Yesterday, the day after Sharing Manna’s fall planting, we had a special word of encouragement from Mary Jac Brennan, the Community Gardening Coordinator of Forsyth’s Cooperative Extension Service, where Sharing Manna Garden is listed. Here’s the transcript:
Thank you Ely, and thank you all for allowing me to be here and talk to you for just a few minutes. I’m not going to talk long, but my role at Cooperative Extension is to help community gardens get established and to continue. That’s my “official” role of working with Ely, although Ely is a friend of mine. I have enjoyed that relationship, and it’s certainly blessed my life, both Ely and Alfred.
When Ely came to me and talked about wanting to have a garden here, she did it in the very best way. She went out and trained herself, got herself educated about gardening; she volunteered in another community garden for a whole summer and saw how that worked. She was a hard worker in that garden that happens to be a garden I participated in at a church I go to in Kernersville. And the people in that garden came to love Ely and Alfred and were very concerned about what happened to your garden too.
So she did it in all the right ways. She helped, you all started [GreenTree’s garden] last year, and this year she went to Master Gardener training. That was a tough, long period of classes where you have to go and study and take tests and then you have to serve, it’s volunteer; you have to give back. Part of what she’s done with that is to enlarge this garden. What I’ve been really impressed with your church is how the garden has become such a part of your outreach. And that’s wonderful, because it’s not just serving the people here, but it’s serving the people in the community.
It was so unfortunate when, a few weeks ago, the damage happened to the garden. I was out of town at a conference when I got an email from Ely, saying that the garden had been damaged. When I got back to town, I came over the next day, and I was standing in the garden with her, and it was very sad. It was really, really sad, because I know how much love has gone into that garden. I was telling her, “Well, now, you can do this, and you can do that,” and I had this awareness that . . . you know what? This is a time when we need to reach out, not just in the good times, but in the bad times too. So we decided that we would reach out to the community and ask for help.
I’m a Christian, and I believe that that’s when, [in] our spiritual path, the rubber hits the road. When things are good, it’s easy to be loving, and caring, and do for others. But when our lives get tough, when we get those bumps in the road, or somebody damages a beautiful garden that has been such a source of love and giving, it would be easy just to say, “Well, we quit.” Some churches, some groups, would’ve said, “Well, we can’t have a garden anymore, because it’s just going to be a place where people come and do vandalism.” I don’t think that’s what the Christian life is about. I think it’s about moving forward even in those times of tribulation and the hard times.
So, my hat is off to you all, as a group, as a community, for moving forward with this. It’s been an amazing experience for me to be on the sidelines and watch the community come together and support this garden. I know that there were twenty-eight people who came to clean out the garden, and many of them had never heard of GreenTree before, didn’t know this place existed, but were happy to come and help. Then you had more people yesterday with the fall planting. I run into people all over the place just in my job about community gardens, and everywhere I go, people are saying, “Oh, that was so bad what happened in that garden; what can we do to help? Is there anything we can do to help?” I was telling Ely this morning, people at my church (because they’ve read the story in the newspaper, and they know Ely from working in the garden last summer) said, “Ask her what she needs, ask her what we can do to help.”
And so a very traumatic experience that has been handled very gracefully by your community is going to lift up the message of community gardening and probably lift up your community of GreenTree as well. I’m just thrilled to get to be on the sidelines and watch this happen, because it’s amazing what happens when people come together in one spirit. And of course, as a Christian, I know that there’s a major Power involved that we have no control over, and it’s just wonderful to be able to be a part of that. So thank you so much for the moment to speak to you; and keep up the wonderful gardening work. If you want to know more about gardening, Ely is a wonderful teacher, and she can direct you to some of us at Cooperative Extension: that’s our role, to teach people how to garden as well.
For more information about Master Gardening and the Cooperative Extension, visit http://www.co.forsyth.nc.us/CES/Gardening/ or contact Mary Jac Brennan at (336) 703-2850.
