As Bob Sanderson, mayor of Port Hope, said at the ribbon-cutting celebration on June 12, the sign says it all: In this garden we grow food, but also community, love and hospitality. Our prayer is that the seeds of friendship and faith will flourish here. All who yearn to cultivate good things are welcome.
The spiritual garden at St. John the Evangelist, Port Hope is an outdoor space that facilitates connections within the congregation and the local community. The goal of the project is to leverage existing connections with our community and to be open to the wider community even when the buildings are closed. The garden symbolizes that the church is never closed. Though borne out of a desire to provide an outdoor interactive space compatible with physical distancing requirements, post-pandemic it will continue to provide a place to build community.
The St. John’s team planned the project in partnership with Port Hope 4 Future, a local environmentally minded group; and Punk Rock Produce, growers of community gardens who encourage others to grow food to donate. The garden has already attracted the attention of the local community. The Rev. Jesse Parker, incumbent, remarked with tears of joy that the garden has filled the space with the laughter of children – thanks be to God!
A Reach Grant of $5,000 from the diocese provided seed funding (pun intended). That was supplemented by contributions of time and materials, as well as donations for celebration stones engraved with messages in tribute to the people who have been rocks of faith in the community. The garden and the celebration stones were blessed by Bishop Riscylla Shaw at the opening celebration, when about 40 people came together within COVID-19 rules to participate. We hope to have a larger celebration in the fall.
Features include food gardens to feed the hungry and flowers that are a feast for the eye. A significant children’s area (a literal “kinder-garden”) includes a chalkboard, seating for outdoor Sunday School, planter boxes, play boxes and a mud kitchen, along with food for the kitchen. There are even houses for birds, bees and bats! There are spots to absorb the sun and sheltered benches to recover in shade. There are quiet corners and a place where a windchime plays the notes of “Amazing Grace.” There are new things, never used, and old things finding new purpose. In this garden, there is a community of long-standing members and new passers-by who enter in.
This is a place that has already been filled, yet also invites more in. It’s like a container holding a plant that grows beyond the pot that holds it. This place will grow and adapt, with features gradually expanded, added and changed.
All are welcome here, as the old cast-iron bathtub repurposed as a flower planter at the garden entrance symbolizes. Yes, even old bathtubs that have seen better days and that were once relegated to a dark corner of someone’s yard are now full of flowers. With God, those who thought they were not welcome anywhere have a place near the front. A symbol of renewal and welcome for all — a slice of the Kingdom of God.