Gardens Grow PeopleEmail This Share This Tweet This
Written with Rev. Louis Carr II and Dan Henderson from Harvest UMC in Fort Worth, TX
“Two years ago, in the heat of the summer, I was considering how I could serve the homeless population. Our church is only one street over from one of the largest food deserts in the country. The homeless have to walk very far, sometimes many miles, to get to churches that serve meals. These folks wear out shoes trying to get to food,” Dan Henderson, member of Harvest UMC in Fort Worth, said with a heavy heart.
As he thought about these things, they began to frame an idea for ministry. He envisioned Harvest UMC creating a mobile outreach to meet the homeless where they were, so that’s exactly what they did. They created 640 sq. ft. of raised garden beds and produced 300 lbs. of food this year. The church formed relationships with more of the community as a result and began developing a partnership with the West State Food Pantry as well. This ministry idea required transforming a dirty, rundown parking lot next to the church that was seen as dangerous into a place where children from the community could come to learn to garden.
For these children and their families, Dan is simply known as the ‘Garden Man.’ For Dan, this ministry is an opportunity to be known for using his best talents for God’s work. “The impact has been immediate and multifaceted. I wanted to be a small solution to this problem and it was a joy to give some of my best talents to come up with a meaningful program,” Dan said with joy.
Dan’s response to marry his talent with a community need is exactly the type of leadership his pastor, Rev. Louis Carr II, has been encouraging from his members and exactly the type of leadership Louis’ mentor, Rev. Melvin Amerson, has been advocating.
“I believe disciples should integrate their gifts and talents into the life of the church, so we have full employment in the vineyard,” Melvin, TMF Senior Area Representative and Resource Specialist, shared.
Louis agrees. As he has itinerated in different Methodist churches, he encouraged members to utilize their gifts to reach the community. For instance, he developed a STEM program to help local children discover more about working in that field and give them hands-on experience outside the classroom, which helped them dream of new possibilities.
Now Louis is working with that model to engage church volunteers who can create a finance program for youth, which will give them practical knowledge around saving, investing, and budgeting. The volunteers he engages for this ministry will probably be accountants and financial experts, but like Dan they will be passionate about the gifts they can share with their mission field and Louis will help them connect the programs back to discipleship just as he is with the garden.
“Gardening is an important tool for children’s ministry,” Louis said emphatically. “You can show children how to plant seeds and how the plant grows. You can relate that to how we grow as disciples and how we need to remove bad things from our lives, just like we need to remove harmful things from the garden.”
Overall, Louis works diligently to utilize his members’ best talents in ways that employ them further in God’s service to the world around them. While so many of us feel that the only people who are called to ministry are pastors and missionaries, Louis paves a way for a host of volunteers to serve meaningfully.
“Louis has unlimited potential,” Melvin noted. “He is a visionary, and I feel it is important to mentor someone like Louis, because you want people with great promise to fulfill their purpose. I feel that he helps young people explore different vocations and educational pursuits, while connecting committed volunteers to these ministries. That is important work.”
While Melvin is grateful for the leadership Louis provides church members, Louis is equally grateful for the encouragement Melvin has given as a mentor. “Melvin pushes me to percolate ideas and flesh them out,” Louis shared. “I am so thankful for Melvin, because he helps us take bold steps to be creative.”
As Louis continues to explore what it means to have full employment in the vineyard, those who are already vigorously laboring, like Dan, have learned that “gardens grow people.” In Harvest UMC’s mission field, gardens seem to grow disciples, too.