With the sun’s afternoon light streaming over Georgia O’Keefe’s red rocks, I gathered with a handful of others in one of Ghost Ranch’s community gathering rooms to listen to Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary in NYC, and Larry Rasmussen, Professor Emeritus of Christian Ethics at Union, talk about an Earthhonoring theology and economics.
The theme was clear—a common refrain from Jones and Rasmussen, along with the participants, was the deep disconnectedness in our domestic economy. With food insecurity mounting, climate change roaring, and a “go get the money, do it yourself ” philosophy, we lamented the profound divides our U.S. economy creates.
At Church of the Pilgrims PC(USA) we have discovered a symbol that we feel subverts this dominant paradigm of an economy: the honeybee.
At Pilgrims we have a honeybee ministry—our urban veggie garden includes three honeybee hives filled with close to 40,000 honeybees. Our bees pollinate our garden, creating fresh produce for our Sunday afternoon lunch for hungry neighbors.
In one sense our honeybees are a practical response to Colony Collapse Disorder, a dramatic rise in honeybee colonies collapsing, since late 2006 due to a handful of human constructs like increase use of pesticides and climate change.
The bees also symbolize something theologically and economically profound: a new interpersonal, interconnected economy. This became apparent in a concrete way after I spoke publically about these ideas at the Ghost Ranch gathering.
A participant came up to me after my sharing and told me the story of how his dad had eight honeybee hives and that he and his brother as kids would work alongside their dad learning beekeeping 101. It was a short story, less than a minute. And it was a tender story—full of enough emotion and memory to bring tears to the storyteller’s eyes. The tenderness came in this image of a parent’s connection with his young children learning a family craft, a long-standing eco-practice. It was a memory that brought a son back to the love of his dad who has since died.
In that moment it came to me that it’s this type of story where a new economy is born: in a tender story and memory of honeybees. In Pilgrims life with honeybees, we’ve discovered the tenderness (minus the stings!) our little, fat furry creatures invite into our congregation. We created a bee blessing for the first installation of our hive, invoking the memory of John the Baptist clothed in milk and honey and the Israelites seeking the land of milk and honey. I watch early in the morning as the bees make their way out of their hives and gently land on flowers in the garden. We mimic the ancient church and offer a taste of milk and honey at the closing of a baptism, with our entire congregation encircling the font, sharing our hope that with the living waters the justice and mercy of God flow from the newly baptized like the sweetness of milk and honey.
It’s a tenderness. A gentleness. We are a more deeply connected community that seeks equality and justice thanks to our honeybees. These are alternative Holy ways that counter an economy that seeks to divide and conquer.
Our honeybees aren’t going to solve the brokenness of our domestic economy, but they connect us closer to the ways of God, the liturgy of the Early Church, and the radical practices of Jesus, the revolutionary Jew from Nazareth.
Even with the stings that ping, we live with gratitude for the tenderness of the honeybee.
The honeybee hive at Church of the Pilgrims is a practical response to physical needs in the world but also addresses the spiritual ones.