For Sharing Manna online, visit http://www.forsythcommunitygardening.com/SpecificGarden.aspx?GardenID=28
On Sunday, June 3, in his sermon based in Romans 12, Pastor Tim challenged GreenTree friends with an important opportunity. This invitation also applies to anyone who hasn’t found his/her niche in a church family and ministry outlet. If you haven’t heard the challenge in the sermon or would like to refresh your memory, we’ve adapted it here in blog form.
I have a question: where are you in relationship to your church? Every now and then we need to stop and draw a map in our minds of where we are in life. I’d like to say some things to three different age groups in relation to our church. These ages aren’t a clean-cut division; these categories are meant more to reflect where you are.
Age 18 to 35.
If you are age 18 to 35, you may very well be single. You may be a student; you may be considering a career or starting a career. If you are married, you haven’t been married for very long. It’s quite possible that you don’t yet have any kids, especially if you’re on the younger end of this age spectrum…or you may have young kids. There’s a good chance that you’re nearly broke because you’ve just started out in life. It’s possible that you’re renting; maybe you’re still living at home, or maybe you are just now buying a house. You’re still asking and answering a lot of big life-questions, especially if you are still in your 20’s: you’re still becoming who you are going to be.
Ages 36 to 55.
There aren’t very many of us in this age bracket at GreenTree. We have more people who belong to the upper and lower end of the age spectrum and not as many in the middle. But if you’re in this middle age bracket, you’re probably married or you’ve been married; maybe you’re divorced or even remarried by this point. You may have a career established. You probably own a home now, if you’re ever going to.
If you have children, they are probably already teenagers or young adults. You could even have very young grandchildren. You’re probably dealing with aging parents. You’re beginning to accumulate some wealth by this point—or if not, you’re becoming very concerned. But all in all, you’re probably much more settled than you were in that 18 to 35 bracket.
You may be re-thinking long-held beliefs; this is a time in life where you’ve already pretty much settled what you believe but now you might be saying to yourself, “Wait a minute; maybe not.” Maybe you’re having a mid-life crisis; you’re starting to wonder, “Am I ever going to amount to anything?”
Age 56 to Heaven.
Of course, an 80 year-old is in a different place in life in life than a 56 year-old, but if you’ll just humor me, we’ll group you into this general stage in life if you fit in this age category. You are established financially by this point, or (as Dave Ramsey says) you’re thinking about buying a copy of One Hundred and One Ways to Fix Dog Food and Like It. Your marriage is in the golden years. Or perhaps you’re a widow or widower. You’re most likely retired, or you’re working and really feeling it. Maybe you’re playing with hobbies, playing with grandchildren, or playing with great-grandchildren. You’re advising your adult children (or trying to and pulling your hair out). You’re not likely at this point to make any big life changes that you’re not absolutely forced into.
The Oldies: Your Great Opportunity
Many of you in this final age bracket have shown great loyalty to me over these dozen years I’ve been the pastor here. And you are, except for a few exceptions, the ones who are giving the significant amount of money that goes into funding the church, and we appreciate that greatly.
We want you to engage the rest of us. I don’t mean nag us; I don’t mean preach at us; but we want you to interact with us. We need some advice. We need some direction; we need, sometimes, even some rebuke. And we want you to show some leadership, while letting us take some leadership.
The Youngers: Your Great Opportunity
You have unique resources here. Those of you in the younger category have incredible opportunity in terms of your church. You have a church, with older people with a unique quality here: they have withstood great changes. Many people in the older age bracket just don’t do it. They can’t take it when a church goes through the metamorphosis that GreenTree has undergone. What’s more, you have a group of older people willing to fund the church and willing to help you move forward. And you have a church that has no debt, and small utility bills, even though it has a small budget. It’s very workable. You have the best of both worlds: the freshness of a church plant and the facilities, people, and structure of an old church. You have a pastor who is willing to maintain a good relationship with the older people while looking forward. You have the opportunity, young people, to make this church whatever it needs to be to reach out to your generation.
