Born from the pandemic—something new!

“When I was a child, I had the cutest yellow dress made out of a flour sack,” Barbara Smith shared with her pastor, Vern Kinard, “and although we had many sack clothes growing up…we never had to worry about food because we lived in this community. That’s how it should be and that’s how we hope it stays.” Pastor Vern Kinard serves as the pastor at St. Luke’s in the rural community of Tyro, in Davidson County. He shared, “St. Luke’s has a passion for feeding people. We gather every Wednesday, year-round, for a potluck dinner that’s open to all. At least we did until earlier this year when the realities of COVID-19 forced us to no longer gather in our building.”

After several weeks of stay-at-home orders, food insecurity caused by the pandemic rose and the increased needs of local food pantries became apparent. That need combined with the call to love our neighbors sparked an idea for the synod’s Silver Valley Conference which has a strong group of pastoral colleagues with a desire to get outside the walls of the church. That’s when the ministry of a community garden began to take root. Six churches—Beck’s, First, and The Arbor, all Lexington; Our Saviour’s, Welcome; Grace, Thomasville; and St. Luke’s, Tyro—joined efforts and “The Vine” community garden took on a life of its own on St. Luke’s property.

With the help of several local commercial farmers, the ground was turned, cultivated, tilled and readied for planting tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, squash, zucchini, sweet peppers, bell peppers, green beans and corn along with pollinators (flowers).  There’s a job for anyone and everyone, ages two to 102, at “The Vine.” Volunteers from the churches and the community water and weed the garden daily as needed; some come for “dirt therapy” to help relieve anxiety. Volunteers also pick the veggies and wipe or wash them; others deliver the clean, fresh vegetables to five area food pantries for distribution to neighbors in need of healthy, fresh food options.

As of July 9, “The Vine” had provided 570 pounds of fresh veggies with more being harvested each day and shared with five area food pantries, including the one at Christ’s Beloved Community (an ELCA-Episcopal mission of the NC Synod) in Winston-Salem. Pastor Vern shared, “It’s exciting for our volunteers to deliver the veggies to the local food pantries. The pantries are getting to know us and are thrilled to see us come with the fresh produce to share with their clients.” Pastor Cassie Overcash (Grace, Thomasville) also shared, “The vine has produced almost 1000 pounds of produce in just a few months. Our local food pantry CCM was able to get a fresh produce box. It’s been amazing to see seven congregations work together to support five food pantries!”

Not only is “The Vine” feeding the community, it’s being used as a teaching tool. From the beginning, signs were made and placed throughout the garden for educational purposes. People have used it as an opportunity to teach their children, grandchildren, and some adults about planting, gardening, and food sources. On a recent Sunday, when the Gospel text was The Parable of the Sower, Pastor Andrea Bates took the children from Our Saviour’s, Welcome, and Wittenberg, Granite Quarry, on a virtual trip to “The Vine” to learn more about the story that Jesus taught.

Likewise, Vicar Ethan Overcash from Beck’s, Lexington delivered his sermon from the garden that Sunday. “Literally and metaphorically, “The Vine” is helping Lutherans in Davidson County learn and grow together. We are the church together and we are stronger together. It’s exciting to see and experience this reality.” The churches are planning to plant a “salad patch” later this year and are hoping to expand to another site or two in 2021.

The churches in the Silver Valley Conference are working collaboratively, sharing the ministry of “The Vine,” and becoming stronger together. Likewise, in an intentional effort to encourage NC Synod congregations to nurture collaboration and shared ministry with one another, the synod budget was increased to add staff time to support shared ministries. Pastor CeCee Mills brings her outstanding skills to this ministry. Serving as the NC Synod’s Associate Director for Evangelical Mission, Pastor CeCee was recently sharing her gifts with Silver Valley congregations and learned about “The Vine.” She says, “I was thrilled to learn how something new was born out of the pandemic; so thrilled and inspired that I volunteered to work at the gorgeous garden on July 10!”

Thanks be to God for new, shared ministries!