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Catherine Foote introduces urban congregation to lambs

By connecting children and adults with the land, fruit trees and livestock on her Whidbey Island farm, Catherine Foote can interpret biblical stories and ideas with lived experience beyond what words can communicate.

catherine foote

Catherine Foote introduces children to her lambs.

As one of the three-member pastoral team at University Congregational UCC in Seattle, fall and spring visits by members to her farm relate with her tasks of pastoral care, social justice ministries and preaching.

After she bought the farm in 2002, she began inviting members of the urban congregation to connect with rural life through Apple Day in early November and Lamb Day in late April or early May.

From 10 to 70 members from ages one to 90 have come to pick apples and press cider.  They drink some cider and each take a quart home.  Children and youth climb two of her eight trees to pick apples.  They run the apple grinder to press the apples.

Last fall, Catherine was sick, but members ran the day.  She awoke to find two gallons of cider in her refrigerator, the trees picked and a thank-you note.

When she started at University Congregational in 2001, she knew she wanted an experience of rural living, rather than living in the city.

She knows that people in city congregations share her longing for a rural connection.

“I can also help provide the experience with my livestock—a flock of seven chickens and several sheep,” she said.

Every Sunday, Catherine brings a six to 12 eggs to use in Dutch baby pancakes members cook and serve for a church breakfast.  People know the first ones are made with her fresh eggs.

In the spring, members come for Lamb Day, which is more popular than Apple Day.

Catherine structures the lambing so it does not conflict with Easter. 

Last year, there were eight lambs.  The female lambs grow up to produce more lambs.  She sells the male lambs for meat.  Catherine also sheers the sheep and gives wool for people to make things.

The lambs are Romney sheep, a breed from the marshlands of England that do well in wet weather, she said.

Children come to hold and pet lambs. 

After coming to several Lamb Days, one family now teaches children how to catch and hold the lambs.

One year, she hatched baby chicks, and one 10-year-old child, Maxine Patterson, took one home.  Now 14, she has her own backyard flock in Seattle.

Another family connected with a farm and had their children join 4-H.  They adopted two lambs, raised them and won ribbons.

“I watch as city children connect with livestock,” Catherine said.  “They relate with livestock in a different way than pets.”

Growing up in the city of Long Beach, Calif., Catherine was always drawn to farm life.

She attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., earning a master’s degree in 1978 and a doctoral degree in theology in 1982.  She also has a master’s in counseling and psychology from Santa Clara University.

In 1992, she was ordained in the United Church of Christ.

When she served First Congregational UCC Church in San Jose for 10 years in the 1990s, she had a border collie sheep dog and took it to a nearby farm to learn how to work sheep.

When she went to Cottage Grove, Ore., to work two years as a therapist at a center for disturbed children, she had a small plot of land and lambs.

Now living on a farm on Whidbey Island and serving University Congregational UCC, she said she is able “to connect in a more real way with all of life.  I can see the circle of life.  On the farm, I am responsible for the birth of animals, the life of animals and the death of animals.”

Working on the farm with animals does not make her a vegetarian, but makes her realize how sacred all food, including meat, is.

“I know what it costs to have meat to eat,” Catherine said.  “I have no illusions when I go to a grocery store.

“I’m more aware of what my presence on the planet means,” she said.  “I’m aware of the sacred earth.  I’m aware of what I owe the planet, and what my life costs.  I am more in touch with all of life.”

Catherine believes people of faith are called to know what it means to be creatures on the planet.  She says rural experience helps people connect with the rural background of much Scripture.

“It connects me with the Book of Nature, the book that tells us of God in nature,” she said. 

“As I read about sheep and shepherds in the Bible, I’m a city girl whose life has been tempered by 15 years of raising sheep,” Catherine commented.

Throughout history, she pointed out, people have tried to put into words experiences of knowing God in nature.

What is sometimes hard for her to put in words, she shares through inviting the congregation to Apple Day and Lamb Day, times they can share her experience of knowing a piece of land and creatures other than human beings, so “they know what it to be creatures of the Creator.”

For information, call 206-524-2322 or email


February March 2014 © Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ Conference News


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