Abundant Life UMC Facilitating New Multi-Ethnic Connections
The revitalization of a community garden is resulting in a fruitful outreach and harvest of new relationships.
Some of the most important discoveries have started with a sketch on a napkin over lunch. The latest mission field initiative of one church in Lufkin started with a conversation over lunch as well. The music director and a choir member of St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church and Rev. David Briggs of Abundant Life UMC connected one day to get to know one another better. “Music Director Greg Simmons was very candid in stating that the Episcopal Church was very white and he wanted the church to fellowship with a church of a different race,” shares David. “Since our membership is primarily African American, I quickly agreed to plan a get-together.”
He adds, “We scheduled a Wednesday fellowship between the two churches the following month at St. Cyprian’s. Both congregations were excited to be with one another and the turnout exceeded each of our expectations. After two fellowship gatherings, we decided to deepen our relationship through a shared community mission project. After thoughtful consideration, we decided to partner to revive our community garden located in the heart of a predominantly African American and Hispanic community.”
To bring the two congregations on board, church leaders held the third fellowship outdoors next to a freshly tilled, two-acre garden. “Amidst a backdrop of fertile soil,” David shares, “we announced our desire to cultivate the largest community garden in Lufkin and share its produce with the surrounding community. Both congregations were excited and eager to get started.”
Greg and David decided to appoint two people from each church as the steering team to maintain the garden on a day-to-day basis. “We chose experienced gardeners that know how to drive a tractor,” he adds. The team let Greg and David know when to plant, what to plant, and when to harvest. Likewise, Greg and David shared the information with their respective congregations.
“We framed the goal of our work around growing closer together as brothers and sisters in Christ and to be a witness of God’s love and grace in the community,” he says, adding, “and as a result, we agreed to do everything together.”
The first challenge the organizers faced was figuring out how to get the surrounding community involved. Admits David, “After all, it was a community garden but it felt more like a church garden. After another brainstorm meeting over lunch, we decided the practical thing to do was to organize a community walk-through. We went from house to house, inviting our neighbors to help us maintain and harvest the garden. In return, they would be entitled to as much produce as they wanted. If they were not physically able to help, we would bring the produce to them.”
Pastor David connected with a kind woman who had lived across from the community garden for 40 years. She was enthusiastic about what the churches were doing. “Since she knew almost everyone on every block. When I asked her to put together a list of addresses of people she thought would benefit from the garden, she gave me a list of over 200 addresses,” he shares
Leaders took this plan back to their respective congregations where it was received with excitement. Over 65 people from Abundant Life UMC and St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church were soon walking throughout the neighborhood and recruiting another 60 volunteers and recipients to be a part of the garden.
“For me, the community garden is a means to reconnect with the community. Everyone appreciates fresh food, and I know God is pleased with the work we are doing to show the love and grace of Jesus Christ,” says Abundant Life member Vincent James. St. Cyprian’s member Lynell Stover adds, “Working in the community garden is rewarding because we are working together as a family to harvest fresh food for those in need, as well as ourselves. God is definitely at work here.”
David reports that the garden is growing quickly and the harvest is done together “with the community by our side.” The churches are planning additional fellowships and growing closer together as believers in Christ. Adds David, “The community garden has brightened our witness in the community and has made others curious about how we live, serve, and fellowship together.”
An Added Bonus
This exciting community development brought the church great publicity on the local news:
Members of two Lufkin churches harvest community garden crop to give to people in need
“I enjoy working in the Community garden because it helps to provide nutritious food to people who need it, but more than that, because we are bringing together people from different parts of the community and building new friendships. There is no better way to do that than by working together in a field, picking vegetables in the heat of the day,” says Bernard Hylands, St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church, one of the project initiators. Martha Williams is an appreciative beneficiary of this new endeavor. “I’m not physically able to work in the garden but I greatly appreciate my Abundant Life church family for what they are doing. I thank God for them.”
Abundant Life leaders are happy to help other churches start a similar outreach. The church shares its heartwarming story of a multi-ethnic, multi-denomination partnership on video here.