Over the past year, Episcopal Charities has been honored to participate in the creation of a beautiful new community garden at the Food of Life/Comida de Vida pantry on the grounds of St. Thomas Church, Amenia Union. Through Episcopal Charities’ support and grant application assistance, St. Thomas Church was able to undertake the enormous project of clearing land on their grounds, building 48 raised garden beds, installing an irrigation system, and planting fruits and vegetables. This garden will provide fresh produce to hundreds of hungry people in the area every week, supplementing the bread, eggs, dairy, meat and toiletries that the pantry already provides. (You can read more about the pantry in this blog post.) Furthermore, it will serve as a community space where everyone can work together and share in the bounty of the harvest.
On May 25, 2014, St. Thomas Church held a celebration and dedication of the garden. Today, we share with you the sermon that Mother Betsy Fisher (vicar of the church) gave at that service.
“I want to welcome you all to St Thomas on this wonderful occasion of the dedication of the Giving Garden! We are so thrilled you are all here! For those of us who have been involved in this project, it has been nothing short of miraculous. A year ago this was nothing more than an idea. And through the generosity of so many people’s time, talent and treasure, we now have this amazing project. Over and over again, we have experienced incredible gestures of support from so many people – people who have nothing to do with St Thomas but who really believe in our mission. I can’t tell you the number of times our project coordinator, Jim Wright would call me and say, “You won’t believe what just happened…” and then tell me about a local neighbor or vendor who donated their skills or products to help promote the garden. It has been extraordinary!
“I chose this morning’s gospel because I thought it was very apropos to the occasion. For the past six months, we here at St Thomas have been busy preparing the Giving Garden. Meticulous planning has been done to make sure the garden was created in the most efficient, cost effective an eco-friendly way. Yesterday, we were out in the garden using measuring tapes to make sure the plants were planted the precise distance from each other for optimal growth. Contrast that to what we hear about the farmer in this morning’s gospel. Mark tells us a farmer went out to sow his seed – and this guy is throwing it the seeds all over the place! He’s scattering them in the rocks, on the road, all over the place. Now, as many of you know, I am not a gardener – it is really not my gift. But even I am better than this guy in gospel! Even I know you don’t just throw the seeds all over the place! And the people listening to Jesus tell this parable would have known how crazy this was. In the Ancient Israel, people’s lives literally depended on a good crop. Without one, your family would die of starvation and you would lose your livelihood. So there was no wasting any seeds! You carefully planted every seed to maximize the yield of that year’s crops. And here is this guy throwing seeds everywhere – what’s up with that??
“So often when we read this parable, we focus on the kinds of seeds – the ones that never grow, the ones that shoot up and then die quickly, and the ones who end up in good soil. And we find ourselves focusing on which seeds am I? Or even worse, judging our neighbor by what kind of seed THEY are. But this parable is not about the seeds at all. It’s about that sower throwing the seeds — It’s about the wasteful love of God – a God who scatters grace everywhere, on everyone, no exceptions. A God who love us all so much that he holds nothing back. A God who wants the kingdom of mercy compassion and hope so much for each of us that he will give us everything, absolutely everything we need to get there. Some of that grace will land on people and places and situations that will never recognize it. But this morning’s gospel tells us that God doesn’t need every seed to take root. He only needs a few – and with those few seeds, God can do miracles.
“No one knows that better than the people of St Thomas. We experienced that throughout this project. We started with a hunch, an idea of where we thought God was calling us as a community. We said yes to that hunch, and it has been a tidal wave of grace and abundance ever since. We here at St Thomas know about God doing amazing things with very little that because we ARE very little. We aren’t one of those big churches with lots of people and lots of resources. We don’t have a great physical plant, or a spectacular choir, or multiple staff members. We are a small church in a small town that would be of no interest or notice to most of the world. But it is here, in this ordinary, unspectacular place that God has done spectacular things. It is here in sleepy Amenia that grace has been scattered abundantly, and it has taken root. We started seven years ago with three little beds. Three little beds that grew vegetables to give away to our neighbors in need. 16 parishioners built three little beds. And out of that, came our food pantry, which last Friday gave out over 1600 meals. A food pantry that feeds an average of 150 people each week. We opened a food pantry that introduced us to our neighbors, neighbors who we may never have met under any other circumstances. It introduced us to people who matter in this community, but who are often invisible to the world. It taught us that our well-being is tied to their well-being. How can we be content when so many around us suffer and struggle? Their happiness is our happiness.
“And now these three little beds have led us to this giving garden. What we learned from this experience is that God doesn’t need BIG to do amazing things. God just needs our small YES, and, as I have said over and over again here at St Thomas, if we stay faithful to our call, to that yes, God will give us what we need for our mission. We have seen this over and over again here at St Thomas. It’s not luck, or coincidence. It is simply amazing grace at work.
“When we built those three little beds, we had no idea where this would all lead. We couldn’t have imagined the wonder God had in store for us. We couldn’t have imagined the people who would be helped or the lives, including OUR lives, that would be changed. And I think the same is true for this garden. We built this garden because we believe strongly in nutritious food being available to all people, especially our neighbors who can least afford it. That was our vision for the garden. But I think we have only begun to discover the wonder that God will do here through our garden. We have no idea the people who will be touched, the relationships that will be formed, and the miracles that are yet to happen. We set out to build a garden. But I believe we have built more than just a garden. We have built a new altar, a new way to express the wonder and power of God’s love for ALL of us, everyone of us, no exceptions. We have created a sacred space, a new Eucharistic experience, a new way to experience God alive in our midst and to share that with all whom we meet.
“So today we celebrate a miracle in our midst! The writer Anne LaMott says there are really only three kinds of prayers that people say. Help, Thanks and Wow. Eight months ago, we started with help prayers, asking God to lead us. Today we celebrate the answers to those help prayers with a great big thank you to God and an even bigger WOW! This has been a WOW experience! Over and over again, I have seen the face of God through this experience – in all of you who worked so hard to make this happen; in the neighbors that stopped and cheered us on throughout the project; in the local organizations and businesses who supported us and donated their time and talent and treasure; through the kindness and generosity of people who started as strangers to us, but who believed in our mission and supported us through grants, strangers that have now become friends. Over and over, the face of God has shown up here at St Thomas. And the experience has been miraculous.
“I believe those miracles have only begun here in our Giving Garden. We’ve only begun to see the 100 fold of graces that are in store us. Thank you to all of you who said yes to this mission. Your yes is the vehicle of God’s grace that made this all possible. Thank you for believing that we have enough to do the work God has given us and for believing that God is good, all the time, all the time, God is good. AMEN!“