Given the sheer prevalence of churches- the fact that there is some kind of church in nearly every community in North America- the local church has the best ability to combat hunger, food injustice and corrupt food systems on a local, immediate level. Even in food deserts, places where healthy food is not available, there are still churches. What if local churches were the ones to provide healthy food? What if local churches were the ones to grow healthy food?
This is feasible. There is no minimum size for a garden, no required vegetable output. Gardens can and have been planted in empty lots in inner city neighborhoods, in big grassy fields behind rural churches, in volunteers’ front yards, in containers on roofs and driveways, in landscaped beds around church buildings, even in bags of potting soil on balconies. Gardens are versatile, and gardens are important. Here’s ten reasons your church should have a garden:
1. God is a gardener. In Genesis 2, God plants a garden. When Jesus rose from the grave, Mary thought he was the gardener (she wasn’t exactly wrong). (John 20:15) God’s creative, redemptive work included a garden, therefore our participation in that creative, redemptive work ought to include gardens.
2. Gardens invite mindfulness, contemplation and Sabbath rest. Societal and cultural changes have driven from our presence quiet contemplation, mindfulness, and rest. Even in our churches, where these activities have been a staple of spiritual health for millennia, we are rushed and harried and put upon to go go go, do do do. A garden is a place set apart, designated as different and special and holy, where quiet attentiveness is not only invited, but required. It is a place of work, but when the work is done it is a place of Sabbath rest. Gardens shape us to better fit the rhythms of life that God intended.
3. Gardens require good stewardship. Humans are not created for ownership, but stewardship. We are entrusted with the gifts of this world, and God wants us to use them well. Jesus tells us that there will be a reckoning when he returns; we will be held accountable for what we did with the gifts he entrusted to us. (Matthew 25:14-30) In a garden, we learn to be good stewards of these gifts. We see, sometimes immediately and dramatically, the results of not taking care of Creation, and the loss that comes from our neglect and abuse.
4. Gardens teach us to receive grace. “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.” (Mark 4:26a-27) In the garden, we may plant the seeds, but God provides the growth. Nothing I can do will make a tomato ready to be eaten any sooner. God’s abundant good gifts are on display in the garden, and they are delicious. Receiving this goodness in all thankfulness teaches me to receive God’s other good gifts in thankfulness as well.
5. A garden makes a church more visible. The Church has an important message that the world needs to hear. Unfortunately, the world is inundated with messages daily, hourly. Our good news message is lost in the noise of modern life. Anything that a church can do to make itself more visible is a good thing. Nobody will notice you if you are not noticeable.
6. Gardens are invitational. On Sunday mornings, while some of us are at church worshiping God, others are not. Here’s a little secret about those who are not at church: they do not feel guilty about it. I have heard members of my congregations talk about those not at church on Sunday mornings as if they were hiding in their bedrooms, ashamed of not being at church with us superior believers. This is not the case. There are plenty of people who have no desire to ever come to church, and others who never even considered going. Some have had negative experiences in church, and some are simply ignorant of church life and worship. A church garden can be a safe place for the reluctant and the curious alike. I have seen first hand that someone who might never step inside a church sanctuary is happy to step into a garden.
7. Gardens promote equality. I have yet to meet a weed that cares about my degrees, or titles, or bank account. Whether I go out into the garden in my best suit or my most worn out blue jeans, the dirt will cling to my knees regardless. When you are in a garden, working side-by-side with others, you are all equal in the eyes of crabgrass and grubs. The mutual work of gardening can and should cross the divides of race, gender, sexuality, politics, denomination, and any other tribe we align ourselves with.
8. Gardens promote fellowship. Some people have no problem striking up conversations with anybody, anywhere. Then there’s the rest of us, folks like me, who struggle with small talk. But an amazing thing happens when you put people working together: they converse, find common ground, and build up relationships. The Kingdom of God is relational. A friendship may start with a discussion about what tomatoes are ripe, but God alone knows what that friendship can develop into.
9. Gardens promote health. Physical activity, mental stimulation, social interaction, good nutrition, and giving back to others are all vital aspects of your health. All five of these are present in church gardens. It is a disgrace for anybody living near a church to feel lonely, or worthless, or hungry. If we allow our neighbors (or ourselves) to live like that, we are denying their divine worth. This is to our shame.
10. Gardens feed people. Maybe this one is a no-brainer, but let’s not forget that gardens produce food, and food is necessary to life. Over and over, scripture commands us to provide food for those in need, to feed the hungry, to care for those who cannot care for themselves. Churches should do their best to provide good food to the hungry, because people are worth our best. Jesus tells us that whatever we do for the least of these, we do for him. I would much rather give Jesus a bag of healthy, sun-ripened, chemical-free produce than a box of pre-packaged, artificial flavored, high-sodium, high fructose corn syrup food-like product.
None of this is to say that church gardens are easy. There are lots of factors to be considered when planning a church garden, from volunteers needed to how to pay for the materials and how to distribute the produce and much, much more. But blessings often look like work, and work is a blessing. A church garden, whatever it looks like, has the potential to produce a bountiful crop in God’s kingdom.
What other reasons can you come up with?
What would you need to start a garden at your church?