A Gardening Grace in Charleston, WV

By Trevar Simmons

Tuesdays are gardening days for Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charleston, WV.

The garden took shape in 2009 with a grant from the Presbytery of West Virginia’s Congregational Development Committee. With last year’s grant, the church purchased a rain barrel for watering the garden, a small tiller, and a grill for preparing communal meals once a week after gardening, among other, related purchases. When appropriate, these post-garden meals enjoy fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs from the garden.

This year the church received a grant from the Capitol Conservation District. This money enabled the congregation to build 11 raised beds of a cedar not treated with chemicals. The raised beds give the fenced-in garden an extra beauty.

The Reverend Doug Minnerly serves as part-time pastor of Grace Covenant and McKinnon Presbyterian Church and was around when the garden began. Rev. Minnerly said the idea  for the garden was suggested by a local artist who lives near the church.

Last year Minnerly recalled the idea when looking for ways the church could create more positive relationships with the surrounding community. The garden is not about getting people into church. Instead, Grace Covenant uses the community garden as a way to partner with the community and as a “tool for community,” as Minnerly puts it. People might be invited to come to church on occasion, but the garden’s purpose is not to draw people into the church, but rather to connect the church and the community with some common goods: local foods, sustainability, and fellowship.

The garden’s sophomore year is a year of new blessings and new challenges. Through a shared connection to West Virginia State University, Grace Covenant now shares VISTA worker Abby Weglarz, who is one of this year’s blessings. Weglarz works with Step by Step, Inc., a nonprofit that establishes after-school and summer programs for children.

With Grace Covenant, Weglarz now leads a youth garden program on Tuesdays. The West Virginia State University extension office in Kenawha county provided the group with materials from their Junior Master Gardner’s program, giving the children seeds for planting and fun, educational, and all-around healthy projects. As Weglarz notes, it is “really important to have a connection with your food and where it comes from.”

Rev. Minnerly notes the youth garden can be a hit or miss, depending on the week. Children from the community do show up, often without parents and sometimes only just in time to eat, but they are welcomed nonetheless. Minnerly recalled one week when he brought a cake from home to the meal and happened across a box of birthday-cake candles in the church. When sharing the meal that night, one boy mentioned his birthday was the previous day and the group placed the new-found candles on the cake and enjoyed a birthday celebration for the young boy who frequents their gardening and post-gardening meals.

Like all things in life, the garden is not just coming up roses, especially since no one has planted any … yet. Rev. Minnerly says the community garden, like all ministry, is “like building a boat while going downstream.” Last year everyone planted and reaped communally, this year families and individuals have their own garden beds. Of their eleven beds, four to five families are gardening, about half of them from the church, and less are regulars for Tuesday activities

Minnerly believes the small numbers are due to one of the garden’s biggest challenges: promotion and marketing. The congregation has advertised in the community and at the schools, but interest has not yet bloomed enough to force them to expand the garden. But they garden nonetheless, still envisioning a bigger and better experience for the rest of this year and the future.

Minnerly recalled how Abraham and Sarah had a long journey from the land of their parents to the land of God’s promise in Genesis. And that journey happened in steps, not in one, quick trip. Minnerly is not about to count his tomatoes before they have ripened, but neither is he ready to give up. New opportunities might come to fruition before too long and, even with small numbers, the community garden certainly gives off a pleasing aroma of plants and community.

Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church is located at 805 Price St. in Charleston, WV. If you live in the area and are interested in their community garden, they would love to connect with you. The youth gather to garden on Tuesday mornings and all are welcome on Tuesday evenings  to garden, share a meal, and/or have a Bible study. Visit http://www.gcpcwv.org to connect with the church.

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