Since 2014, Hope United Methodist Church has served as a beacon of hope and promise in the Rocky Mountain Conference’s church planting world. Collaborating with denominational and secular organizations, Hope UMC is bringing the ‘good news’ of God’s radical welcome beyond the walls of their building through the development of 9.7 acres of Conference-owned property in Aurora, Colorado into a faith based community called “The Land.” Existing as a church without walls, The Land pairs spiritual practice and agricultural ritual in a vision of gathering people together around faith, food, and farming. Hope UMC’s ongoing emotional and financial support for The Land’s part-time pastoral leadership has evolved into a model of the holy possibilities of courageous creativity embraced within the context of a loving partnership.
While developing property from ‘scratch’ can often take years if not decades, over the past twelve months, The Land has celebrated significant milestones, affirming the decision to develop a faith community committed to exploring what discipleship look like in the 21st century. This summer The Land was presented with multiple opportunities to engage people of faith in this question through onsite mission experiences. Groups of 10 to 40 gathered out on The Land to begin creating the infrastructure for the 2-acre edible labyrinth by laying rope outlining the pathways and painting prayer stones that are laid upon the rope. Groups from the Rocky Mountain United Methodist Annual Conference, Christ Church Denver, and Hope United Methodist Church worked throughout the summer resulting in the production of almost half of the labyrinth’s pathways being laid. In November, The Land will be welcoming a group from St. Andrews. Given the increasing interest in mission opportunities at The Land, it is anticipated that labyrinth’s outline will be completed by June of 2018.
In what has felt like a ‘long winter’ in the timeline of our The Land’s development, laying the labyrinth with rope and prayer stones has been a meaningful way to engage people of faith while simultaneously continuing to work through the entitlements process with the City of Aurora. While we celebrate the administrative approval of our contextual site plan late this summer, we continue to work towards completion of our technical submission before we will be able to receive the permitting to begin physical development of the property. The Land Board of Directors anticipates completing this entitlements process by March 2018 and has begun intensive planning around both the capital budgeting for development in Phase 1a and the fundraising strategies that will be necessary to support this initial capital development.
Inclusive of property grading, fencing, sign installation, water container installment, driveway and parking lot construction, and full build-out of the outdoor amphitheater and edible labyrinth, Phase 1a of The Land development is being estimated to require approximately $500,000 in capital funding. Although the capital investment required to develop the property to a point for optimal programming is daunting, it remains encouraging that a grant for $250,000 has already been awarded to The Land from the Rocky Mountain Conference Legacy Fund. In addition, expenses associated with the development of an agricultural-based faith community remain minimal compared to the development costs of a traditional denominational church. Avoiding the capital and maintenance costs of a large building, the vision of The Land invests in outdoor structures that not only have the capacity to produce capital through the formation of community supported agricultural cooperatives, but also enables the denomination to meaningfully utilize this property to engage people of faith in discipleship in spite of the fact that it lacks access to City utilities and therefore is currently unable to obtain building permits.
At the Board’s annual Fall planning retreat, the Land Board committed to focusing 2018 on casting vision and building community. Alongside continuing to host quarterly worship services, regular mission experiences will be offered centered around the spiritual practices of walking the labyrinth and painting prayer rocks and agricultural rituals that enrich the soil and encourage good spiritual stewardship of our ecological resources. Whether gathering to work or worship, at the heart of all we do is a vision to facilitate a sacred space that connects the food we grow and eat with the faith we practice.
Volunteer opportunities in 2018 at The Land include persons able to help set up and clean up tents, tables, and chairs at worship services. For these quarterly worship services, we also welcome persons interested in reading scripture and serving communion. Additionally, The Land Board of Directors is seeking a book keeper and persons with fundraising expertise or grant writing experience who have time to volunteer to the continued administrative responsibilities involved in forming a new non-profit. Mission work days for groups of 4-12 people will begin in late Spring for persons interested in continuing the physical labor of laying the labyrinth. To stay in touch with progress and programming out at The Land you can follow us on Facebook or sign up for our quarterly email newsletter.
Rev. Stephanie Price, Pastor of Development at The Land UMC