“I would love to be a part of this,” I was told, numerous times. “I used to garden and always loved it. But I can’t do it anymore. I can’t bend over like I used to. I’m not as strong as I used to be. My knees and my back won’t allow it.”
I can’t tell you how many times I heard statements like this last summer at Selah Community Garden, a ministry of Center United Methodist Church in Sanford, NC. All through the growing season we raised vegetables and gave them all away, holding a free produce stand every Saturday morning. In addition to church members, 25 families who were not affiliated with our church stopped by to take some produce. Many of them were seniors, many living alone and on fixed incomes. Many of them had limited mobility and a laundry list of health issues. Many of them loved the garden. But none of them felt they could be a part of it.
When I first pitched the idea for Selah, I was asked what our purpose was. I did not have a good answer, other than growing vegetables. Time and time again a vision for the garden was called for, but I couldn’t give it. That first year, all I knew to do was meet our neighbors, learn who they were, and see how we can be a part of their lives.
I believe the key message of grace is that God has made a place for you. By rights you do not belong in Heaven; your sin and my sin are more than enough to keep us out. Yet God did whatever it took, sending Jesus Christ as an atoning sacrifice for our sins, so that we might have a place at God’s side. Through God’s grace, we belong.
Hospitality, the art of making room for others to belong, ought to be one of the hallmarks of Christians, both individually and corporately. If we want people to know that God has made a place for them in Heaven, then we need to make a place for them on Earth. If we want our neighbors to know that God will do whatever it takes to welcome them in Heaven, then we need to do whatever it takes to welcome them on Earth. If we have experienced God’s grace for ourselves, then we need to extend that grace to all.
After meeting many neighbors around Selah, a vision came about. Since many of them wanted to garden but could not anymore, we would make this their garden.
It has been months in the making. From catching the vision to refining the details, from applying for a grant to waiting for a decision, from drawing out blueprints to drawing up fliers, a lot of behind-the-scenes work has been done by a lot of people. Now things are truly rolling along- faster than I can keep up with at times!- and Selah Community Garden is growing.
We are expanding our garden by more than 50%, but what excites me most is the emphasis of our expansion. Many of our neighbors do not want to just be given vegetables, they want to be given a purpose, a place to work, a place to meet one another and swap stories while pulling weeds. Our neighbors want a place in the sun, where they can be safe and know that they are cared for, where help is available upon request but will not intrude on their independence. Our neighbors want a place to belong.
So that is what we are giving. Thanks to the generosity of Resourceful Communities, Green Haven Plant Farm, Gaither Dycus Hauling, and the people of Center United Methodist Church, we have installed five table-height handicap accessible garden beds. We are in the process of enclosing our raised ground beds, and making our garden much easier to get in and out of and to work in.
About a year and a half ago I was discussing church nurseries with a fellow pastor. He said to me, “The importance of a nursery is providing a place for kids to know that they belong, to enjoy being at, because that is how they receive God’s grace. They’ll come to understand grace later, but for now they receive grace by being told this is where you can play at church.”
May we all do whatever it takes to let folks know that they belong, that they have a place in the garden, they have a place at our church, they have a place at the Lord’s Table, and they have a place in Heaven. Let us make grace as practical and available as possible. Let us make room for others.
To keep up with what is happening at Selah Community Garden, or for more information, you can follow Center UMC (Sanford, NC) on Facebook, or you can reach out to me and I’m happy to answer any of your questions or help in any other way I can.