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Is Anybody Listening?

By Staff | Sep 24, 2020

To the Editor:

Iowa dirt, life blood of our county, has provided generations of hard-working farm families the opportunity to feed the world and support our local economy. But did you know this same Iowa dirt built one of the first churches in Palo Alto County? Lost Island Lutheran Church traces its roots to a hardy group of farmers who built their first church…a sod hut, in 1872. From that little sod hut, grew a vibrant community of faith that built Lutheran Churches in Graettinger and Ruthven.

Today, when churches struggle to survive, Lost Island partnered with Bethany Lutheran and together, stand on the threshold of an innovative venture called Rural Ministry Initiative. This idea arose 3 years ago over coffee when Pastor Peter Morlock and Shirley Knutson, 70-year member of Lost Island, hit on the idea of Shirley’s farm becoming home for Seminary Interns serving Lost Island and Bethany. Since Lost Island is located a mile from the Farm, both parishes saw great potential–providing seminarians an “immersive” rural ministry experience. Each congregation unanimously embraced the vision. Work began two years ago to “repurpose” the farmstead into what Pastor Morlock calls a learning laboratory–both an intern residence and venue for teaching the wonders of God’s creation, rooted in Iowa dirt. To that end, Shirley coordinated with NRCS to plant a 2 acre Iowa wildflower pollinator garden for endangered butterflies.

She preserved the iconic 1931 barn, installing a new cedar shingle roof and removed decrepit outbuildings. A new ramp accommodates walkers and wheel chairs. Parishioners will construct outdoor worship spaces near those beautiful Iowa wildflowers!

This is just the beginning. We take to heart Isaiah 56:7b, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all people.” Our hope is the Farm becomes common ground for all the faithful in Palo Alto County and beyond–a place to pray under Iowa’s blue skies and fresh air.

So…imagine our shock when we learned last week of plans to build a CAFO just 4400 feet from the farm house and 5100 feet from Lost Island Church! 4,800 hogs sharing air space with every activity happening in that church and on that farm. Only now that air space is no longer shared–it’s held hostage by the stench from tons of hog feces.

We don’t build slaughter houses next to churches. We don’t build chemical plants next to church camps. For good reason. People exercising their Constitutional right to freedom of worship cannot healthily coexist with toxic air. So, why would we house 4,800 hogs near these places of worship…and spiritual retreat? Why would we trade a 147-year legacy ministry for 1,559,280 gallons of pathogen-ridden hog waste?

The future of RMI hangs in the balance. All the planning, hard work, and hundreds of thousands of dollars invested have been placed at risk. Needlessly.

Church members say, “This Rural Ministry Initiative actually began 147 years ago…in that sod hut church built of Iowa dirt…we’re just continuing what our ancestors gave us to do…God’s work…our hands.” Tragic to think Rural Ministry Initiatives spanning three centuries–brought to an abrupt end–by a 4,800 hog CAFO.

Please contact your County Supervisors before September 29th, their deadline for voting on issuing a conditional use permit. Let them know you ARE listening!

For more information on Rural Ministry Initiative, please visit ruralministryinitiative.org.

(signed) Wayne & Molly Knutson

Rural Ministry Initiative