Mennonites love good food and good company, and Harrisonburg Mennonite Church (HMC) is no exception. For the last three years at HMC, a gardening initiative created by Anne Nielsen and pastor Mark Keller has been combining the best elements of the two: tasty vegetables, and a welcoming, open community.
The HMC gardening project began in 2009, with sixteen small plots available for gardening. Since then, the project has significantly expanded, and the church now boasts 42 individual gardens. The project attracts gardeners from HMC, other churches in the area, and the community at large. Mark Keller says that the garden helps to create a strong community, and churchgoers, community members, and occasional passersby often gather at the garden for impromptu conversations. “A lot of interaction goes on,” he says. “It’s kind of like when you’re walking down the street with a baby or a dog. People feel comfortable talking to you.”
The community-building doesn’t stop with informal conversations, though. A number of the newer gardeners are members of a Spanish-speaking church that meets on Saturday nights in the HMC building. Mostly Honduran, members range from established community members to recent immigrants, and the garden has offered a rare space for English and Spanish-speaking churchgoers to welcome each other into their respective communities. The gardeners have even taken it upon themselves to organize their own get-togethers and dinners, and Wednesday evenings have been set aside for potluck meals made by members of the HMC garden.
Mark Keller says that the garden is a lived example of HMC’s belief in creation care and community interaction. “It causes people to increasingly feel welcome,” he says. Harrisonburg Mennonite has historically been a church that attempts to remain aware of and responsive to the issues surrounding them, and Mark sees the garden as a way for the church to stay true to its values of community and openness while still nourishing the planet. He, and others with him, see the community gardening project as a fine example of faith and belief made relevant.
HMC’s other creation care projects include a meditation trail and walking path.