New Garden Makes Connections
Not long ago, neighborhood folks thought Church of the Master was closed. Now, however, it's hard to miss the signs of life.
"When I first moved here, one of the neighbors said to me, 'Oh, I thought that church was closed," says Paul Bakker. "And a month after that, a realtor wanted to know if we wanted to sell the property. It was very little happening, very little community and neighborhood involvement."
But the church--located in Warren, Michigan--is changing its tack.
The small congregation, with Bakker as its redevelopment pastor, has a new vision to get into the community and make connections. And they're getting the ball rolling with a community garden.
This year, a portion of the church's 4.5 acres has been built into a raised-bed community garden with help from Home Depot.
The company, which encourages its stores to do service projects in their communities, connected with Bakker through the city's community development coordinator, whom he'd been in contact with about the possibility of a garden. Their plans had been put on hold due to a lack of funding--until Home Depot called.
"The Team Depot leader that called up this woman happened to be a master gardener himself, so she suggested this project, and he came down, designed it, and put in a grant application for it. Home Depot gave us $7,000, and then they showed up with 40 to 50 people and built the whole thing," Bakker says.
"There are 25 raised beds, each four feet by 10 feet. They built it all. The idea was to make it accessible for people with mobility issues, older people, and so on. Some of them have a little bench so you can sit down while you're working.
"They built two big picnic tables, some flower boxes; there will be butterfly gardens there. The city provided all the soil and sand for free, so we didn't need to use the grant money for that." After the initial build, the church had $2,300 left over for supplies or to expand the garden in the future.
Half of the garden's produce will be distributed through Interfaith Volunteer Care Givers, which works with seniors and people with disabilities, providing small services that allow them to stay in their homes.
"There are seniors in our community who dumpster-dive for food, so that's really been the motivation to share the produce with needy seniors who simply can't do it anymore on their own," he says.
The garden is the product of many partnerships. In addition to Home Depot and Interfaith Volunteer Care Givers, Church of the Master has gotten help from Warren Community Gardens and Retired Senior Volunteers.
"We view it as a community project. It's on our property, but built and maintained to bless the community," Bakker says.
The garden, Bakker says, has been "a big part of our revitalization.
"It's a good way to get outside our doors and build those connections and build relationships, and create some buzz.
"We are a small church. When I came here, our worship attendance was maybe 35 to 40 people, mainly seniors. And this is a big step outside of their own comfort zones, their own practice, and even the understanding of what it means to be church.
"I always think of the church as an organization that exists for the people who don't belong to it. I think people are beginning to see how that is something that can be done here.
"Where we are here in Warren, we have an awful lot of people in our neighborhood who are 40, 50, and up. One of the biggest issues is loneliness and lack of connection between people in the community. We envision this as a way of breaking through that, seeing some doors open."
"They didn't teach me this in seminary," Bakker says. "I am not a gardener. I don't know how to take care of the compost heap." His inexperience has opened his eyes to God's provision.
"We see God's hand through this whole project. Everything that we've needed has just come up right when we've needed it." Bakker cites the volunteers, community partnerships, the grant from Home Depot, and the master gardener who has shared his expertise.
"When we did the planting, more than half of the people were not members of our church, but were members of other organizations that we're partnering with. Most of us showed up, and we don't know what we're doing. But Gene knew exactly, and here's how you plant this, here's how you plant that, this has to be so far apart. He is excited about being part of it."
Church of the Master doesn't plan to stop here. "Our dream is not just to have a community garden, but to use our acres as a neighborhood gathering place. We want to put up some volleyball nets, horseshoe pits, a large tent. We're talking with the Warren Community Soccer league about the possibility of using some of the space for soccer fields.
"This is part of the effort to get into the community, serve the community, provide in whatever way we can a blessing to the community."
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