The harvest display returned to Warren Wilson Presbyterian Church for its 89th year. The display is likely the longest-running tradition in the history of this community.
The display depicts the bounty of the harvests from the college’s farm and garden. The tradition began in 1933, when the Farm Crew, under the leadership of the Farm Manager Bernhard Laursen, 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.
Pastor of Warren Wilson Presbyterian Steve Runholt joined Assistant Farm Manager Sienna Wire to visit Ernst Laursen this year and talk about the display.
“The harvest display brings together the best of both college and church,” said Rev. Dr. Steve Runholt, pastor at Warren Wilson Presbyterian. “It showcases the college’s commitment to the land and the church’s commitment to the community, a concern which the college also shares. It highlights what we can do together.”
The farm crew created this year’s display with wintergreen branches from the forestry crew, squash and other seasonal produce from the garden crew, and an old spinning wheel, some wool, baskets and some fiber products from fiber arts crew. The land stewards crew and campus conservation corps crew laid the leafy base, which came from across the campus.
The display also included handmade quilts by the grandmother of Derron Daugherty, a member of Warren Wilson Presbyterian Church.
“It was fun to have it be more of a collaborative effort again this year,” said Sienna Wire, the assistant farm manager at the college. “The students on the farm crew helped guide the aesthetic arrangement, the goal being symmetry this year.”
The crew built a small chicken cage to house a few live birds during the service. Two students snuck into the chicken coop late Saturday night to deliver three birds to the chapel for the Sunday service.
A handful of folks on the farm crew attended the service, and Wire said they enjoyed looking back at the photos displays built over the years.
As part of the tradition, the congregation of Warren Wilson Presbyterian “completed” 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.