Fred Bahnson

Ellen Davis Unearths an Agrarian View of the Bible

Ellen Davis portrait. Via RNS, by the Eno River/courtesy Chris Hildreth, Duke Photography

With her gray hair tied neatly in a bun and her wire-rimmed glasses perched thoughtfully on her nose, Ellen Davis looks the part of a distinguished Bible scholar.

Her resume certainly reads like one – a Ph.D. from Yale University and teaching appointments at Union Theological Seminary, Virginia Theological Seminary, Yale, and now Duke Divinity School.

Yet despite the traditional cast, Davis is leading a quiet revolution. For the past 20 years, she has been at the vanguard of theologians studying the biblical understanding of care for the land.

Church Gardening As Peacemaking Ministry

The book cover of “Soil and Sacrament” by Fred Bahnson. Photo via RNS.

The book cover of “Soil and Sacrament” by Fred Bahnson. Photo via RNS.

Fred Bahnson’s first bit of advice when he started planning a church garden eight years ago came from an elderly tobacco farmer who grabbed a handful of soil, rolled it around in his fingers and shook his head:

“You don wohn fahm heah,” he said in his deep North Carolina drawl.

Those were not the only discouraging words he received as he planted and cultivated one of the earliest and most successful church gardens, 20 miles north of Chapel Hill.

But Bahnson, a Duke Divinity School graduate and a pioneer in the church gardening movement, had a different view of farming than the older tobacco farmer. He knew that if he gave back to the soil more than he took out — in the form of compost, manure and other soil food — he could create an abundant garden.

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