Even though Earth Day 2015 was a few weeks ago, it may not be too early to start thinking about how your congregation can honor our planet on April 22, 2016. Many churches have found that planting—not a new church, but literally digging into the soil—is the way to show their church’s commitment to year-round sustainability while reaching out to those who need help the most.
Green thumbs optional
“Gardening was an unlikely calling for me, since I have no gardening skills,” laughs Sarah McGinley, member of Franklin First United Methodist Church (Franklin, Tennessee) and lead volunteer of the church’s Giving Garden ministry. Shovels and spades began turning the garden’s soil in 2009 and since then, McGinley’s thumb has turned a vibrant shade of green.
“The garden is my passion,” she beams. “It has provided an amazing opportunity for all church members young and old to gather together as the body of Christ and plant a garden, harvest the garden’s produce, and then share that produce with many who might otherwise not have access to fresh vegetables.” In 2014, Franklin First UMC gave away approximately forty thousand pounds of produce.
The Giving Garden does more than provide much-needed produce to the community’s disabled and disadvantaged. “The garden allows us to go beyond our own walls to build relationships with other church congregations, with the DUI court where offenders can put in their community service hours, where kids can visit on school trips, and where special needs adults can volunteer,” says McGinley.
More than beautification
The Garden Ministry at First United Methodist Church Richardson (Richardson, Texas) began approximately seven years ago. The garden was an idea that originated with the church’s Landscape Committee as a grounds beautification project; since that time, however, the mission has evolved to include vegetable gardens with the produce going to a local food bank.
“In 2014, we donated close to 1,100 pounds of organic produce,” says Donna Morrell, one of the Garden Ministry’s fifteen-member volunteer team. “The recipients of our produce come from a variety of countries . . . we strive to provide the types of foods that they will be familiar with, and know how to prepare.”
FUMCR volunteers have found that their garden gives both adults and children the chance for a hands-on gardening experience. “Many Saturday mornings are spent giving garden tours to members of the community,” explains Morrell. “A group of Daisy Scouts earned their gardening badges in our garden; they released ladybugs, planted Sunflower seeds, and helped weed a garden bed.”
Fruits of forgiveness
Perhaps no garden embodies the spirit of giving (and forgiving) like the Anathoth Community Garden and Farm in Cedar Grove, North Carolina.
Shortly after Grace Hackney became the pastor of Cedar Grove United Methodist Church, she happened to introduce herself to Valee Taylor at the post office and invited him to visit her church. Cedar Grove was an extremely racially divided community; the idea that a female pastor of a white congregation would invite an African-American man to attend one of their services was beyond novel, and left an impression on Valee.
In June 2004, Bill King, also African-American, had been senselessly shot and killed while closing his bait and tackle store one evening; no one was charged with the crime. The incident accelerated the community’s fear, anger, and distrust.
Valee remembered meeting the Reverend Hackney and went to her church to discuss what could be done to bring the town together. They organized a prayer vigil in the parking lot of King’s store and every one Cedar Grove’s one hundred residents attended, including Valee’s mother, Scenobia Taylor.
Scenobia had inherited her father’s land when he passed away and after the prayer vigil, she had a dream. In it, God told her to donate five acres of the land. She didn’t understand how, but she felt as though God would use the land to help heal the wounds of the community.
Valee Taylor, Scenobia Taylor , Reverend Hackney and the Cedar Grove United Methodist Church took that small plot of land and made it into what it is today: Anathoth Community Garden and Farm, which now includes over a hundred acres and provides a constant, living reminder of how to give and forgive. A quote from the church’s website might sum it up best: “When an improbably tiny seed can produce, in just three short months, an astounding five pounds of Cherokee Purple tomatoes, we can see a reflection of grace itself.”
To Plant or to Plant
As it turns out, church planting means different things to different people. Mention “planting” to First Franklin’s McGinley and she’s likely to hand you a rake or a spade. ”Through our garden, I dream that hearts will be transformed to serve as Christ served,” she says, “inspiring others in our community to join us in the harvest and in the work of building relationships with each other so that we are not bound by these walls, but are truly a community.”
FUMCR’s Morrell breaks it down even more. “Jesus told his disciples to ‘feed my sheep,’” she says. “When we send fresh produce to the food bank, we are following the directive that he gave the first disciples.”