A one-lane road, cutting through a valley. Eleven Dominican souls, on their way to the Farm. Enter the Appalachian (App-ah-latch-in) countryside, a marvel of eastern America. The mountains border one's view of the sky, trimmed with countless trees. Nazareth Farm (a non-profit organization established in 1979) is nestled against the foot of a slope, with a creek placed parallel with the road. As fellow volunteers and I opened the doors of our big white van, the Naz staff and a welcoming dog celebrated our arrival at the farm with many hugs. A group of students from the University of Dayton, OH, had beaten us there not long beforehand. Four students from Loyola University would arrive the following evening. The next five days would instill in my fellow volunteers and me a lasting sense of community, service, prayer and simplicity.
Student volunteers are directly involved in the construction process. If we felt capable to do a certain aspect of work then we were trusted to do so. The weather for the most part cooperated beautifully, with rain starting right around when time at the worksites ended. During the first worksite day, my fellow volunteers and I had to get off a roof due to momentary bad weather. I have never experienced such peace as the rain came down around my fellow volunteers and me. Working together on home repair gave us chances to affirm our relationships, whether new or old. We took turn measuring foam board insulation, holding ladders and positioning wood boards while another person nailed them into place. We not only served homeowners but one another.
Throughout the week, my peers and I explored various prayer experiences. My workgroup, the Hairless Hounds, prepared and led a time of reflection focused on celebrating the Earth. Later that same day, we learned and prayed about how the Earth is abused through land-stripping (a form of mining efforts) and natural gas extraction. The staff at Naz Farm take an informed approach to strengthening one's prayer life. Through group discussions we came to a deepened understanding of the importance of living with less, of living with the goal of ever-more simplicity.
I had no idea our meals would be so good. Nearly everything was prepared on the Farm from scratch. Gluten-free options were available at most meals (Although I did not have a food allergy to watch out for, I gladly tried other options). Kneading bread dough is a pretty good workout too. Did I mention that this trip was the summer Alternative Break Immersion (ABI), offered through University Ministry? Matt Palkert, the university minister who coordinated the trip with recent graduate Alyse Stolz, has found a new calling in Minnesota. He affirmed his love for Dominican by going on one last ABI trip, but he must now say "goodbye for now & until we meet again" to Dominican. Matt has made an immense impact on Dominican's social justice culture and also the interfaith cooperation movement. Dominican is saying "goodbye for now" to two other ministry leaders, director Shannon Green and vice president of Mission & Ministry Sr. Diane Kennedy, OP. These dedicated members of Dominican's community are called now to new ministries. They will forever stay a part of this family. I am both anxious and excited to see the transformations that will take place over the next few months as University Ministry celebrates the arrival of new members of the Dominican family.