Summer of Service

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After a year spent mostly stuck inside, Cindy Cintron, a junior at The Catholic University of America in Washington, spent the summer working with her hands to weed, harvest and build at Bethlehem Farm in Alderson, W. Va., a Catholic community centered around service and sustainability. For more than eight weeks, Cintron served as the point person for the farm’s orchards. She helped take care of the community’s 50 chickens. And, with the help of a revolving team of volunteers, she assisted local homeowners with much-needed building repairs and construction projects.

“A lot of the community members couldn’t afford to pay normal construction companies to help them repair their homes, so they coordinated with us and we agreed to help them with their projects,” Cintron said. “We did the labor free of charge and then worked out a payment plan to cover supplies so that in the end, the only cost for the homeowners are those resources.”

Cintron’s experience working on the farm was supported by the Office of Campus Ministry’s Summer of Service stipend program. As part of the program, Catholic U. students receive $2,500 grants to enable them to participate in long-term service projects (eight weeks or longer) of their choosing.

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Bahr is assistant director of media relations and communications at Catholic U. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021

Walking the Earth with the Cornerstones

Walking the Earth with the Cornerstones

By Magdalena Smyth, Summer Servant and Bethlehem Farm Enthusiast, Exeter, New Hampshire

After completing my 11 weeks this past spring/summer at Bethlehem Farm, I was easily able to come home and pinpoint how I wanted to cultivate the four cornerstones in my daily life. But the thing that stuck out to me was how the Lord was subtly (well, it felt subtle then but looking back, I’m not sure how I missed it) planting those cornerstones in my life before I had arrived at the farm and could even identify them.

In January of 2020, I decided to spend a year committed to service to my neighbor. With no plan and practically no money, I found ways to travel and serve different communities. I spent two months in Ireland working in a Camphill Community (an intentional community for intellectually disabled adults). While I was there, I worked on a farm, in a school, and in the living facility itself. It was then that without me realizing, seeds of sustainable ways of living in a community, as well as a prayerful, simple lifestyle were being planted in my life. 

After Ireland, I traveled to northern Albania (which is tucked in snugly between Montenegro and Greece), where I lived with three Catholic nuns and twelve young Albanian girls. I took on the role of their English teacher as well as doing chores throughout the day for the sisters. Simplicity took on a whole different meaning for me there as Albania is a fairly poor country. I learned about living with what I strictly need and authentically sharing that with the people around me. Prayer became a central vein within my daily activities with daily mass and adoration. I learned to let go of many crutches which I had been unknowingly depending on for a while. 

After Albania, I found myself in the mountains of West Virginia on a farm I had never heard of until a couple of months prior to applying to be a Summer Servant. Learning about the four cornerstones more deeply once arriving, I instantly was convinced that cultivating them in every way possible was vital to the flourish of my mental, physical and spiritual health. I learned about different ways of prayer outside of the traditional forms, the importance of sustainability for us, our neighbors, and our future generations, how community living can be beautiful, stressful, and just right for me, and lastly how a life of service is the vocation God is calling me towards. 

A mother bird knows her chicks can’t eat and digest food without her chewing it first and then slowly feeding it to them. In the same way, now looking back, I think our Creator knew that in January 2020, I wasn’t ready to make drastic changes to my lifestyle yet to incorporate the four cornerstones. Our Lord, in all His glory and patience, slowly taught me how to lay down what is good and find what was best. And boy, am I glad He did. 

Parenting and the Cornerstone

Parenting and the Cornerstones

By: Caitlin Morneau

What is a recent experience that captures how I have lived out (and fallen short of) the Gospel cornerstones? In this moment, it feels difficult to call to mind any experience more profoundly than the pregnancy, labor, and birth of my second son. 

Colby was born on January 26th in our hometown of Alexandria, VA. I desired for his arrival and my experience of it to be spirit-filled, justice-centered, and community-oriented and was intentional about choices to make it so. In hindsight, I realize how these goals and practices align with the cornerstones that I internalized while living and serving at Bethlehem Farm. 

Community. During my third trimester, my best friend invited key women in my life to send “virtual blessing beads”- poems, prayers, quotes, messages, images, songs… of encouragement and hope. She compiled it into a video that I watched repeatedly in the final days leading up to delivery.

I remember a wise woman telling me that contractions are “pain with purpose”. Beyond the purpose of bringing life into the world, I wished for my embodied experience to have relational purpose too. So I invited loved ones to send me their prayer intentions, that I might lift them up with each contraction. This was a way to hold those closest to me throughout the experience. 

