Perhaps our most serious cultural loss in recent centuries is the knowledge that some things, though limited, can be inexhaustible. For example, an ecosystem, even that of a working forest or farm, so long as it remains ecologically intact, is inexhaustible. A small place, as I know from my own experience, can provide opportunities of work and learning, and a fund of beauty, solace, and pleasure — in addition to its difficulties — that cannot be exhausted in a lifetime or in generations. – Wendell Berry
In their letter announcing their planned closing of Clairvaux Farm, the Meeting Ground board wrote that they were “closing our residential program” there. There was no mention of the fact that the timing of the decision was driven by the urgent need for money. I have not been part of the decision-making process of Meeting Ground so I was dumbfounded by the sudden decision, and to say “disappointed” would not even begin to cover it. I had written to the Board last year on more than one occasion offering to meet with them to discuss how I might help in Meeting Ground’s support, but I was told the Board had no interest in such a meeting. Long-time supporters and community members were not consulted as the financial crisis deepened over the last year. We have been blindsided by the news of the decision to close and sell Clairvaux farm, which reached many of us via the newspaper.
Nor did the board letter mention the fact that Clairvaux Farm was launched 30 years ago as a faith-inspired community — a unique and beloved place of spiritual regeneration, which is essential in ending homelessness especially in the lives of families with children. The community of Clairvaux Farm envisioned the transformation of Church and Society, by bring together thousands of housed volunteers who shared table with homeless residents. This vision made the Farm unique and extended Meeting Ground’s support nationwide as folks from all parts of the country (and overseas) lived there sharing table and ministry for a week, or months, or even years.
Testimonies from lives that have been changed over three decades have been coming to me since the announcement. Abby Miller, one of the early residents and volunteers wrote:
The farm was never a shelter! We were a Community – an experiment in the Beloved Community where everyone was welcome at the table! No matter how far I have traveled, how much time has passed, the farm has always been home. Knowing the farm was in the world, made the world a brighter, more hopeful place. It was never business as usual. The farm was never about beds and meals although we provided shelter and food: it was about the space of healing, belonging and acceptance, and saving lives: ours and others!
No accounts have been more eloquent than those of the 35 family members who are currently living at Clairvaux Farm, being told to move. John Harris is one of these:
Imagine with me, if you can, that life has thrown so many curve balls at you that you have nowhere to turn. Friends, family and loved ones are not in a position to offer any type of aid. You are in your darkest hour of need. Through misfortune, you have lost all of your financial resource. This ultimately led to the loss of your home and independent lifestyle. You are physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted; where do you turn when all hope is gone? I know this is not a situation that you would want to imagine yourself or your family in under any circumstances.
Now, imagine that you, by the grace of God, were given an opportunity to rebuild your life with the support of an organization that provides you with nourishment, shelter, support and the tools and resources necessary to have some semblance of stability in the process of starting over again. This is what Clairvaux Farms has been to men, women and children since 1983.
If Meeting Ground is serious about ending homelessness in our society and not just managing the crisis, then merely offering easy access to “residential services” can’t be the defining nature of the mission. Offering the opportunity for a time to draw aside, learn the dynamics of human community and experience how faith is shared among people from very different economic and social backgrounds is what a faith community is all about. Meeting Ground must not move away from this vision to offer only what might be given as four-walls-and-a roof. Our Home is with each other, in knowing who we are and how we are One as a people. This is the vibrant message of Clairvaux Farm which would now be so unceremoniously silenced.
If you want to make your voice heard, write the Meeting Ground board at email@example.com, or call 410-275-2936 or send a letter to: PO Box 808, Elkton, MD 21921.