Watching for the Spirit

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Gardeners gathered for the Going to the Garden retreat and vision meeting. Photo by Growing Power

A reflection by Nathan Hosler, director of the Office of Public Witness

It was late March a few years ago, and the winter chill seemed to be breaking. Since the day was beautiful and I was feeling good, I decided, mid-run, to go a little farther. After crossing the Anacostia River at the 11th Street bridge, I continued along the riverside trail. The morning sun was shining on my left shoulder and my back as I trotted on the bike trail, tall and dry meadow grass on both sides. I then saw a red-winged blackbird. It was perched and wobbling on a plant. The bird tipped toward me and then—as I caught a full view of red-orange patches illuminated in direct morning sunlight—it took flight.

A few days before Pentecost this year, I was running in the morning, again. This time it was in Wisconsin at a Going to the Garden retreat and vision meeting. On this particular run through the farmland I noticed a wild turkey take flight—fast, heavy, barreling through the sky just above the field. Upon returning to our lodging, I paused next to a flowering bush and watched hummingbirds flit and dip.

We had gathered to watch for the Spirit with gardeners from the lower ninth ward in New Orleans, Maryland, Alaska, and near a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. Going to the Garden began several years ago as a way to encourage and support congregations to engage their communities and address food insecurity and hunger. This project has been a joint effort between the Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., and the Global Food Initiative (formerly the Global Food Crisis Fund).

Most of the gardeners did not start with a grand plan but caught a glimpse of a new possible reality. In Alaska, a connection with people from the Gwich’in First Nation was formed through a shared experience of hunting, which led to a new relationship and an invitation to return. Through this relationship, we learned about the health challenges of the Gwich’in community, and consequently drew Brethren to garden there every summer for nearly 10 years.

From the Wisconsin gathering emerged the idea of garden advocates. Several interested Going to the Garden partners will be able to apply for funding through the Global Food Initiative to fund a member of their local community to become a garden advocate. These advocates will work to expand the capacity of the projects, engage with the Office of Public Witness in local and national level advocacy as it relates to food security and hunger, and provide additional support for publicity and outreach.

We have heard stories of efforts meeting community needs for food, connections forming between churches and their communities, youth being empowered, grandparents in Native American communities sharing food-growing knowledge with youth, and how valuable denominational staff have been for support. The movement of the Spirit has been evident and noted. Many of these stories have and will continue to show up in places likes Messenger magazine, the Going to the Garden Facebook page and webpage, and on YouTube.

The Holy Spirit often is pictured as a dove. I don’t want to claim too much for the red-winged blackbird, the hummingbird, or even the turkey, but the flight of these birds is a reminder of the movement of God all around us. While denominational structures shift, individuals in leadership change, and programs morph for new vision, the Spirit continues to move.

As we continue to watch for the Spirit, I invite you to support the ongoing work of the Office of Public Witness, and all of the ministries of the Church of the Brethren, both financially and prayerfully. Your partnership is essential for the ongoing work of these programs, and it is only through your support that these ministries continue.

Learn more about the work of the Office of Public Witness at www.brethren.org/witness or support it today at www.brethren.org/give .

Growing friendships

Squash harvested from the garden at  Mount Morris Church of the Brethren. Photo by Carol Erickson

Squash harvested from the garden at
Mount Morris Church of the Brethren.
Photo by Carol Erickson

By Carol Erickson, garden coordinator for the Mount Morris (Ill.) Church of the Brethren

Plans for our garden at the Mount Morris Church of the Brethren began on a snowy evening in 2009. Experienced and rookie gardeners, church people, limited income adults, and curious individuals gathered to discuss planting 32 garden plots across the street from the church. We decided that this garden would be dedicated to growing produce for the Loaves and Fish Food Pantry. Five years later, the garden has become not only a place to grow food but a place to grow friendships.

Many individuals have helped plan and tend our community garden. In January, we gathered to share favorite hot dishes, pore over seed catalogs, and brainstorm ways to improve the garden. A local farmer offered his Japanese beetle-free farm for growing sweet corn and winter squash. Elderly residents of the Pinecrest Community grew seedlings of tomatoes, peppers, and herbs that were transplanted to the garden in May. In the spring, members of the church and community planted 50 pounds of potatoes, 20 asparagus plants, 20 new strawberry plants, and more.

The “Going to the Garden” grant from the Global Food Crisis Fund and the Office of Public Witness, which empowers congregations to start or improve community gardens, has helped us reach our goals. Thanks to the extra funds, we have improved access to water by purchasing hoses and instruments to collect rainwater off the church. We have increased productivity by building new frames to contain each plot of vegetables, and by installing cattle gates to support the growth of tomato plants. We have also strengthened the community aspect of the garden by painting two weathered picnic tables and adorning them with umbrellas for shade.

To further improve the community of the garden, we offer planned activities. Gardeners gathered in June at the Mount Morris Senior Center to can strawberry jam. Monthly potlucks allow gardeners to prepare tasty dishes and share from their garden’s abundance. The garden is also available for picnics.

By harvest time, our community garden will provide over 5,000 pounds of vegetables to the food pantry, and residents of Pinecrest Community will receive two deliveries of sweet corn. We are so thankful for the “Going to the Garden” grant. It has helped us grow healthy, fresh produce for many, and cultivate meaningful relationships. It has helped us come a long way since that first snowy night.

“Going to the garden” is a joint initiative of the Global Food Crisis Fund and the Office of Public Witness. Visit brethren.org/givegfcf to support this ministry today.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)