RACINE — It was in a dream that Ben Johnston-Krase first received the message that would lead him to redirect his life.
In the dream, he was called to set up a new church and when he got to where the church was to be, it was a farm.
Since then, much prayer, conversation and study have ensued culminating with Johnston-Krase stepping down Sunday as pastor of First Presbyterian Church, 716 College Ave. He oversaw his last Sunday there in a service at times tinged with tears, other times humor, some reminiscing and with music, some of it played on the piano by Johnston-Krase himself.
Johnston-Krase is leaving First Presbyterian to form a new type of ministry. Called Farm Church, the new ministry is envisioned to be based on a farm and will have a primary premise of feeding people, both urban and rural, through produce raised on the farm, a location for which has yet to be determined.
As bold as the idea sounds, it fits in with the Presbyterian Church USA’s attempts to reach worshipers in settings that are not traditional, Johnston-Krase said.
“It’s a movement that recognizes that a lot of people really don’t see themselves being part of a traditional, main line church and instead would rather be part of a something less traditional,” said Johnston-Krase, 44.
Johnston-Krase noted there are Presbyterian outreach ministries that meet in people’s homes, a church in Louisville that is a running group called the Sweaty Sheep and an East Coast church that meets at a diner.
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“It really resonates in what I said in the sermon today: we don’t go to church, we are the church,” said Johnston-Krase, who came to First Presbyterian in October 2008 after working in ministry in Austin, Texas, and before that worked as a public school teacher.
Johnston-Krase has no background in farming, but is getting help in establishing Farm Church from Allen Brimer, a Presbyterian pastor in Somerset, Kentucky, who has past experience working with organic farming.
Brimer and Johnston-Krase met at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, where Johnston-Krase also met his wife, Karla, who has worked in Racine as a yoga instructor and healthy lifestyles consultant who also worked with nonprofit ventures like the Religion in Labor Network of Austin.
Plans are that Brimer and his wife and the Johnston-Krases will be joined eventually by another friend they met at the seminary, Brandon Wert and his family.
“The six adults in these three families have been close friends for years. So as this farm church comes together it also brings these families together around this ministry,” said Johnston-Krase.
Central to the Farm Church will be to establish programs like farm to food pantry programs, farm to elementary school cafeteria programs and perhaps providing food to senior living facilities and prisons. The ministers also want to set up shop in an area near food desserts — urban and rural areas lacking adequate access to fresh produce.
While having completed their work at First Presbyterian, the Johnston-Krases will remain in Racine at least until the school year ends at Racine Montessori School, which their three daughters attend.
Taking over for Johnston-Krase at First Presbyterian will be Gillian Weighton, who has been serving as associate pastor.
“The congregation at First Presbyterian has been unbelievable,” Johnston-Krase said. “They are the most magical, wonderful group of people. It’s not easy to lose your pastor and as hard as it’s been at times they have been so supportive. As I go into this, I just go so profoundly inspired by all of them.”
“This church will not be the same without you. However all of us want to say, Pastor Ben, go with our blessings go with our love. You will always be a part of this church. Go with our blessings knowing you have blessed this congregation in many ways. We wish you godspeed.”
— Gillian Weighton, associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church to Ben Johnston-Krase, the church's departing pastor, at Sunday's service.