During a visit to his home in spring, 2013, Ron Mooneyhan handed me a newspaper article about a church garden. I got bushwhacked. I thought I had come to do a pastoral visit and watch a little NASCAR on a Sunday afternoon. “We could do this garden at your house,” he said. His wife, Beth, and sister-in-law, Trudy, had already softened me up with an ice cold Coca-Cola and a spot in front of the big screen in a comfortable recliner.
Every Sunday most churches pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Have you checked the price of bread lately? In Tennessee’s Cocke County, the number of people living at/or below poverty rate hovers around 28%. Seventy-eight percent of the schoolchildren qualify for free or reduced breakfast and lunch, and during 2014-15, the schools are providing 100% of its students with free breakfast and lunch. Ministries such as The Bread Basket and Feed My Sheep live on the edge with donations and food.
Cocke County is also the home of the Lutheran Churches of the Parrottsville Parish — a two-point parish consisting of Luther Memorial and Salem Lutheran Churches.
Salem was given land decades ago. One former pastor’s goats got loose and entered the church one Sunday morning in the days before air-conditioning when the doors were left open. Another pastor grew tomatoes. Members have leased some of the land to grow corn and tobacco. But for the past 15 years or so, Salem’s 28 acres have been leased by local farmers for hay. The parsonage sits on this land–a total of 65 acres of pasture and woodlands.
“We could do this garden at your house” has a whole different meaning to a recently retired navy chaplain. I was thinking of a small plot, a tiller and a hoe. After the first meeting of the farm team under Ron’s direction (now the largest committee in the church), I was actually advocating a slow approach: be successful and start small.
God gave us the land and the farmers in our churches and people who volunteer at local food ministries. All I could provide was enthusiasm, a strong back and a lot of prayer. Two acres were laid out, plowed and prepped for planting in the spring of 2014. A sign, designed by youth member, Erin McLaughlin, went up letting the community know what was happening. A ministry of prayer that literally walked and drove circles around the garden was sprouted from the video series, “Circle Makers.”
One caveat was adopted: “Give it all away–to food ministries and shut-ins. God sent us verses from Isaiah: “Is not this the fast that I choose.. Is it not to share your bread with the hungry … then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard” (58:6a, 7a, and 8).
“You give it all away?” People would ask in puzzlement.
We raised 4,600 pound of sweet potatoes, 4,400 pounds of Irish potatoes, 550 dozen ears of sweet corn, 59 bushels of green beans, and 30 bushels of assorted okra, yellow squash, and cucumbers. Nearly 30 people volunteered, including Cocke County High School FFA members.
We prayed for rain and then for it to stop raining. We prayed to keep deer, raccoon, insects and all other varmints out. We prayed for crops to grow and weeds to die. We prayed in thanksgiving when a farmer in Raleigh, NC., donated 3,000 sweet potato plants. We prayed in thanksgiving long before the harvest.
We gave it away, with Salem’s members growing and Luther Memorial’s members volunteering at the Bread Basket to distribute the produce. Along the way, people slowed their cars as they passed the plot and noticed.
In a violent evening of thunderstorms and tornadoes the entire corn crop was blown over. But in God’s timing the corn was scheduled to be harvested the next day, so members simply waded into the wet ground and picked.
A passer-bay, who had only seen us staring at the devastation before we started picking, was moved to act. the next day two cases of canned corn were found on the church steps with the following handwritten note:
“I pass by your church every day and I have watched you love for Crist in you love for others grow in your garden. After the storm the other night try to dampin that love, my walk with Christ has been up and down. But some times you can’t help and say why Lord. But if you lisen close enought he wil tell you and he told me and I thank him for the opertunaty. Love a brother in Christ.”
Plans have been made for 2015 and beyond. Already apple and peach trees have been planted for future harvests. A colony of bees has been added to the property thanks to Robert Wilhoit who keeps bees. Laying chickens free range parts of the property with more than 100 dozen eggs donated in 2014 and 500 dozen expected in 2015.
For 105 years, Salem and Luther Memorial have formed a two-point parish that is now growing–not only food, but in membership. We pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” and God has given us the opportunity to answer this prayer for others.
(Reprint of article written by Pastor Pat McLaughlin about the 2014 garden project of the Parrottsvile Lutherans.)
To see the photos and the printed article please click this link: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZWxjYS1zZXMub3JnfGVsY2F8Z3g6NjQ2MTExN2ZmZWRkMmFlZg