But windows will whisper:
I was shaped as much
by silence and prayer
and faith for the finances
as boards and beams.

The Hermitage,
this land and space
around within
me, the barn,
shelters pastors, leaders,
seekers, finders
in a barn made holy by silence seeking God.

My skin has been torn away,
the old boards salvaged as they came down last summer.
I don’t look the part of a centennial barn, but my insides cannot lie.

When I look ahead,
I see fewer cars coming, with the end of gas
and the earth turned back to growing.
Food, God’s love
made visible, now
fills extra space at The Hermitage
around silence.

In another hundred
years, who knows?
Many farmers, dwellers in silence, soul
and soil may share this place.

I will hold the old stories for them
if they look,
and listen.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


A passion for barns and their stories is one of the outcomes of a recent sabbatical for Nina B. Lanctot, pastor of Florence Church of the Brethren Mennonite (Constantine, MI). In the coming year she will interview local residents to learn the stories of their barns.

In order to understand the evolution of farming in our area, Lanctot will visit barns of all types over the coming year. Through photography, taped interviews, a blog, and gatherings of interested people, Lanctot will share the Story Barn project with the local community and churches. Pole barns, centennial barns, remade barns and abandoned barns are all of interest as part of the story of changing farm culture. A final multi-media celebration of the project will take place on Sunday, November 20, 2011.

Barns built by George Sherck are of special interest to Lanctot. Sherck, a farmer and barn builder, was also the first pastor of Florence Church, from 1929-1947. A dozen or more Sherck barns still stand in St. Joseph and Cass Counties. In 2011, as Florence celebrates the eightieth anniversary of its official founding in the Church of the Brethren, its rural heritage will be honored as part of the Story Barn project. Florence has also joined Mennonite Church USA in the last fifteen years.

A potluck kick-off for the Story Barn project will take place on Sunday evening, November 21 at 6 pm at the home of Karla Kauffman. The former Gleason Farm at 15352 Gleason Road (Three Rivers, MI) was purchased recently by Kauffman and has been renamed Maple Tree Meadows. It is located just west of the intersection of 131 and Gleason Road. The story of the main barn and a tour will be part of the evening.

As a recipient of a Lilly National Clergy Renewal Grant, Lanctot explored Vibrant Rural Churches and Communities. A pastor with an urban background, Lanctot wanted to experience rural life on small farms over a two month stay.

When Ezra Graber, long time Constantine seed corn farmer, learned that Lanctot grew up in Philadelphia, he said of her project, “You have a lot to learn!”

In Lanctot’s sabbatical away from the congregation in February and March, she lived and worked on small farms in Costa Rica. After studying Spanish as a child and through college, Lanctot’s life long dream was to gain fluency. After two months in Costa Rica on her own, Lanctot returned for two weeks in the summer with her family to find that indeed, conversational Spanish flowed with ease. Spanish language is used frequently at Florence Church and in the local community.

Costa Rica’s ecotourism fosters the shift from large, single crop farms of bananas and coffee to smaller production site. The biodiversity and beauty, ingenuity and resourcefulness of small self-sustaining communities stretched Lanctot’s imagination for farming and good food production in southwest Michigan.

Lilly Endowment awarded 133 grants in National Clergy Renewal Program in 2008. Florence Church of the Brethren Mennonite was awarded $45,000 to be used for both pastor ($30,000) and congregation ($15,000). Members of the ninth class of the National Clergy Renewal Program – 138 pastors representing 133 congregations – report about their experience by the close of 2010 having embarked on their own adventures. Funded by the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc., the program gives pastors and congregations the opportunity to create their own sabbath journeys.

Florence Church of the Brethren Mennonite and their pastor, Nina B. Lanctot, explored the theme “Vibrant Rural Churches and Communities.” During Lanctot’s absence Florence Church enjoyed the preaching ministry of Fridbert August, a Brazilian seminary student at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (Elkhart, IN).

In addition the congregation experienced a World Cup Celebration, a canoe trip on the Fawn River, a retreat weekend at Amigo Centre (Sturgis, MI). The grant enabled the congregation to share locally grown food including freezer beef from White Yarrow, One Straw and Bair Lane Farms (Marcellus, MI). A board retreat at the Hermitage (Three Rivers, MI) in January will complete the sabbatical projects.

All these renewal programs exhibit the basic thrust of the Endowment's program: a chance for congregations and ministers to engage in mutual renewal that will have an important impact on their churches, their individual members and their communities.

"The wealth of imagination unleashed by this program is truly wonderful to see," says the Endowment's Dykstra. "We can think of no better way to honor these hardworking men and women than to help them experience personal growth and renewal in ways that they themselves dream up and feel will feed them most deeply."

The Endowment plans to continue the program for Indiana Clergy in 2011.

More information about Story Barn and Vibrant Rural Sabbatical can be found at and or by contacting Pastor Lanctot at

If you have a barn with a story, please contact Lanctot to schedule a visit.