Prayer. Throughout my life, music has helped me process, regulate, and channel emotional and physical challenges. So I created a playlist – over 10 hours of women singer-songwriters whose style reflected the atmosphere of calm and strength I desired. It included Catholic artists Danielle Rose and Audrey Assad, farm favorites The Wailin’ Jennys and Gillian Welch, along with a recent favorite group called… Rising Appalachia. 

In college, I was introduced to Taize prayer by Julie Tracy, former caretaker, board member, and my campus minister. One meditation that resonated deeply with me (and was sung repeatedly during my first spring break week at Nazareth Farm) was, “Trust. Surrender. Believe. Receive.” This is the mantra that my husband, Aaron, softly spoke into my ear with every contraction, for 18 hours, from the time we arrived at the hospital through my final birthing push. 

Social Justice. Colby’s name was chosen for St. Maximilion Kolbe, a Franciscan friar who sacrificed his life in Auschwitz to spare that of a father. He is the patron saint of families, pro-life, prisoners and, further… lethal injection. I work for an organization that advocates to end the death penalty and advance healing approaches to harm and injustice. It is vocation realized. Colby’s name holds us responsible to the dignity of every life – especially the lives of those most marginalized, vulnerable, and oppressed. 

It is difficult to encapsulate just how this pregnancy tethered the experience within my body to the realities of a suffering world, especially our home country. Fortunately, Valerie Kaur did it for me. This quote from her memoir “See no Stranger” accompanied my final weeks of pregnancy, and reverberates within me still:

“In our tears and agony, we hold our children close and confront the truth: The future is dark, but my faith dares me to ask. What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb? What if our America is not dead, but a country still waiting to be born?”

Simplicity. Oh, simplicity… how I have failed you. How I would love to say that my child only wears second-hand clothes, cloth diapers (we’re working on that one), and sustainably made toys. How I try not to think about the many many disposable items involved in postpartum recovery. How I desperately need to find ways to hold myself accountable to what is a want or convenience vs. a need before purchasing. Our family has such a long way to go on this front.

Though, I’ll say this, bearing life reconnects me with the centrality of human dignity in all of its resilience and fragility. Colby’s discovery of the world forces me to slow down, be present in the moment, and humbly regard him as more important than myself. My children remind me to simplify my racing thoughts, use of energy, and understanding of relationship.

This is a beauty of parenthood. Our children help to hold us accountable for the earth we pass on to them and so much more. Especially with a three year old who notices, hears, and questions everything… my actions, words, choices, and example model how I hope for them to walk in this world. How I pray for my boys to know and live the cornerstones. I know that I will likely learn more from them in this regard than I’ll ever be able to teach – I look forward to Bethlehem Farm continuing to aid all of us in the journey. 

Caitlin Morneau was a Summer Servant in 2008 and 2010 and served on the board of directors from 2013-2019. Caitlin is Director of Restorative Justice at Catholic Mobilizing Network and lives in Alexandria, VA with her husband, Aaron, sons Aiden and Colby, and black lab, Sydney.

Maintenance Garage: Steel Building Construction, Part III

Maintenance Garage:
Steel Building Construction, Part III

by Eric Fitts, Director

More cinder block cores poured, window jambs modified and bolted in, person doors and windows installed, insulation and some metal siding installed, roof insulation and part of roof metal installed.

Next up is completing the roof, installing 16-ft shed roof, installing rafters and roof for the 24-ft trailer shed, installing siding above the shed roofs, and installing trim work, gutters, and downspouts.

“Rebuild My Church” Capital Campaign

Maintenance Garage: Steel Building Construction Begins

Maintenance Garage:
Steel Building Construction Begins!

by Eric Fitts, Director

We thought we had an erection crew all lined up, until they failed to commit at the last minute. Thanks to some extra hussle by Patrick, we lined up a new crew and they already have one week of work under their belts.

All materials was accounted for, steel beams were distributed around the building site, forklift and bucket were delivered, the far wood shed and picnic shelter area were framed out in steel, and the main steel rigid frame rafters were bolted in place. Now we can see the basic shape of the building and boy are we excited about all of the space we’ll have to serve our home repair program into the future!

