In 1933 the Farm Crew, under the leadership of the Farm Manager at that time, Bernhard Laursen, began what may be the longest-running tradition in the history of this community: they installed a harvest display with bounty from the farm in the small de facto chapel in Sunderland.
The display went up every Thanksgiving during World War II. Bernhard’s son, Ernst, took over as Farm Manager and continued the tradition in the old Williams Chapel on campus. The display continued to go up after the college built the new, current, Chapel in 1964.
88 years later the tradition is still going strong. The harvest display at Warren Wilson Presbyterian Church depicts the bounty of the harvests from the college’s farm and garden.
“It’s a long tradition and a big story, and the full meaning of it exceeds any one person’s ability to capture or express it,” said Rev. Dr. Steve Runholt, pastor at Warren Wilson Presbyterian.
The Farm Crew created this year’s harvest display with contributions from the Forestry Crew, Garden Crew, and leaves from Cowpie Lawn. It even includes live hens.
“For the students who work directly with the land, it is fun to share the fruits of our labor with the rest of the campus community,” said Sienna Wire, the Assistant Farm Manager. “In a world where you can get produce at Ingles year-round, it feels special to be a tuned into the seasonality of the crops and livestock harvested during this season, seeing our walk-in freezers full of winter produce and meat, and the grain bins full of golden kernels that will sustain us for the next year, it is truly a special time of year. Not to mention just taking a break from the busy days to do something kind of silly and fun.”
As part of the tradition, the congregation of Warren Wilson Presbyterian “completes” the display by lining the steps of up into the chancel with bags of groceries, which they donate to the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry to help fill out the shelves of their holiday food bank.
The Warren Wilson Presbyterian Church and College Chapel has been the resident campus congregation since its founding in 1925 as the Farm School Presbyterian Church. For decades, it was the church where everyone at the school worshipped. Starting in the 1970s, with the College gaining independence from the United Presbyterian Church, more people from outside the Warren Wilson community began attending. Currently, most members have no connection to the College, though some members are faculty, staff, retirees, and alumni.
Since the 1990s, the College and congregation have shared the Ohler Spiritual Center—which includes the Chapel, Ransom Fellowship Hall, and the Christian Education and Church Office wing—through a “covenant” agreement. This Covenant, which is reviewed every five years, “celebrates
our shared past and… establishes our shared future by outlining expectations and responsibilities, and identifies mutually beneficial partnerships and collaboration.” These partnerships lie in shared religious programming, speakers, social justice initiatives, and communal support.