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As the garden grows at New Life UMC, so does its community involvement

As the garden grows at New Life UMC, so does its community involvement

Fill The Table Missions and Outreach

Rev. Dr. Latricia Scriven had ambitious plans when she was named the pastor of New Life UMC in Tallahassee in 2019.

In many ways, it was a dream assignment for her. When she was a math professor at Florida A&M University and Pastor/Director at FAMU Wesley, she became a member and considered it a great fortune to be assigned to serve there as an ordained minister.

But then … yeah, you know. Along came COVID-19, and plans had to be adjusted in the face of Florida's new reality.

The key word, though, is "adjusted" – not abandoned.

And thus was born the church's community garden. Armed with a $1,000 grant from Leon County, an idea became a reality.

"Just before COVID hit, one of the members came and thought it would be great to do something like that," she said. "And I thought, yeah, that would be so cool. We have a fenced-in area about the size where you could park a passenger van. It's not a huge area, but it was a good place to start."

In March of this year, seeds went into the ground.

Tomatoes in the garden.

Think of the parable of the mustard seed if you wish because big things began to grow in that small space.

Members planted different varieties of tomatoes, basil, okra, peppers, and other vegetables as a gift to the surrounding community. But the full impact of the garden didn't hit until around Easter this year.

"We had a big Easter egg hunt planned for the kids, along with a lot of other things," she said.

She wanted to share that with the community, so directed an assistant to get on his bike, go forth into the neighborhood, and invite all the kids and families he could find to come, celebrate, and enjoy. An amazing thing happened.

New people who had never been on the church campus showed up and relished in the hospitality of believers. It was a powerful witness and brought in some new attendees to worship.

But that's not all.

Many churches struggle to attract young people, but the garden proved to be a catalyst for that growth at New Life.

"We utilize our children and youth, and they've been a big part of the planting," Pastor Scriven said. "That's probably the greatest thing about it because our children and youth were involved from the start.

Making the garden grow.

"They planted the things. Our youth leaders had Creation Care lessons with them, and they were able to water it and watch it grow."

And in a pandemic, the church grew as well.

Members had hoped to celebrate the garden with a love feast of sorts, a community dinner where people could gather and dine on the products from the garden. However, COVID-19s unrelenting presence forced another adjustment.

Members held a back-to-school backpack giveaway and invited visitors to go into the garden and pick some food while they were there.

It worked.

"Our symbol for New Life is a tree. My thought has always been that a tree does not produce just for itself. When a tree produces flowers or fruit, or just its leaves, other things come and find their nest. A tree doesn't eat its own fruit," Pastor Scriven said.

"So, how do we grow and not keep things on the inside, but understand that this is for someone else. It's experiencing God in a mysterious way through a pepper that was grown right outside."

Oh, about that growth …

That small area where the garden originally was placed may soon evolve into something bigger.

"We're already looking at ways to expand it to the other side of the property," she said.

"I have been amazed at the way the Spirit has worked in us to be the church in new and innovative ways during this pandemic. We don't want to put new wine in old wineskins. We're always asking, how can we be the church?"

And God keeps answering.

Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for

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