But the older group has something to say to you, and they’re saying it kindly:
We want you to get some skin in the game. We know you don’t have very much money; give a little bit. Take some leadership. Show up. Commit to doing some things. Dream up something that you love: bring it to us. We’re willing to fund it for a while if we see you making an effort to take some ownership. Now, we know that might mean we’ll have to put up with some things that are just a little bit “too young” for us. But we’re willing to do it if you will take some ownership. Young people, you have an incredible opportunity.
Now, all of us need to get “skin in the game,” don’t we? All of us need to make some commitments, to make church life what it ought to be. And you have an opportunity to take a small church that’s wide open to all different kinds of ideas, and make it into what will be necessary to meet your needs, to have you involved, and to meet the needs of those that are your friends and your peers.
If you’d like to learn more, go to the Sermons Page and explore with us in Romans 12, learn a bit about the kinds of commitments that God asks us to make. And let’s ask and answer this question, in relationship to your local body of believers: How will your church impact your life, and how will your life impact your church?
A couple of weeks ago, a group of garden enthusiasts at GreenTree met and discussed expanding and improving our community garden this spring. They envisioned a place where our Winston-Salem friends could gather food for their families. They looked forward to the possibility of making new friends who wanted to help embrace and love our surrounding neighborhoods by digging their fingers in the soil and helping volunteer.
Ely Wakefield, a GreenTree member who’s doing an internship at the Master Garden Volunteer Program of the Forsyth County Cooperative Extension, is heading up this group of gardeners and helpers and setting the pace for the gardening project. Ely introduced to the group the concept of “our garden” by encouraging an anyone-can-garden mentality.
“Everyone can garden,” Ely said. “Children can garden, middle aged people, and older people can help with this garden. A lot of people are busy and work, and they might say, ‘I don’t have time to garden.'” But, Ely asserted that there are numerous ways we can help, even those of us with a lack of abundant time or physical energy.
Imagine children coming to drop seeds into the ground on a work day. Or someone dropping by right after work to do a few minutes of assigned watering. “Mrs. Peggy,” Ely added with a smile, referring to one of our GreenTree folks, “gave me some money for the garden. Zoyia said she was going to buy a rosebush.” Picture a friend bringing a few plants to church on a Sunday morning and handing them to a garden worker. Not only does a little money go a long way, but a little water and a plant sprig will make a new plant for free. Plant propagation, a strange and fancy term for some and a household phrase for others, is something that several GreenTree members are already involved in in preparation for the upcoming planting. Carol is in this propagation process, rooting a Wandering Dew whose branches she snipped about three weeks ago and placed in water. Pretty soon those little snips with new baby tangles of roots will go into the soil at GreenTree.
Tiny acts of sharing, like the gifts mentioned in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12, add up to a complete and multifaceted picture. In this case, a few rumpled, weedy patches of land behind a community building and along the winding paths of trees can become a bright-colored source of nourishment to hungry or busy people stopping by, and a lovely haven where segregated groups can work together in friendship. Sometimes we just need to know someone has open, vulnerable and liberal hands.
The name of this newly-improved, quaint place we’re hoping for? Right now, it’s just GreenTree Garden. That’s the name that’s listed for the time being, under the Forsyth County Gardens of the Cooperative Extension. GreenTree members were encouraged to come up with an agreed-upon name that can reflect the spirit of community and beauty that we’re hoping to show through this project. The chosen name will be announced on Sunday, March 25.
Four different types of gardens will grow on GreenTree’s property. A rain garden will catch the runoff from the gutter in the back of the building. According to information from the Cooperative Extension program, rain gardens are useful for preventing the pickup of pollution as well as beneficial in absorbing nutrients and some metals. What sits in the back of our building at the moment is a dry and cracked patch of earth that becomes a dismal waterhole during damp weather. This area will be filled with water-resistant plants, establishing a pretty and nourishing spot.
