Community gardeners grow closer over prayers, service
Its name is long: the Camden Street Learning Garden Prayer Group. Its reason for being is simple: bring together in prayer and fellowship people who care about their urban gardening initiative.
The Learning Garden is a community space in a historically Black neighborhood close to downtown Raleigh, North Carolina.
It is a part of a larger hunger relief organization, Interfaith Food Shuttle, that started about 35 years ago, says Nancy Hendershot, a Baha’i in Raleigh who “has been using the garden and getting to know others who work and serve there.”
Some 25 individuals and families have raised beds in the garden, says Hendershot.
“Others come here to volunteer and learn about growing organic food, growing and using herbs, composting and collaborating with others to learn and contribute to improved food supply in the area.”
In July 2019, Hendershot visited the home of a fellow gardener “to inquire if she might like to pray together for the garden and surrounding community.”
Hendershot’s friend was thankful for the suggestion to say prayers together. Soon after, “a number of ladies were in the garden discussing a problem of vandalism in the area, specifically children were stealing tools from the shed and causing problems,” says Hendershot.
Perhaps, she suggested, praying together would help the group find an answer.
“There was immediate agreement amongst the four women present and the garden manager,” she says. “The group agreed to meet … in the outside kitchen, a large covered space with about 12 picnic tables.” Then Hendershot sent out invitations to all the gardeners.
The first few prayer gatherings had an average of 10 to 12 participants. “The friends prayed from their hearts, sang or played well-known hymns, shared lovely poetry often with nature and garden themes, and I shared Baha’i prayers and themes about children, oneness, the beauty of nature and diversity,” she recalls.
After a few meetings, the group decided to start an informal class for children with gardening tips, craft activities and food from the garden.
When cold weather set in, shared concerns and discussions about homelessness led the group to visit the Raleigh Rescue Mission and help a family.
Devotionals continued with difficulty when the COVID-19 pandemic forced them onto online platforms. But by the end of May the meetings were back in the garden, with participants sitting at a distance and wearing masks.
Hendershot maintains a relationship with the homeless woman, sharing food from the garden and information about the food shuttle, as well as reading stories to the woman’s son over Skype.
A remarkable devotional gathering was held the Monday after protests against racial injustice broke out over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“The relationships formed during this year of praying and serving together led to deep discussions about working with children to prevent these types of prejudice and hurtful relationships,” says Hendershot.
“It is unclear what will come of this group, but it is clear that friendships around prayer and service are important to these gardeners and their friends.”