Caring for Creation & Community: The Sugar Grove Garden

June 09, 2008

Kevin Mays, pastor of Sugar Grove UMC (Bowling Green District), tells about several new projects started by the church’s youth.

Our youth have planted a garden, the purpose of which is to grow food for our new food pantry to feed the poor in Butler County. This stemmed from conversations and studies on developing a greater Kingdom-view of the world, versus the “it’s all about me” view that is all too prevalent in the world. And as the overall body at Sugar Grove has been developing, we have been led to find a way in which we can more effectively reach out into the community. 
This garden idea has so many implications and possibilities. This year’s “pilot” is to try our hand at gardening in a local community park which offers garden plots, but our goal next year is to have several garden plots in the field across the street from our church. We would give some free plots to our community so that they may have access to grow their own garden, and Sugar Grove would plant some plots with the intent to distribute what we grow to the needy through our new food pantry.
Our children, through the skillful guidance of my wife, are learning about God and His desire to see us care for His creation. They get to help grow fun things like watermelons and pumpkins and play in the dirt. The older youth and I are doing the bulk of the gardening work, but they have also been tasked with coming up with a distribution system for the food pantry: who qualifies, how we will distribute the food, what else we will distribute, etc. They get to write the business plan for this new venture. 
Some of our older members will be teaching classes on how to can and preserve fruits and vegetables, so they will be contributing to this by helping teach others how to lengthen the lifespan of fresh food. 
This program has the potential to include and involve every age level in our church, and that’s what has me so excited. Something that doesn’t isolate or exclude any one age group and also benefits the underserved can only be in harmony with God’s will. 
The changes in our body have amazed me, as we’ve focused on our role as Christians in caring for the environment. Because of our youth leading the way with the garden, I decided to do a sermon series on Creation Care. I worried how this message may be perceived, but was floored when one of our older members took it upon herself to buy real plates and glasses so that we could stop using Styrofoam plates and cups in our fellowship meals. She considers washing the dishes as her ministry, every bit as serving as Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Another member has started saving the plastic bottles that she used to simply throw away and now brings them to the church for recycling. We’ve cut down on the size of our bulletin to a single, double-sided piece of recycled paper, and we serve fair trade coffee purchased from our Equal Exchange partnership through UMCOR.

The Sugar Grove youth group have also started making and selling rain barrels in order to generate funding for the food pantry. After last year’s drought, it became evident just how limited our natural resources are and our recent Creation Care sermon series raised awareness as to how we can make simple changes in our lifestyle that will greatly benefit this earth. Collecting the rainfall from our roofs and using the water in our garden is an easy way to help conserve and better use water. I’m even using one as my podium!
Another initiative involving our youth is our new “Park & Ride” carpooling ministry, where we coordinate commuter groups of people who live in Butler County and drive to Bowling Green for work. A round trip commute costs about $250 in gas every month (and will be more if gas prices continue to climb!), plus spews unnecessary carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide emissions into our environment. We match up carpoolers and invite them to leave their cars in our parking lot, where we give them free coffee on Tuesdays and will even wash their car for them while they are at work. An added bonus for single moms is that we will change their oil as well.
Sugar Grove has decided that God is Green, and that as followers of Christ, we should be also!