We’ll also enjoy a vegetable garden, filled with possibilities such as cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, squash, potatoes, okra, eggplant, greenbeans, melons, onions, and more. A garden for fresh herbs will be a plus for GreenTree cooks as well as neighbors who want to flavor up their meals; and of course, the idea of beauty in sharing would be incomplete without a flower garden. Flowers will garnish the front and sides of the community center and provide its color.
Unlike our activity in the past few years of our community center’s gardening projects, our garden now will be directed with the generous help of the NC Cooperative Extension’s Forsyth County Center. The Community Gardening program has allowed us to receive services in the form of education (such as the Master Gardener classes) and resources such as seeds and plants. For more information about the Forsyth County Cooperative Extension, visit their website at http://www.forsyth.cc/ces.
GreenTree’s first order of business will be Community Garden Cleanup Day on Saturday, March 24, from 9am to 12pm. The cleanup day will be a time of tilling, weeding, digging, sharing, laughing, getting dirty, and pigging out on the free dough-nuts inside GreenTree’s cafe. Who would want to miss out on that?
From time to time, we’d like to include personal stories from some of the members of our spiritual family who want to share what God has done in their lives through GreenTree. This testimonial is from Ben, who has been with us for several years now and who has been a blessing to us here.
After Jesus had mercy on me, and I was reborn by the power of His blood that He chose to shed to redeem me from the debt of my sin, I struggled mightily. I was a shaking nervous wreck. One morning, having no place to be, I sat alone at Panera Bread. A disciple of the Lord had the kindness to ask me if I was OK. I received the grace to swallow my infamous pride and say, “No. I’m not OK.”
This man introduced me to Tim Gross, the pastor of GreenTree. Instantly I knew myself to be in the presence of a man who passed no condemning thought in my direction. He made no mention of my trembling hands. He did not draw any attention to my near-total ignorance of the Bible. Obvious as it was that I would be a labor of love in his effort to disciple me, still he invited me to church that Sunday.
I have never regretted my decision in these last three trying, wonderful years of growth in the Lord’s capable and supremely forgiving hands.
We are a small church—a diverse church. The unofficial elders of the church are there for even the most difficult person, without reproach or recrimination. These people, trained in godliness, know from decades of study and experience that Jesus came to save sinners, and they are sinners too.
The rest of us have issues, too. Sometimes we get frustrated; sometimes we are hypocritical. But when push comes to shove, it is my experience that the Love that dwells within us wins out over the inferior stuff that every human must deal with. As we grow, we are accepting that we don’t have to be perfect: we just have to be forgiven.
Children are not tolerated. They are WELCOMED as an important part of our church. I think we all learn from these little saints, as Jesus told us to do. We have plenty of kids for our size, and a rising youth ministry.
It is an exciting time to join GreenTree. We are working together to reach out into the surrounding neighborhood. Pastor Tim leads a congregation of willing disciples eager to apply God-given skills and talents in this work. From festivals to Bible studies, and informal game nights and such, God is moving as only God can do in the hearts of His beloved creatures.
I was fit for the eternal fire. Now I am living in God’s grace. He loves me so much that He led me to a church that is a second home and family to me. We would love to meet you.
At GreenTree’s first community gathering in our new building, there was a ditch several feet deep beside the piano, a hard concrete floor, and a drafty front door that blew in shivery air every time somebody opened it.
It was our Thanksgiving meal, on a November night in 2008. There was no bold and stylish “GreenTree” lettering on the face of the building. There were no bright daffodils and purple pansies fringing the front in color, no fireplace nestled in the corner, no café tables. No, on that first community meal, there were gray walls smudged with old shop dirt, and a few brown termite tracks climbing halfway up the cinder-block like little vines.
