Today, in the early August morning, I pulled weeds in a garden. You might notice that I said “a” garden, not “the” garden. To be most accurate, I should say that I pulled weeds in “OUR” garden. To be even more clear, the garden in question does not belong to me or to my biological family. The garden belongs to the community.
Community gardens have been springing up around the country for the last several years. Recently, University United Methodist Church (UUMC) was able to establish a community garden in Chapel Hill due to the church’s purchase of property on Umstead Road. The Umstead family, many of whom have been and are members of UUMC, offered the land to the church at a price that the church could attain through prayer, God’s grace, and the generosity of the church family.
One of the first things the church did with the newly-purchased property was to establish a garden. While mainly church folks hoe, weed, plant, water, and harvest, the bounty of the garden is given to members of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community. All produce harvested from the garden is given to TABLE or to other local hunger relief non-profit agencies such as the Interfaith Council for Social Service.
UUMC’s garden, the newly-named “Giving Garden,” is a garden for and with the community. While I was pulling crabgrass, a neighbor walked by with her dog. Helen, one of the gardeners, walked over and had a nice chat with her about the garden. Not long after that impromptu sidewalk visit, a young man sporting a hard hat walked up the short rise to the garden. We garden workers were enjoying a break under the shade of the trees, and Ann–the garden director–went over to speak with him. Maybe some utility work was going to start nearby, I wondered, and he needed to notify us for safety reasons.
Turns out that this young man and his co-worker were taking down some trees nearby and chipping them in preparation for dumping them. Our visitor wondered if we would like to have the mulch. We would receive fresh mulch and the work crew would not have to haul the mulch to the landfill or pay dumping fees. “Yes!” answered Ann. In short order, two dump truck loads of freshly-chipped hardwood mulch were brought to the garden and dumped on site. For free.
The young men left the Giving Garden with an empty dump truck and hands full of garden- grown mini watermelon, and freshly-picked jalapeno peppers.
Theologian Miroslav Volf writes, Every gift breaks the barrier between the sacred and the mundane and floods the mundane with the sacred. When a gift is given, life becomes extraordinary because God’s own gift giving flows through the giver. (Volf, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, p. 54)
Today, in the sunlight of an August morning, the acts of chipping trees, mulching, weeding, and harvesting were transformed before my eyes in to sacred work. In giving the gift of my time and my labor, I received a far greater gift than I could have ever expected because of The Divine Giver of all good things.