A Farm-based Future for Rob Kunes

Rob Kunes celebrates the Eucharist on his final day on staff at St. Christopher. • Photo by Kitty Strawn

The Rev. Rob Kunes has not met farmer Joel Salatin, but Salatin’s thinking has helped determine the future of the priest’s ministry.

Kunes, who has completed his service as director of The Prayer Center at St. Christopher Camp and Conference Center since 2013, envisions a farm inspired by Salatin’s Polyface Farms (“We Are Your Clean Meat Connection”) of Swoope, Va. Kunes plans to base the farm near Georgetown, the historic seaport city 80 miles northeast of St. Christopher.

Kunes became aware of Salatin’s work when his wife, Julie, saw some of the farmer’s web videos. She then read Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World.

The couple listened together to an audio version of Salatin’s book, which heightened their appreciation of farming as good stewardship of the earth and of treating animals with dignity, including those that eventually become the family meal.

He wants the farm to assist Friendship Place, which works among the homeless of Georgetown County through vocational training (Georgetown Works) and providing hot meals (Georgetown Eats).

Kunes hopes the farm will welcome young people for gap-year or semester-long internships, drawing from his experience of working with staff members of the summer camp and Barrier Island Environmental Education Center programs at St. Christopher.

“The age group I really love working with is millennials—people who are really hungry for what God has for them,” he said.

Kunes said the vision began taking shape as he thought about his long-term vocational path and began to dream of other possibilities.

Attending Wild Love Worship—a conference that met in Jacksonville, Fla., in January—offered multiple points of confirmation that he should pursue a vision that combines spiritual formation with environmental stewardship.

During the conference, the Kuneses heard Heidi Baker, CEO of the humanitarian group Iris Global, preach on the importance of giving other people spiritual bread if you have it to give.

Singer-songwriter Jason Upton, who led the conference’s music, focused on a theme of finding one’s home. At one point Upton mentioned Wendell Berry, another farmer known for his spiritual reflections. Kunes said he and Julie applauded in gratitude for Berry’s insights.

Upton added: “Do you know where your food comes from?”

When the couple attended the conference’s host church that weekend, the sermon was “Follow Your Dream.”

As they sought God’s will and thought about the transition, the Kuneses spoke with friends in the Fellowship of Christ the Healer. Two members of the fellowship invited the family to base their future ministry in Georgetown, and backed that invitation with offers to help find the right property.

“It’s been a good season, and I feel like I’ve done what I need to do here,” Kunes said. “I’ve felt called to parishes and to ministry positions before, but being called to a community is a new thing.”

On Nov. 1 the family stepped into that future. Julie Kunes is due to give birth to their sixth child in January.