Tending a garden is spiritual work

Flo Johnston Faith in Focus

July 31, 2014

Most Christians already know that God comes to us in strange and wonderful ways, mundane ways, ordinary ways. Things that happen in a regular day may be nothing special on the calendar with nothing memorable going on, but for a moment in the midst of this sameness, we get a glimpse of the presence of God.

Right now, here in the middle of the summer, it could be something like homegrown tomatoes, ripened in the warm sun, brimming with that special smooth taste and exuding that marvelous fragrance that sets our digestive juices to raging.

I believe God nudges us to see holy dimensions in the most mundane of daily activities, like eating a homegrown tomato sandwich, for example.

The pleasure of eating that sandwich is an experience of wonder and concentration and the kind of experience our spiritual friends who do Buddhist meditation might call, “living in the present moment.”

Sam Thompson, director of Laurinburg Presbyterian Church’s community garden, is an admitted fan of tomato sandwiches, but the bumper crop this year has brought out another of his talents: Canning.

Already, he has 25 quarts on the pantry shelf with more to come.

It’s a lot of work, he said, but worth it. He claims his canned tomatoes will taste every bit as good when they come from the jar next winter as when they came straight from the garden this summer.

Fifty-four garden plots are being cultivated this summer by 13 families from Laurinburg Presbyterian and 24 families from the larger community. In addition, four plots are worked by Noran Sanford, a therapist in the pilot program from Scots For Youth Inc., and his group of young men who are now harvesting the bumper crop of tomatoes.

The group has grown and delivered these succulent fruits to four needy families in the community and to Church and Community Services.

Sanford’s program includes young men who grew up with challenges that were beyond their control, and created some challenges for themselves in their young lives.

The group has also built and raised herb gardens, compost bins and bee hives for the county’s two community gardens.

Unlike some gardeners, the ones working under Sam’s experienced eye don’t have to depend on the weather for water. Last year the garden dug its own well and installed a drip system. This decision came after the drought a couple of seasons ago when the garden’s water bill for one month was over $900.

Any time you have a bumper crop like this summer’s tomatoes, you have to decide how to handle this blessing.

Sam said gardeners give away part of their bounty to family and friends, to anyone else who needs food and to Church Community Services.

Over the past decade, church gardening has come into its own as its advocates have been quite successful in getting congregations to pull out their hoes, put on their straw hats and dig into the dirt.

Early on, United Methodists in North Carolina took to the church garden idea in a big way.

Anathoth Community Farm and Garden near Hillsborough began in 2004 as a ministry of Cedar Grove United Methodist Church, a small country congregation in Orange County. The congregation felt tending a garden was a way for neighbors to come together after a shopkeeper in their community was murdered.

Over the years, this garden has become a national model for community gardening and is now a faith-based non profit endeavor with a full time staff and a board of directors.

For the past couple of years, the garden has supplied weekly baskets of fresh vegetables and fruits to regular customers in Cedar Grove, Hillsborough, Chapel Hill and Durham.

Baskets this week included lots of slicing tomatoes, blueberries, eggplant, basil, watermelon, cucumbers and okra.

Hear the words of Anathoth’s director Chas Eden and you may discover a new dimension in gardening.:

“Gardening is spiritual work, and this is most evident to me in the wind,” writes the director. “On a hot day, when we’ve been working out on the farm for an entire morning and I’m about ready to give in to the sweat and exhaustion, I am often surprised and comforted by an extremely welcome and refreshing breeze.

“The wind flows through the trees, across the field, and over my skin, calming and cooling my body and soul. For a second, I stop to take it all in, inhaling the air that has visited me from elsewhere and will carry on far from me again.

“In these moment, I know there is more at work in the garden than earth and water, something holy is at work. Something divine connects the whole of the natural world.”

Contact Anathoth Garden at 919-732-8405 or email for further information.

Contact Flo Johnston at or 910-361-4135.