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Parish Gardens in the Garden State Preach Louder than Words


StJohnGardenSt. Francis is credited with saying, “When you preach, use words only if necessary”—in more general terms, “Actions speak louder than words.’’
 
A year ago Pope Francis gave us his extraordinary letter Laudato Si’—Care of Creation. Three parishes that I know have taken that letter and creatively shared its spirit in extraordinary ways not only in their parishes, but beyond. One specific project they all have in common is that they use God’s gift of gardens to enrich parish life and help others.
 
These parish gardens provide fresh produce to soup kitchens in Rockland County, N.Y.; the South Bronx; and Bergen, and Union counties and East Brunswick, all in New Jersey.
 
The Catholic Community of St. John Neumann, in rural Califon, N.J., has had a parish community garden for 10 years and expanded it this year in response to Laudato Si’. The parish invited those who use the parish food pantry to claim a raised bed in the garden and learn to grow their own food. Not only has this garden filled a practical purpose, but also a more important spiritual one. Parishioners who had left the church have returned, and local Protestant churches have provided volunteer gardeners. A college ministry, youth groups, and passers-by have all gotten involved. “It has become an evangelization opportunity,” says Ann Geronimo, who heads the project.
 

 
In the classic suburban town Upper Saddle River, the Church of the Presentation has nurtured small faith-sharing groups for the past 30 years. Their garden at Presentation was created by the St. Francis Ministry as an educational and social-justice outreach. Garden teams are responsible for various crops and activities; the entire parish is invited to bring compost materials with them to Mass on Sundays and visit the garden. Children attending Bible Vacation Camp planted their own raised bed; in spring, when the plants are sprouting from seed, they are presented at Sunday Mass and blessed. In the fall when the harvest is plentiful, the crops are again presented at Mass.
 
Presentation_GardenThe garden provides for the parish’s own food pantry as well as ones in Newark; Rockland County, N.Y. and the South Bronx. Garden tours, educational classes, and connections and imagery in the Sunday homilies, all reinforce why and how to “Care for Creation.” The parish has also installed five bee hives and has a bee keeper to care for them.
 
In a busy commuter town, Holy Trinity Parish in Westfield, N.J., initiated small faith-sharing groups this past Lent and used Creation at the Crossroads, a RENEW International publication, as the resource. Over one hundred people met in small groups during Lent and reflected on the Scripture and the pope’s letter. As a result, each group came up with a project that was presented on a weekend to the entire parish at hospitality hour in the parish center. The parishioners voted using green stickers.
 
As a result, this October the groups will launch an Environmental Awareness and Action effort. The first priority is to work with Catholic Relief Services and raise awareness and funds for a water project in Ethiopia where water is scarce or non-existent, especially for those who are poor. Each Sunday in October, the groups will focus on involving young parishioners who are in the religious education program and youth ministry. They will install water fountains that allow parishioners to refill reusable water bottles (which the groups will sell as a fund raiser); develop a parish meditation garden; support the food pantry in new ways and have those who volunteer at the food pantry read and reflect on the section of Creation at the Crossroads that deals with food scarcity in the world.
 
When God had created the world, he said to the first human beings, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food” (Gen 1:29-30). God made clear two things—that the food we harvest is for all people and that it provides nourishment. These parishes are cooperating in that work with their own gardens, making sure that even those people without food are fed, because they too are God’s beloved creatures, and that they are nourished by it. Even further, in these parishes both the harvesters and the reapers are enriched spiritually through giving and fellowship.
 
All three of these parishes are connecting faith with action, involving all generations, reaching out to the least among us, educating the next generation, and bringing it all to the Sunday Eucharist where we are given food for our life’s journey.
 
Sister Honora is the Assistant Director and Director of Development at RENEW and a Dominican Sister of Amityville, NY.

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