We’d bought the building earlier that fall; and now, on a chilly Sunday night, clusters of us treaded through the grass with steaming casseroles or pies toward the old Yates Aluminum building, like merry Pilgrims about to place a milestone. When we walked in, the entrance was an office section littered with scraps of paper, piles of screws, and drill bits. Replacement windows leaned in piles against the walls; siding samples in different colors shadowed the place; and the big shop-room, where all the tables, food, and chairs waited, was a gray, cool, basement-like place with muddy old pads of insulation at one end and cinder-block on the other sides.
You could say that we were at the end of something—the end of the geographical journey. We felt like the children of Israel, having wandered to an unfamiliar realm; and here we were, talking and laughing and marching up to the door of our haven. We were at the beginning of something too: our relocation and re-naming, the fresh, clean slate of a new era, the era of GreenTree.
When you’re at the end of something and the beginning of something else, you could say that you’re really in the middle. And life has many middles in it.
It’s like a story. Our English teachers always told us that a story was supposed to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The middle usually involves the war, the problem, the waiting, that uncertainty that gives any good narrative depth and drama. When we’re reading a good tale, we enjoy that dark, murky middle. When we’re living our own story, it’s not so much fun.
Why not? The difference amounts to a simple but powerful little word.
Hope is when we’re settled in our soft seats at the movie theater, with a fizzy Pepsi and some buttery popcorn. Hope watches the characters on screen, in their dangerous middle. They’re worried; they’re sad, they’re climbing Mount Doom. But not us, the viewers. We know it’s just a middle. We don’t know what’s going to happen exactly, but we know it’s all going to resolve somehow. And with a buttery crunch and a sparkly sip, we whisper in the dark (with a tiny smile), “Wonder how it’s going to turn out?”
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could treat real life like this? Step outside of it all, look at the losses and betrayals and aggravation and bad news and pain and cock our heads quizzically and ask (with a tiny smile), “Wonder how it’s going to turn out?”
The apostle Paul tells us that we can. That we absolutely can.
“We . . . glory in tribulations,” he says. “Knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
Hope says, “Bring the popcorn and the Coke, and sit awhile. This is only the middle.”
Those of us on that chilly night, in the old Yates Aluminum building we’d bought, could drape the tables with snow-white covers and place on them hot, steamy food surrounded by the iron-cool shop-room air, and be merry about it, because we had hope. In fact, the whole unfinished face of the big dingy room, the echo and the dull grime against the bright chatter of old and new friends, made the whole thing seem only like anticipation.
The GreenTree building did get renovated, into an inviting place with huggy warm-green walls, cozy corners, crisp lights and smooth edges. And we’re in some kind of middle again. GreenTree is; I am; you are; there is always a middle somewhere. Dare we ask, with a timid trust in the Writer of our stories, “I wonder how it’s going to turn out? I wonder what He’s about to teach me? I wonder what surprising magic will sail in by the very waters of this sinister thing that is flooding our world?
If we dare ask, the Wisdom of the Ages may teach GreenTree, and you, and me, to settle for a bit, make lemonade out of the proverbial lemons, get out our paper and pens, write down the lessons, watch the story. Watch and pray.
And I wonder how it will turn out.
Always, always for good, He whispers, with a grin. The most complete, wonderful, delicious meaning of the word good. That’s the Story Maker Whose name is also Love.
“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:5 NKJ)
Discipleship is the passion of GreenTree and our goal for the New Year. Are we even sure what it means? It’s a word that sometimes sounds boring, always sounds theological, and is in danger of making us wince.
When Jesus tells us that His commands are not burdensome, we humans strain over weighty church-words that don’t seem to have anything to do with us, and we scratch our heads. We do feel burdened, and we sometimes wonder what Jesus meant with the yoke-is-easy thing and the abundant-life stuff.
