On This Holy Mountain
By Tom Ruggaber, Covenant Companion
In August of 1996, along with our youth minister, I accompanied 6 teens to Nazareth Farm for a week of ministry in West Virginia. Nazareth Farm is a Catholic mission that incorporates the cornerstones of Community, Service, Prayer, and Simplicity to provide a week-long experience of rehabbing homes in Appalachia while developing a faith community centered on the Gospel. Little did I know on the way there how that week would change my life. Along with 40 other participants I worked on repairing homes, eating delicious homemade food, praying, and developing lifelong friendships. But what I didn’t expect was living Catholic Social Teaching.
Not only did I never experience this before, I had never even heard of them. I could not understand what was so different, but after coming home I knew I needed more. I couldn’t wait to return the next year. My relationship with the Farm grew to the point where, in the year 2000, I was asked to join the Board of Directors.
In January of 2004 something amazing happened. I was there with a group of college students and the question was raised about what would it take to start a new farm. There was no question of the need, since groups were on the waiting list to come to Nazareth Farm and the amount of work to be done in Appalachia is overwhelming. A group of teens and adults started speculating on the obstacles to overcome. We would need to find the right place, obtain land, build lodgings, form a board, and raise the funds to make this all happen. By the end of that week, we had most of the projects identified, but obviously none of the solutions.
However, we all knew with certainty that all would be resolved and a new farm, Bethlehem Farm, would happen. We were all relying on God to guide us through it. In the next few months, we developed a 5-year plan to have the Farm in place. I guess God laughed at the idea of it taking 5 years since on December 8th of that same year Bethlehem Farm was a reality. God pointed us to a family who operated a Catholic Worker Farm in southern West Virginia who were searching for the right group to use their facilities to continue ministry. The family gave us 47 acres of land with all the buildings we needed and enough funds to transition to our ministry.
Our first two group weeks were in March of 2005. Since everything happened so fast, we were in need of people to direct those first weeks. I was able to be there to help out. Those first two weeks were amazing and exhausting. The four staff that were there literally gathered each evening as we prayed for the success of that day and asked for God’s direction for the success of the next day.
Eighteen years have come and gone. Miracles continue to grace Bethlehem Farm and all that are involved with it. We have grown and flourished. The Wheaton Franciscan Sisters Ministry Fund has joined us and allowed us to expand our ministries. My wife Pat and I continue to share our lives at the Farm for one week each year in September. We encourage anyone who is willing to discover what it means to live out the tenets of Catholic Social Justice, to join in the experience of Bethlehem Farm.