When church doors shut, community gardens opened new opportunities for missional living

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In this reflection, Resonate local mission leader Bruce Gritter reflects on the ways in which community gardens have connected churches in Western Canada to their communities and opened up opportunities to share the love of Christ.

Sharing the earth. Growing a garden. This is what we have been doing as human beings since the very beginning of time. There’s something about fostering fruit, root vegetables, salads and legumes and sharing it with our family and neighbors that connects us with each other in a powerful way. It is part of the blessing of God’s good creation.

Richard Middleton in his inspirational book A New Heaven and A New Earth suggests that this is indeed of great significance:

“Many recent studies of the garden of Eden in Genesis suggest that this garden, in its relationship to the rest of the earth, functions as an analogue of the holy of holies in the tabernacle or the Jerusalem temple. The garden is the initial core location of God's presence on earth; this is where God's presence is first manifest, both in giving instructions to humanity (2:15-17) and in declaring judgment (3:8-19). The garden is thus the link between earth and heaven, at least at the beginning of human history. The implication is that as the human race faithfully tended this garden or cultivated the earth, the garden would spread, until the entire earthly realm was transformed into a fit habitation for humanity. But it would thereby also become a fit habitation for God.”

During this pandemic, there were a lot of things we couldn’t do. But, growing a garden wasn’t one of them. And various churches in Western Canada answered the call as a way to connect to their community. Gateway Community Church in Abbotsford, B.C. was one of these churches. Building off their already significant work with the homeless and the hungry in Abbotsford, they decided this was an ideal time to build a community garden that would help energize their congregation for service, connect with their neighbours, and stock the neighbourhood kitchen they have ran for several years.

Marcel DeRegt, Pastor of Faith Formation at Gateway, said, “Gateway Community Gardens are one way that Gateway Community Church is able to enlarge our footprint of ministry within our community. Out of the 24 gardens plots, only 6 are rented by members of our church, the other 18 are rented by members of our broader community. As we dig and plant, the community fellowship grows as well as our produce. It's a win, win!"

Dan, a key volunteer in this venture, said: “We really saw a need. Many people have turned to gardening as something constructive they could do during the pandemic. What’s more, we found out that other community gardens in Abbotsford all have long wait lists. So, since the church has the land and volunteer base, we thought this would be a great way to serve the community.”

On May 29th, Gateway held a grand opening for their new erected gardens which was attended by various community participants. On a beautiful day, a beautiful new venture was launched which for many years to come will bless the community. friends.”

To inspire you to consider how a community garden could become a missional outreach in your community, here are a few more stories from Western Canada: 

Liz Tolkamp, Children's Pastor at Willoughby in Langley, British Columbia writes: Since 2013 the Willoughby church community garden has provided gardening space for over 30 households who live in the neighbourhood around the church. Gardeners represent a diversity of people: from families with young children to seniors, long-time residents, and recent immigrants. In addition to the current 50 garden beds, future plans include a gazebo gathering space and a prayer labyrinth. The beauty of the garden is that it represents so many of the things that God cares about: community and human flourishing, creation care, and celebrating the bounty of God’s good earth. 

Michelle Kool, Pastor at Covenant Community Church in St. Albert, Alberta writes: The mission of our community gardens has been to grow people alongside growing plants. Our garden was a God-send through COVID-19. We added extra seating/meeting spaces in 2020, and the community used it for picnics and ukulele circles, family gatherings, coffee dates, even first dates all throughout the pandemic. Even in the colder months we had “guests in the gardens,” which was a surprising gift of opportunity from the Holy Spirit, to meet neighbours who otherwise wouldn’t have come onto our property. This spring we added a little library to our gazebo, with extra seeds and seedlings, masks, and hand sanitizer, along with books to take or leave - another point of community connection! When all other ministries needed to close, our community gardens remained the place both our congregation and our community could safely connect and meet; God has brought us delight through this ministry!

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There is yet another way that Community Gardens can be a blessing. Each year, the park district gives me any plots that have not been rented by Memorial Day. Last year, I was able to "farm" eight plots which yielded about two tons of tomatoes and squash for the local Salvation Army food bank. Because of health issues, I can not continue on that scale this year, but I am hoping others can see ways to contribute through their gardens to those in need.

Community Builder

Ed - I love this!! I've been a part of gardening and community gardens for years and one of the most amazing things is the connections I make with people while sharing food. One of the churches I was a Community pastor for worked with a community coalition to start community garden initiatives throughout their city - first as scattered site raised beds located primarily at places like schools, day cares, Sr. Centers, low income housing. Then we worked together to open up a Coalition led community garden, with the "requirement" that each person give 10% or more of what they grew to fight local food insecurity through the Healthy Food pantry. It was great to see the church walk alongside it's community, be a partner rather than control it, and meet people where they were at. 

Thank you Bruce, for this uplifting and encouraging article! For clarification, Covenant Christian Reformed Church continues to be situated in Edmonton, Alberta and is excited to do ministry and mission in our neighborhood there.