The Advocate Pond — A Ministry of Place and People, Hospitality and Fish
In 2011 the Advocate acquired 15 acres of land in north Chapel Hill, in the middle of a hub of development in the next ten years – from extensive expansion of the University of North Carolina to the development of transitional housing ministries for the homeless, from residential and commercial build-out, to the possible placement of the growing town’s next middle school. Our 15 acres is also adjacent to what is known as The Historic Rogers Road Community, that settlement north of Chapel Hill, just outside the town limits, that has been home to generations of African Americans since the mid-19th century. The Rogers Road history includes a history of governmental racism, with roads and utilities slow to come or even denied, while the region’s landfill was placed there
On the fifteen-acre site, the people of the Advocate feel called to provide a space for hospitality, worship and contemplation, as well as a regional resource for collaborative social ministry and the arts.
In the middle of the 15 acres, there is a pond.
The pond existed long before it “belonged” to the Church of the Advocate. When the Advocate settlers first arrived, we quickly realized that the pond had a life and ministry all its own. From spring to fall, and especially in the summer, people from around Rogers Road came to fish for their for their pleasure, and for their supper. They had for generations. We learned that the man who had owned the land for decades before us used to stock the pond with bass, brim, and crappie. It was a peaceful and welcoming place.
In our first year on site, we realized that we had a lot to learn from the pond and its people — about regional history, about fishing, about life. And we realized that we had something to offer as well. Hospitality, for one thing. And also the church’s story, and the hope that is within us.
In 2013 though, as the Advocate site was prepared for parking and a chapel, the pond and its life were significantly disrupted. In order to meet requirements of the 1972 American Clean Water Act and various codes of the Town of Chapel Hill, the pond had to be drained and both a filter and an overflow drainage system installed. Turtles snuggled into the mud and most of the remaining fish found their way into the gullets of stalking herons.
As we settled in to our second year of worshipping in the Advocate Chapel, we engaged in conversations with the people and the non-profit agencies around us, learning how we could be good neighbors in the neighborhood. One of the things we have learned is how much the people of Rogers Road miss the pond, miss the fishing. We heard that the elders of that community want to teach their grandchildren how to fish, they want their grandchildren to know that peaceful part of their ancestral way of life.
We also realized that the ministry of the pond can be expanded to include the residents of InterFaith Council’s Community House, a transitional housing program for men, that stands within a half mile of our site. For the people of the Advocate, this is a clear call to hospitality. And, like so much of the Advocate, it also has a strong appeal to our elders who are nostalgic for the past and to our young adults, who want to cultivate a simpler and more nature-centered life in the age of technology and internet. The Advocate Pond is a simple, peaceful, healing place.
The Advocate would like to develop the ministry of The Advocate Pond. We have learned what we can about how to clear the algae and re-stock the fish. We would like to be able to host fish dinners once a year to welcome the neighbors, maybe buy some rods and nets that those without them could use, and put up a little shed to store them in. Eventually we might even build a simple dock, so that people with unstable footing might access the pond and while others would be less likely to turn an ankle or fall in the water.
Our goal will always be to provide a natural setting and a place of peaceful hospitality. If you are led to support the Ministry of the Advocate Pond, please contact the Vicar.