A few days ago I was looking at cute Winnie the Pooh pictures in my daughter’s collection by A. A. Milne, and I chuckled at myself, and my grown-up plans and adult stresses. Here are a bunch of little talking animals in the Forest that have more sense than I do. They even do discipleship, but they aren’t bogged down with check-lists and guilt trips. This lovely story, told by a father to his son, gives me a picture of the D-word that changes everything.
All the animals in the forest are simple, with a child’s crude understanding of how things are supposed to work in their world. Rabbit manages to keep an image of having his wits together but can’t always feel completely generous; Owl, sitting high up in his tree house and offering wisdom to the animals who pass by, doesn’t know how to spell; and Pooh himself, ever-ready for adventure and ever-hungry for honey, lives under the identity that makes him perhaps the lowliest of them all: “Bear of Very Little Brain.”
But this little bear, for all his slowness of brain, has a Friend who lifts him up to the highest stair of his love and esteem. That Friend is a human boy named Christopher Robin. He’s the son in the beginning of the book who listens to his father tell the story of all the animals, and he’s also the boy inside the story, sharing in each part.
The presence of Christopher Robin is felt in a quiet way everywhere. He’s the sort of Big Brother of the forest. The door signs and notices among the homes in the woods show his handwriting. It’s Christopher Robin who comes to the Six Pine Trees and helps in the search for the lost Pooh, Piglet, and Rabbit. And in the very first chapter of the book, it’s Christopher Robin whom Pooh goes to for help when his lust for honey lands him in the gorse-bush. That honey-hunger always makes Pooh’s tummy too pudgy and gets him into all sorts of messes. From the very first, Pooh sees a bunch of bees in a tree, climbs straight up, cracks a branch, and crashes more than sixty feet into a prickly bush.
Pooh says, “It all comes of liking honey so much. Oh, help!” And naturally he goes to Christopher Robin’s house.
Pooh’s Friend and Guide throws no accusing stones, gives him no outline to follow for fixing his silly behavior. When Pooh asks Christopher Robin for a blue balloon with which to disguise himself and float up to the honey-laden tree, Christopher Robin asks Pooh, “Wouldn’t they notice you underneath the balloon?” but gives Pooh the balloon anyway.
The boy watches, and smiles, and encourages, while Pooh reasons and figures with his little mind and then rolls himself in the black mud so that he can pretend to be a dark cloud under the sky-colored balloon. Of course, the bees start stinging poor Pooh and he needs help getting down. Christopher Robin laughs in his heart, muttering, “Silly old Bear!”
But he loves Pooh, through all Pooh’s proud songs and falls and scratches and honey-searches and his crashes into holes. Pooh is cute and lovable and important, for one reason: he glows from the light reflected in the boy’s loving eyes.
Those of us who have accepted the gift of God’s Son are being discipled at this very moment, by One much greater than any Christopher Robin. He sits outside our little world, there with his Father who wrote our history, talking together about us, chuckling over us, holding us. He lives, too, inside our stories, always ready to help, letting us try and fail and picking us up when we land into a thorn-bush. Sometimes he waits for us to run to the other end of the forest to find him; and he is there. Many times he shows up alongside us as we are hurling pine cones at each other or trying to figure out what to do about our problems. Always he teaches us. Never does he leave us. Forever he is patient with us.
So, while we’re trying to figure out whether to camp on Jesus’ command to “Go into all the world and make disciples” and take on this elusive Discipleship Project, we might not realize that we’re part of it, already. The Teacher is here, with us, in our own Hundred Acre Wood. In the end, it’s not some project. It’s just life. The life he shares with us, and the love he teaches us to give as we share with each other, learn together, and bumble through the forest on each new adventure. The D-word is as important as life itself. The call from Jesus is real. The practice is hard work, but simple, as natural as breathing and having children. The reward is life, and love. The Example is the One who wrote history and lives within it. We can just ask Pooh, and Rabbit, and Piglet. They’ll get Christopher Robin and help us go and catch a Heffalump, and we’ll receive much, much more.