by Cameron Kempson
Five years ago, in the midst of turning 40 and being diagnosed with cancer, I also found myself at a spiritual crossroads. After much discernment and prayer months before, I had chosen to walk away from my church family. I was wounded by politics and even began to question my place in the greater Church as well. Simply put, I was broken, and I didn’t know where to turn for healing.
During my time of physical recuperation, I was homebound for 3 months. Searching for spiritual peace and trying to find God in all of these challenges, I ventured out into the gardens of my little suburban farm every afternoon. I sat among the sugar snap peas and lilies and tomatoes and learned how to “just be” in the midst of creation. God and I talked and cried and laughed as we watched snails climb up fence posts and chickadees build nests in trees.
As my body began to heal, I spent more time tending to the earth and tending to my spirit. I dug through tears, I weeded through frustrations. I prayed as I planted, and I listened as I harvested. It was out in those gardens that I finally surrendered the pain and loss and anger and began to experience a sense of reconciliation in my relationship with the Church. I had experienced the Creator’s grace not in the walls of a building but out in God’s great garden, and in honor of this gift, I christened our little homestead Growing Grace Farm.
As my body and spirit journeyed toward wholeness, I longed to connect women with God through nature, teaching them how to “just be” in creation. What I discovered, however, was that like me, other women were broken. They wanted more than just a connection with our Creator. They were seeking healing and grace.
It was then I realized that my time spent in those gardens had been God’s way of preparing me for a new season of ministry. If tending to the earth became my restorative prayer practice, then what could it do for other women? Perhaps, gardening could offer women a safe and healthy spiritual place to thrive.
After a couple of years of sitting with this idea, I discerned God’s calling for me to begin a “retreat farm” for women seeking healing and reconciliation. Currently, it still an idea waiting to be birthed, but I am passionate about this ministry’s potential and have begun the journey by enrolling in the Spiritual Guidance Program at Shalem Institute. While the farm will invite time for Sabbath and surrender, spiritual direction will provide opportunity for discernment and connection with the Holy Spirit.
Recently, a colleague asked me, “Why a farm? Why not just hang out your shingle as a spiritual director?” I paused and reflected on that for a moment. Without telling the whole call story, I replied, “Gardening is a prayer practice—it embodies the slow work of God. We do not reap healing and reconciliation overnight. Rather, healing and reconciliation need to be nourished by prayer, contemplation, surrender and grace. I can’t imagine of a more intentional place for women to engage those practices.”
His response, “Amen.”
Cameron Kempson was commissioned as a deaconess with The United Methodist Church in 2009. She and her daughter live in Asheville, NC. They attend Skyland United Methodist Church where Cameron is leads the contemplative worship team. If you’d like to learn more about Growing Grace Farm, please visit the website GrowingGraceFarm.com or email Cameron at GrowingGraceFarm@gmail.com.