Woolly alpacas graze peacefully in a field. Bhutanese refugee farmers till the soil and harvest the crops. Youth practice yoga. Single parents attend free child care classes. Family mission teams from all over the country come to serve. On any given day, a visitor to Tikkun Farm can see Mary Laymon’s vision of a beloved community come to life.

Tikkun Farm, an experiment in community outside of Cincinnati, is the brainchild of Laymon, an ELCA pastor, and her husband, Greg York. Tikkun olam is a Judaic phrase meaning “repair the world,” and over the past eight years, the couple has taken a rundown 3.5-acre farm in Mount Healthy, Ohio, and resurrected it into a place of wholeness and restoration.

Laymon understands the need for restoration. Her family struggled when she was growing up, and she is a survivor of child abuse. She grew up not attending church and later found the fundamentalist tradition before enrolling at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (Pa.) (now United Lutheran Seminary).

Currently, Laymon serves St. Simon of Cyrene Episcopal Church in Lincoln Heights, Ohio, and before that was pastor of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Huntingdon Valley, Pa. It was at Gloria Dei, while organizing spiritual retreats and counseling those with trauma, that Laymon dreamed of supporting people as they recovered from traumatic childhood experiences.

She believes that everyone has scars, as Jesus had. “Without Jesus’ scars, his resurrection wouldn’t have the same meaning,” she said.

When Laymon and York first moved to their farm in 2013, the neglected property was a challenge, yet they saw it as a place where they could finally realize their dream of offering retreats. The couple invited the neighbors over to share their hopes for Tikkun Farm. They expected a handful of people—instead, a big crowd attended the first gathering.

A place for growth

From the beginning, Tikkun Farm has served a diverse community in a variety of ways. Most of the Bhutanese refugees who settled there were farmers in their home country. Laymon and York let them farm the land for free, using the harvest to feed their families and to sell. The alpacas are sheared and their wool is used to make felt.

“Mary not only provided us with a garden, she gave me the opportunity to be a camp counselor on the farm, which gave me credit hours in school,” said Jharana Rai, a young Bhutanese woman studying to become a nurse. “Her after-school program helps my brother do his homework. I feel like what Mary has done for my community, only a few can do it. She is a great example of what one person can do to bring changes to a community.”

The summer camps and after-school programs for the area’s children were successful. But Laymon said she heard a clear call from God in prayer, telling her to focus on the parents because they were the heart of those families and needed extra support and guidance. Now parents come to the farm for practical help raising their families.

“Tikkun Farm took my breath away with the beautiful spirit that dwells in that place,” said Lakresha Alexander, a mother who participated in the farm’s classes. “I’m so thankful to experience that energy. ‘Cooking on a Budget’ was a class I dreamed about. Learning to make healthier meals for my family is one of the things I had been praying for.

“I thank God for creating Mary—and the love and passion she has to help children and adults find themselves!”

Tikkun Farm has received grants from ELCA Disability Ministries for its mental health programming and from ELCA World Hunger for its outreach to low-income families, including the “Cooking on a Budget” classes, self-care workshops and an aquaponics food system that will teach and employ youth.

The farm has also been supported by Trinity Lutheran Church in Cincinnati, both financially and with volunteers for the camp and after-school programs.

Laymon and York continue to invite more individuals, families and youth mission groups from across the country to spend a week living and working on Tikkun Farm. And Laymon, who calls herself a “pilgrim pastor,” continues to dream big dreams and listen in prayer for God’s guiding and loving voice.

Elise Seyfried
Elise Seyfried is the author of five books of essays. Her essays have also appeared in Gather, Insider, The Independent, Chicken Soup for the Soul, HuffPost, The Philadelphia Inquirer and many other publications. Elise recently retired after 20 years as director of spiritual formation at a suburban Philadelphia ELCA church.

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