It’s 7:30am, Saturday morning. An old, beat-up Subaru covered in stickers pulls up to the gate at the Interfaith food pantry. Out steps a bushy-bearded man, covered in tattoos. This is Jody, the pastor at Church in the Garden. He unlocks the gate while greeting those whom have wandered their way over, slowly filing in as the gate is opened for them.
A small crew of men and women begin to show up. Kenny and Johnny immediately get to work, pulling tables and chairs out from the church trailer, along with other supplies. Kimberly and Sandy begin to prepare communion, gather prayer request cards & pens to place on each table, and stack plates, cups, and utensils for breakfast fellowship. Mel lugs the large cooler of fresh-brewed coffee over to one of the tables, a necessity for the weary wanderers and these Saturday morning servants alike.
As the morning moves on, many others find their way through the gate. A few other vehicles pull in and people come forth, bearing casserole dishes filled with hot food, fresh fruit, and juice. And as the sunlight begins to peer through the branches of the old oak tree, the grounds across from the food pantry come to life with activity. Children begin to play, kicking around a soccer ball. Musicians take the stage and play a melody that invites the crowd into song. A meal is served and shared among everyone. For a moment, we catch a glimpse of what heaven might be like: the rich and poor, gathered together in rest, in worship, and in fellowship with each other.
It may not seem like much, but to the many who come to Church in the Garden, it is a place where hope grows. For those who faithfully come each early Saturday morning to serve and for those who come to rest. For those who come to worship and receive teaching from God’s word and for those who come for a hot meal and a little people watching. Church in the Garden is a place where one can drop the pretense, drop the shame, and experience something that this world many times runs short on: hope. It is a place where the love of God is encountered and expressed. A shared experience of giving, receiving, serving one another.
It is a place where dignity is restored, and not only for the wanderer, but for the many who come, crawling out of their warm beds that morning; a reminder that dignity is not found in our skills, our professions, not in what we own, but in relationship with the Lord. Although easy for us all to settle in a sense of pride and accomplishment based on the work of our hands alone, we are invited to see that God’s intention was not for our labor and property to be used as measures of our worth. In the garden, for a moment, it is this that we are invited to wonder about, among those who have nothing of their own. There is a sense of humility and honor that we all can experience at the foot of the old oak, at the foot of the cross of Christ.