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A farm, a furrow, and a ministry

19 February 2016

Lavinia Byrne reads reflections from a gentle traveller

Patron saint of agriculture and farm workers: St Walstan, on a 16th-century panel now at St Mary Magdalene’s, Norwich, “showing considerable 18th-century restoration”. This is one of the plates in Carol Twinch’s Saint Walstan: The third search, her third book on the saint. Marking his millennium celebrations, this informative historical volume includes gazetteers showing the traces that devotion to him, and his recognition as patron, have left, particularly in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, and Suffolk (Media Associates/distrib. Linden Crescent Marketing, £9.50; 978-0-9521499-4-1)

Patron saint of agriculture and farm workers: St Walstan, on a 16th-century panel now at St Mary Magdalene’s, Norwich, “showing considerab...

Letters from the Farm: A simple path for a deeper spiritual life
Becca Stevens
Canterbury Press £10.99
Church Times Bookshop £9.90


THERE is more than one way to skin a rabbit. The Church’s agenda on justice and peace is usually advanced with a fanfare of noise about social sin, corporate guilt, and so on. In this gentlest of books, Becca Stevens adopts a different approach.

To those familiar with her work, or who have heard her speak at the Greenbelt Festival, it will make a welcome addition to what is already quite a large collection of personal writing. To those, like me, who had not heard of her ministry, the book serves as a good introduction.

Stevens is an Episcopalian priest who hales from Nashville, Tennessee. Her experience of struggle as a child — losing her father very early on, and subsequently suffering abuse and alienation — means that she has the authority to write with compassion about the importance of justice and its links with peace. Not only does she write: she also acts. The Thistle Farms project, which brings together women who have survived prostitution, addiction, and imprisonment, is a living witness to her dynamism and commitment.

Not for her some lukewarm commitment to doing good. The power of the gospel has some cash value when it changes the lives of other people, especially those who have been exploited or, quite simply, have fallen by the wayside. Stevens advocates “a faith that strives for justice and peace through loving our neighbours”.

The commercial success of Thistle Farms leads her to describe herself as an entrepreneur; but she is more than that. As an advocate, albeit an eirenic one, she has been recognised by the US press, by the White House, and by the host of people worldwide who have invited her to speak or visit their own projects. Hence the format of this book: she writes a series of letters from places as disparate as northern Rwanda, Uganda, London, and South Carolina.

These have been edited into four sections, creating meditations on the four seasons. The constant theme: a simple path from “a farm that is as much a state of mind as a place”, a furrow ploughed in the rich soil of human experience and divine intervention.


Lavinia Byrne is a writer and broadcaster.

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