Social Hour in the 1940’s, Virginia Hall Gallery. Photos throughout this post are credited to the collections of the Presbyterian School of Christian Education.
Over the past few months, our place – that is, the campus Veritas School has been entrusted to steward – has been the focus of much prayerful consideration by our Head of School, the Board of Directors and interested members of our community. While the property lines of our stewardship are not yet final, it is clear that we’ve been entrusted with a remarkable, and storied corner of North Richmond.
Throughout the 2015/16 school year, we will become students of our place, both our campus and our neighborhood. We will invite historians, neighbors and those who’ve gone before to share their stories with our community. Throughout this season of exploration, may we see more clearly the sovereign hand of God building His kingdom through a century of Christian scholarship at the corner of Brook Road and Westwood Avenue.
Fidelity. Contentment. Gratitude. Place.
Readers of the agrarian writer Wendell Berry* will immediately recognize these words. Through the narrative of each remarkable story, a quiet challenge unfolds … will you be content to practice faithfulness to your place, and to the people and the values of that place, in the midst of the fragmentation, restlessness and dizzying pace of our age?
Berry’s understanding of place comprehends both property – land, buildings, trees – and time – past, present and future stewardship. Place is never simply an asset, neutral to destructive or productive forces; rather, place is an opportunity to faithfully cultivate, in space and time, that which is needed for the flourishing of whole, healthy human beings.
Within their place, the bucolic town of Port William, Berry’s characters labor and love amid endless challenge – weather, fire, exhausted land, new highways, war, the call of Something Else. Those who remain join an unspoken membership – a tribe of the ones whose fidelity to place – and the people of that place – weaves the fabric of their lives so tightly that the bonds include generations past and generations to come.
Into this fidelity are born children who will know the stories of their grandparents as intimately as they know their own. The trees, hilltops, valleys and vistas that shaped the joys and pain that came before will now shape their early lives as well. They will be tested in this place. Fewer and fewer will choose it for their own, but all will understand what it is to have been deeply known and loved in a place deeply known and loved. From such a place, they will measure the meaning of progress.
Berry’s agrarian life requires patience – patience and faith. For the land to heal, for the rains to begin, for the rains to stop, for the ground to thaw, for the sun to rise, for the sun to set, for the season of dark germination, for growth, for harvest. For every good gift, for every moment of fruitfulness, stewardship is both faithfulness to the work at hand and submission to a will that is larger than your own.
In Port William, we also discover the constraints of stewardship. No longer are all options open; fidelity binds attention and resources to its own purposes. For many seasons, the farmer enjoys the good fruit of faithful labor; in others, he must submit to unaccountable barrenness. Fidelity is to take this risk, to narrow one’s scope, to say this is my place, here will I invest, here will I be content – may God bless the offerings of my hands to His glory and the good of His people. Whatever may come, blessed be His name.
When place changes hands, by whatever means – natural, chosen or forced – the land is once again surveyed with new eyes, new plans, new hopes, new expectations. In Port William, those who intend only quick gains from the land are warily welcomed by those whose “beautiful, hard-earned knowledge” points to the fruitful humility of watching, listening, and learning. To learn: which fields are ready to plant, which should rest, how is this stream impeded through the seasons and what are the habits of the wild things that share the land? To ask: What are the stories of this place, who loved it well and how did God use those who were nourished here?
For a new steward of place – entering a story already begun – beginning well the work of fidelity creates a bond both helpful and welcome. Inviting the stories of those who’ve gone before – the history of how God worked and the lives touched in that place – immeasurably and immediately deepens connection. To say to your own heart, and to the younger generation in your care: we join a story underway, a story that includes us, and continues beyond us. May we be found faithful.
Fidelity must then encompass a great labor of love, and patience, constraint, listening, humility, hard work, faith, contentment and gratitude.
In response, the land yields fruitfulness. Renewal for soil too long neglected. Healthy soil for the good stories already underway, and fertile soil for the new seeds planted. Those blessed by the fidelity of others flourish, and in time become the faithful stewards of the places and opportunities to come.
In the year opening before us, we will become students of the history of this property – and celebrants of God’s faithfulness as we mark the 15th anniversary of our school. For His glory and the good of others, may God grant Veritas School wisdom and fidelity to practice faithful stewardship of our remarkable vision in the storied place we’ve been entrusted.
*Wendell Berry, author of many works of poetry, non-fiction and fiction, including Jayber Crow and Hannah Coulter, is the winner of numerous literary awards including the National Humanities Medal and the Russell Kirk Paideia Prize.
General Assembly Training School (ATS), 1944
Sara Kennedy is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Veritas School, and an avid Wendell Berry reader. She can be reached at email@example.com.