The Old Testament, rife with snippets of a single person making all the difference, little vignettes that are taught in Sunday schools and preached from pulpits to inspire us, to remind us that we may not know our role in the greater flow of God’s plan, yet when we answer the call, amazing things happen, begins with a garden story. A garden full of riches but then left too soon, a garden we are left seeking still. Anyone who works with the soil whether in a tiny garden plot or acreage as far as the eye can see, a collection of pots on the porch or hanging from a window sill, or borrowed space in a community garden, whatever level of gardener or farmer, all know that God is in the growing. No where is our dependence more clear than when we dig up dirt and push a seed into the ground, waiting, waiting, tending, only to have food come forth, as we watch the heavens provide rain and sunshine, as the seed produces more and more and we are able to share from our efforts. Yes, God meets us the garden. Thus the story of our Tithing Garden at church has felt holy from the beginning, a space set aside for several plots where folks can grow as they please with the old requirement that they donate 10% of the harvest to the local food bank. I thought I knew all about this garden, the full story of how it almost wasn’t this year, and then I heard the bigger story. A telling from a longer view, a deeper knowing, that convinced me that we never really leave gardens, that God will keep bringing us back.
Writing for our monthly church newsletter, I described all the people involved in making these small spots available and robust again. The Tithing Garden had been around for several years but almost didn’t happen this season. The man who had led this ministry told our director last fall that he was not feeling that call anymore, he needed to step away. Folks had not been tending their gardens, they were messy and ignored, filled with weeds and empty of produce. The director thought maybe the money our church spent on plowing and fertilizing and publicizing would be better spent in other directions, it may be time to let this go. Confession time: I had one of those horribly neglected plots. I wanted to tend it, I wanted to do good, yet it just wasn’t the right timing. Our world came to a screeching halt and we were barely able to tend to ourselves, but still, we hadn’t cared for the soil and the plants long before that event occurred. I think I was also a bit mad at God and had no desire to meet Him in the soil, to watch anything grow while my life had just been painfully pruned. Yet I championed the garden anyway. Several conversations over donuts and coffee, bugs in the ears of those who I know like to harvest and who are dedicated to putting seeds into the soil, I just knew maybe the right people hadn’t gotten involved yet. I had the opportunity to help a friend who owns her own flower shop during her busiest season, Valentine’s day, as a rider who jumped out of the car while someone else did the driving to deliver flowers all around the city. This gave me the chance to talk at length with a master gardener, maybe not an official one, but someone who has a deep passion and a house full of seedlings before winter has ended. The right people began to talk to each other, I gave names to the director.
Our Men’s group was looking for a project, they built new raised beds to enable more folks to access plots. The driver and the lead builder took over leadership of the garden. It is thriving this year. And the leader from last year? His faithful acknowledgment to back away was exactly God’s timing, his wife was diagnosed with cancer this spring and is benefitting from all of his attention. I thought this was the beautiful story, the way so many different people rose up at exactly the right time, to create food for themselves and for those in our community who are not as secure when dinner time hits. It is a powerful story in the life of our church but it is woefully incomplete.
Our church is nearing the 10th anniversary of our big move from the landlocked too small building we left to this new structure in the middle of fields, out in the country. Since our relocation, developers have followed, we are getting 700 new neighbors with many more to come. As we look back on our history and wonder at what lies ahead, the very first pastor of our congregation was asked to speak, a man I didn’t even know. When He first facilitated the unification of our Methodist congregation in 1969, land was purchased for a future church. Until it could be built, he and a fellow parishioner decided to each use it for gardening. One acre apiece, they plowed, planted, weeded, tended. Before he could harvest though, he was called to serve a different congregation, as is customary in the Methodist church. Many families benefited from the work he began. He has since retired and come home to this area again, he worships now at the church he helped found. When he learned we had a Tithing Garden, he quickly claimed a plot and now donates not just 10% of the harvest but all to the local food bank. Once again he is gardening with our church, once again he is giving it all away.
We are truly actors in each other’s stories, connected across decades and lands and interests. Sometimes we can see those little bits of goodness, those sprouts of our efforts. Other times it is difficult to find our role amongst the weeds and the winters. Without the wide angle view, zoomed out to include both the past and the coming days, it is impossible to know the impact of our “yes” and “no” to any question. A garden story that began almost 50 years ago is finding completion, a man who dug up soil and pulled away weeds is finally harvesting his beans. I think we have been faithful to the vision this first pastor had for us, as well as to what God has asked of us. He certainly has been faithful to God’s call to move and move and move again. Now he is back home to his first garden with our church. With hundreds of choices and decisions and little conversations and the faithful listening to calls to become His hands and feet, I can see now we are all working our way back to the garden.