Grafted in Wilmore

Andy McFarland, his wife, and their three small children came to Asbury Seminary in 2005 for one reason – he needed an M.Div. to complete his ordination requirements. “I had no plans to stay long term,” he says. He planned after graduation to return to Missouri, become ordained, and serve as a pastor. 

Yet while a student, Andy got a landscaping job at the Seminary – the same job he still has now, 17 years later. As Andy studied and worked the Seminary land, he felt deeply interested in his missions courses. So he kept enrolling in them, one by one. This led his advisor to ask if Andy would get around to the course requirements for the M.Div. 

“All came to a head. I had to make a decision,” Andy says. As he wrestled internally about his vocation, his passion became clear. He chose to surrender his candidacy and continue following his interest in missions. He changed his degree to the M.A. in World Mission and Evangelism and graduated in 2010, all the while continuing as a full-time landscaper for the Seminary. “Wilmore became home, and landscaping became my vocation,” he says.

Plants Aren’t Silent

After graduating with his M.A., Andy sensed it wasn’t time to leave Asbury Seminary. He and his wife prayed about what was next. Andy felt led to apply for the Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies. He was accepted, and he slowly took courses while continuing his landscaping vocation. “I found it to be a great balance because my hands knew how to do all the work. So my mind was left to sort of focus on the things that I was learning – kind of therapeutic in a lot of ways.”

Andy’s job had begun with simpler tasks – mowing and weed eating. But over time he was given more and more responsibilities. His role evolved into designing and maintaining beds, trimming and planting, taking over irrigation, and overseeing and teaching student workers.

His student workers and passersby sometimes notice Andy sitting or standing still on campus. During these times, he is listening. “God gives the sun, God gives the rain, and God gives the growth. As a landscaper, I simply get to watch and learn as God does what God does. That means the largest part of my calling here is to listen,” Andy says. He listens to an area to find out what he needs to plant; or listens to a shrub to determine whether to trim it more on the right side or the left; or listens for how to prune something to help it bloom better. When he gets quiet like that, he will periodically say, “Hm.” Andy jokes that his friend will ask him, “Is that a good ‘Hm’ or a bad ‘Hm’?” According to Andy, listening is crucial. “To the outside, it looks funny sometimes that I’m staring motionless at a spot that I’m thinking about,” he says. “I have to have some time to get quiet and listen. If I don’t, then I wind up doing something rash or presumptuous that I usually end up regretting later.”

All About the Soil

It is not lost on Andy that landscaping is full of analogies to spiritual life. Listening and being still is just one. Yet another is the reminder that we are always fighting a spiritual battle. “Our work is really under attack all the time,” he says. Bursting pipes mean contractors have to dig holes in the ground, often uprooting and displacing shrubs and plants. And ice storms, drought, and weeds can kill plants. This means that sometimes entire areas need to be redesigned and replanted. Yet Andy has learned to find the good that comes after the disappointments. “What we end up designing and replanting are often things that are better suited for that spot… So while these times are challenging on a work level and a spiritual level, I try to remember they are opportunities for God to do something even better.”

Andy finds in the soil yet another parallel between his landscaping work and his theology. The “Anthropology for Christian Mission” course showed him the importance of contextualizing the Christian faith. “Probably the biggest factor in whether things look good is the soil,” Andy says. “You don’t even see it; it’s hidden. Yet everything above the ground – if it’s doing poorly, it’s likely because there’s bad soil there. The same is true in the spread of Christianity. Inasmuch as Christianity is planted well in a context, it will survive and thrive.”

Creating Spaces

Andy loves ecology and environmental ethics – subjects that show our connection to the environment – and is excited about growing opportunities to teach in that field. In fact, he has already had opportunities to serve as an adjunct professor. “I’m interested in the intersection of ecology and theology,” he says. “God has always spoken to me through nature. And those were the times that I really felt closest to God. And so there’s a lot of lessons that He’s taught me through the environment around me. Inasmuch as we live and work and exist within God’s created order, things go well with us. And when we step outside of that or go against that in some way, we tend to pay the consequences for that.”

After graduating with his Ph.D. in 2020, Andy and his wife prayed again about where God wanted them to go. Once again, they felt that God was not ready for Andy to move on yet. “So we decided to stay and continue in this job that I have. We feel like this is actually where God would have me be right now. And I’m happy to be here,” he says. Andy’s love of nature is also a love for what nature does for the Seminary community. “We’re creating spaces for people. And I love that I get to do that… They’re areas where people often get together and have meetings or pray with one another. And that’s what it’s about.”

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