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People Dig Church-Sponsored Community Garden

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Community Garden Manager Lisa Lemza

The Senior Warden of the Vestry at Grace Episcopal Church met me wearing boots and a rain slicker at the  community garden still soggy from a morning rain shower.  She’d been greeting people from the neighborhood at the annual plant sale, and she was a few minutes away from teaching a gardening class.  I wanted to ask her about the neat, numbered, raised garden beds that her church rents out for $20 a year.

Vestry Warden Lisa Lemza explained that the church wants to include anyone in the surrounding Brainerd neighborhood of Chattanooga who is willing to tend their own garden.  She teaches classes and is available to answer questions, since she is also a Master Gardener and manager of the community garden.  But if you don’t keep your garden spot tidy, Lemza said you could lose your planting bed to the next person on the waiting list. “We want to keep the garden beautiful.  A garden shouldn’t just be functional.  It should always be beautiful.  It should be a place of peace, serenity, repose, escape, it’s what the natural world offers us even in tame and urbanized settings.”

The raised beds are built from composite board in order to last longer than wood.  Central to the garden is a neat trio of composting bins complete with user-friendly signs.  The garden also features blackberry bushes and vines such as muscadine.  Nearby is the pavilion with a living roof growing with plants, where the free classes take place.  The community garden is both a missional and educational component of the church’s GreenFaith efforts to live out faith through environmental stewardship.  The Reverend Susan J. Butler explained that the garden and related efforts are
ways to live out scriptural lessons, “We’re learning every day from the process of what it means to be incarnational ministers, what it means to reflect what Jesus taught us; you actually have to do it, not just talk about it.”

When I asked her why a community garden is a good thing for a church to host, Lemza answered in her own down-to-earth style, ““It’s our job to take care of the earth, it’s what we’re here for and an ethic we’ve been ignoring for the last 100 years.  Those chickens are coming home to roost pretty hard right now.  Stewardship is a recurring theme throughout all biblical interpretation that’s worth a hoot. So it’s our job to take care of the earth, it’s our job to pass on to our children and grandchildren a world that’s better than the one we’ve received, not one that’s been decimated and saw the juice sucked out and tossed a cinder to our grandchildren — that’s an abomination.”

The Rev. Susan J. Butler
Grace Episcopal Church in Chattanooga

The community garden is one of many components that Grace planted while achieving its GreenFaith certification that was recently awarded in 2013.  Certification was a two-year process.  GreenFaith team leader Marion Pound is also motivated to not only do good works but to share her faith through these programs.  “If our spirituality doesn’t lead us to care for the earth and to care about being more responsible and living more simply and thinking about the people downstream from our choices, if that’s not a part of our faith, I think our faith is incomplete somehow.”

Tomorrow:  what worked for this church and how yours could get started with a GreenFaith program 
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