Elkhorn – Like most churches, the back rows filled up first, and then the chairs closer to the altar were taken as late arrivals walked in.
Loren Johnson had moved his farm machinery and equipment, plus pallets of 50-pound bags of seed, to make room for the congregation inside one of the barns on his fifth-generation farm.
The 40 or so parishioners and pastor were there for him. They also came Sunday morning for his new wind turbine, to bless the blades he made from two-by-fours. And they came for a blessing of seeds, soil and wind in honor of Earth Day later this week.
The altar in front of the group – a table covered with an emerald green cloth and needlework that said “Good Earth” – was filled with bouquets of golden wheat and pussy willows in vases, as well as bowls and baskets for seeds. As folks came in they brought packages of seeds to the altar – alfalfa, beans, corn, spinach. Seeds that will become green onions, soybeans, collard greens, parsnips and Queen Anne sweet peas.
“Welcome to Seed Sunday,” said Simone Nathan, pastor of Good Earth Church of the Divine. “Welcome to this gorgeous spring morning in the church of Loren.”
Johnson, 67, wanted to build a wind turbine, so he found a book that told him how and spent three years constructing it, using a chain saw to cut two-by-fours of southern yellow pine. (Though he said if he were to do it over, he’d used cedar.) He laminated the wood and slowly planed the rough edges into the three-bladed turbine.
“I made this thing from scratch. I’m kind of a gear head,” Johnson said Sunday morning, squinting in the bright sunshine as he looked up at his creation. “I could have gone solar (power), but I like the idea of something moving. I got interested in wind power in the ’70s.”
The 300-acre operation was a dairy farm until he sold his herd of around 50 cows four years ago to ease into retirement and lighten his workload to only the cash grain portion of the business – alfalfa for the farmer who bought his herd, winter wheat, soybeans and corn.
He finished his wind turbine last fall and nervously watched it withstand a storm of 50 mph winds. He’s waiting for We Energies to hook it up, which he expects will be done in May. Johnson isn’t sure how much power will be generated, but if his guidebook is correct, a 14-foot turbine powered by 11 mph winds, the average speed in his locale, would create 272 kilowatts a month.
Normally a wind turbine would be at the top of a tall pole in the middle of a field, but Johnson decided to use an existing structure on his farm, an old corn crib. He fabricated all of the parts except for a winch recycled from a silo unloader and pulleys that came from an old barn cleaner.
“It’s a real simple, elegant design. It’s just gravity and wind,” said Johnson.
Johnson has occasionally attended the Good Earth Church of the Divine, which opened three years ago in a research barn in East Troy, and he told Nathan about the wind turbine he was building. The church schedules an annual seed blessing in the spring, usually around Earth Day on April 22. Nathan decided to bring the seed blessing to Johnson’s farm in honor of his new turbine.
The congregation sang three verses of “In the Bulb There Is a Flower,” listened to environmental readings written by noted poet and farmer Wendell Berry and blessed the seeds on the altar with water from an ice bucket. They walked outside and stood underneath the wind turbine, as children blew bubbles, and recited a prayer.
May this wind turbine become a good worker in the fields of the Holy One, and inspire others to take earth-saving actions. May its energy remind us that we live in a divine field of energy, empowering us every day.
Parishioners came from Good Earth Church of the Divine and Immanuel Lutheran Church in Lake Geneva as well as others who drove over from Milwaukee to attend Sunday’s service, bringing cookies, salads and other dishes to pass for the potluck that followed the service.
Nathan gave a short sermon about the secret life of seeds and the discovery of date palm seeds thousands of years old during the excavation in Israel of the ancient fortress of Masada that later were planted and grew into a sapling. She pointed out the Bible verse on the front of the Seed Sunday program: Psalm 24, which says “the earth belong to God and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for the Holy One founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.”
At the end of the service, Johnson thanked everyone for coming and talked briefly about his love of the land.
“Friday is Earth Day, when we think of our connection to Earth,” said Johnson, who remembers when Earth Day started in 1970 as a way to support environmental protection and has now grown worldwide. “At the time we thought of Earth Day as a conservation crisis, but now we think of it as a civilization crisis.”
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