Thanks to Caretaker Patrick McGinnis for lining up the bids, All Construction for connecting us with the steel erection crew, and Richard, Steve, and Ethan and the crew at Blankenship Consulting for doing good work for a good cause. Blankenship Consulting out of nearby Summersville, WV, is led by Brian Blankenship. Patrick and other Caretakers have been assisting on-site as needed.

Next steps are diagonal bracing, purlins, girts, and rafters for the near-side 24-ft trailer shed.

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Maintenance Garage: Cinder Block Complete

Maintenance Garage:
Cinder Block Complete

by Eric Fitts, Director

You’ll recall that we just completed the slab pour. Next came the cinder block knee wall.

Thanks to Caretaker Patrick McGinnis for lining up the bids, All Construction for connecting us with the masonry crew, and Steve Cash and the crew at Cash Masonry for doing good work for a good cause. Cash Masonry out of nearby Covington, VA, is led by Steve Cash, who is backed by a solid crew, including his son Andrew, Chad, Noah, Tristan, and Jerome.

They laid 3 courses of 8″ cinder block around the perimeter of the garage site, so that none of the steel building will sit on the ground. They left rough openings for the garage doors and person doors. The Caretakers then followed up, by filling every cinder block core adjacent to a doorway with concrete and rebar, as well as filling a core every four feet with concrete. This will enable the knee-wall to last a long time.

Next step is erecting the 112’x54′ steel i-beam building. It looks like we’ll be working with a crew of three from Beckley, WV, with 1-2 Caretakers or Summer Servants as laborers on the project each day to help them along and keep costs down–we’ll keep you posted with progress shots!

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Maintenance Garage: Slab poured!!

Maintenance Garage:
Slab poured!!

by Eric Fitts, Director

An update is overdue!

After months of planning, one contractor pulling out at the end of last year, several bids reviewed, and a winter weather delay, we now have a slab poured for the Maintenance Garage!

Thanks to Caretaker Patrick McGinnis for lining up the bids, All Construction for connecting us with the concrete crew, and Harry Bowles and the crew at Top Dog Concrete for doing excellent work for a good cause. Top Dog Concrete, out of Fayetteville, WV, is led by Harry Bowles, who is backed by a great crew, including his son Bailey, Justin, Louie, Shawn, Clyde, Eric, Stevie, and Ronnie.

After grading and forming the site last week and pouring the picnic shelter area Friday, today they poured 6 truckloads of concrete, finished it, sloped it into our trench drains in each garage bay, and cut a slope at the entrance of each bay to shed any rain that gets in. They also helped us use the excess to pour the last few parking bumpers for the expanded parking lot. They covered the slab in concrete blankets for the night and will make the relief cuts tomorrow.

There should be crew out here later this week to lay the 3 courses of block to finish the foundation, after which point we’ll be ready for Arnold Grey and the steel building erection team.

“Rebuild My Church” Capital Campaign

Wind and Flame in West Virginia

Wind and Flame in West Virginia

By: Ralph Muhs, Community Friend, Greenbrier County, WV

It doesn’t have to be caretakers, or summer servants, or any of the hundreds or maybe thousands of people who have had their lives touched by spending a couple of weeks at Bethlehem Farm.  You don’t have to be a religious person, and you do not have to be a big financial contributor.  It is not necessary to be a recipient of the many construction projects Bethlehem Farm has done for needy people in the area. You don’t have to be young and idealistic, or have a burning need to live the four cornerstones of the farm. You don’t have to be anything at all!

Kay and I became acquainted with Bethlehem Farm several years ago.  My first experience with Bethlehem Farm was a chance encounter with Joe Prieboy who stopped by St. Catherine Church to ask what we were going to do with all the firewood we had from a tree removal. That encounter led to a gift of more firewood for the farm and an invitation to come to a community night. That community night led to many more, and it was at these community nights where we met so many young and interesting people, both caretakers and volunteers.  Our most endearing impression of the young people we met there was a refreshing aura of unpretentious sincerity. 

Jenna, a caretaker came to my home and we planed lumber, and that lumber became a permanent part of the new caretaker house.

Kim, Richard, and Lauren, three caretaker friends, came to my home and helped to build my workshop.  

Mostly, we just remember the many friendly welcoming caretakers, the energetic summer servants, and the hundreds of inspirational volunteers at Bethlehem Farm.  It is easy to feel optimistic when we go to the farm and meet all the young and idealistic people there. 

From the perspective of a couple in the seventh decade of our lives, Bethlehem Farm, and all those associated with it, give us a gratifying sense of optimism for the future.