Leadership Scholars

Reflections on community gardening: moving back to move forward

By Riley Taylor

I have truly enjoyed my time in seminary thus far. My mind continues to be opened on a daily basis to the beauty and wonder of Biblical studies, theology, church history and Christian ethics (just to name a few areas of our curriculum). The possibilities for creativity, re-creation and reorientation in these disciplines seem to be endless as well as ever-evolving.

Riley Taylor

In my experience, there has been a repeated emphasis upon tradition, or how the Church proclaims and practices the contents of the message of Jesus Christ inside and outside its own walls. In these readings, lectures and conversations I have had with professors and colleagues, there is a conservativism present in the idea of tradition. I do not mean a political or ideological conservatism defined by certain socio-economic views and talking points. What I mean is there is a constant hum underlying affirmations of tradition to preserve tradition—as if it will slip from our hands if we do not grasp it tightly. In this grasping, I fear we have not let go of what needs to be let go, nor have we opened our hand to receive new or old possibilities that may speak more truthfully to the world that we currently inhabit. My critique of my seminary experience is that I believe I am being prepared to serve in the church that was, not the Church that will be. Therefore, I argue that we should open our hands to receive and implement innovative ministries within our congregations and more importantly, our communities.

I know that we, as the Church, have been innovative, especially in the realm of technology. We have moved to social media, brought technological advancements into our sanctuaries, revamped and reimagined our style of music, and anyone at any time can view a worship service if they so desire. All of these are important advancements in staying relevant, especially in keeping young people interested and engaged in what we are communicating as the Body of Christ. However, it seems that these innovations are all interested in moving forward in the realms of technology, production and music. In short, as society has progressed technologically, the church has as well, and we have done a great job!

However, what if we were to take a step back and do innovative ministry outside the realm of technology? What if we were to center our community building and outreach opportunities through a practice entirely unplugged? I believe it could do more than we could ever imagine. For the past year, I have been working in a community garden. I was raised in rural South Carolina on a cattle farm, and I have always had an affinity for the slow, methodical life that accompanies farming and gardening. However, with that in mind, serving in this capacity has opened my eyes to possibilities I never thought possible in ministry. The garden in which I work supplies over 150 families with food each week during our harvesting season (April-November).

We donate freely, willingly, and in abundance (our philosophy in giving food follows that of Lev. 19-9-10). Furthermore, we have implemented a ‘kids garden’ which is a garden space of 10 beds run by children for children in which they learn the ins and outs of gardening while deciding what they would like to grow. With the implementation of the kids garden we have seen a vast increase in involvement from community members to come help, learn, and grow. On the typical Monday (our community work days), we have up to 50 community members working at once. This community is extremely diverse, both racially and ideologically. And through the work of the garden, I have seen these different individuals embark in meaningful conversation whilst being immersed in the dirt for the sole purpose of feeding the hungry and caring for creation.

What I hope to show through this is that community gardening can be the way forward of doing innovative ministry. It does three important things, 1) teaches about God through caring for God’s creation, 2) serves those in need in their specific communities, and 3) builds community amongst people who maybe would not otherwise be in conversation together. I understand this may be difficult for some churches. Maybe not every church has the blessing of an acre plot of land they can till. You may be in a city center in which unplugging is not an option. You may not have the financial resources needed to supply water, seeds, equipment, etc. However, I believe the premise of slowing down, recentering yourself, and putting yourself into your community through actively unplugging with your neighbor is something that can actively reach people. It will bring in families and people of all different backgrounds, and it will teach valuable lessons about God and our relation to one another as God’s created beings. In short, at the very least, I propose that we should move back to agrarian practices in order to move forward in our imagination of doing innovative ministry.

Riley Taylor is a second year Masters of Divinity Student associated with the Baptist house of studies at Duke Divinity School. He is from Ware Shoals, South Carolina. He is passionate about farming and creation care advocacy and their possibilities in doing ministry.

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