Tag Archives: Turnagain UMC

Church Gardens: Why aren’t more doing them?


Lutheran Church of Hope – Hope Garden – 2016                                                  (Don Bladow pictured in garden)

In 2015, at the suggestion of a St. John United Methodist member, I wrote my first column on church gardens. I followed that column up with several others about the fantastic strides some local churches have been making in planting those gardens. (see https://www.churchvisits.com/?s=church+gardens to read those columns).

However, considering that Anchorage has around 400 churches, it’s disturbing to see so few churches devoting space and emphasis to this practical ministry with many spiritual implications. Fewer, if any, of those gardens involve individuals in the community who are given the produce grown in those gardens. Is it possible that a sense of entitlement has grown up among recipients of all of this fresh produce, overriding any real interest in learning how food is grown, where it comes from, and the significant amount of labor to make it happen? Or, are churches struggling with the concept of involving needy recipients in the process of food production?

It’s already planting season, and planning for those gardens should have occurred months ago. While never too late, concerted effort could still be made to make them happen yet this year. If one looks at the average physical church property, many have adequate space surrounding them to make it happen. Just look at the average church property you drive by regularly.

Several churches are making a difference in the community by dedicating the space, putting in the requisite planting beds, and fencing them for protection. One of my favorite church gardens, and largest to my knowledge, is Lutheran Church of Hope on W. Northern Lights. They started last year with around 4,000 sq ft, and have doubled their space to over 9,000 sq ft. Their bountiful harvest goes to Lutheran Social Services of Alaska (LSSA) for distribution through their food pantry.

Master gardener Don Bladow shares that The garden is not free of snow yet so is looks like we won’t be planting ’til the more traditional time near Memorial Day. We did expand it last fall to about 9,000 sq. ft. It’s all fenced. We got that done in October. I have been planting starts and have plans for a couple of new experiments this year. Will try to grow a number of other species of peppers and cucumbers. The cukes will be outside under a lean to type greenhouse that will be open on the ends. Will also plant beans and turnips this year as well as most of the stuff we planted last year.”

Hope Garden (potatoes from one plant)

Don maintains a blog on the garden and expects to start posting to it several times monthly as early as June. His excellent blog is located at http://harvestofhopememorialgarden.blogspot.com/.

Hope Garden (one Friday’s harvest)

Anchorage Lutheran has also taken the plunge into church gardening with 17 – 4×8’ raised beds. They’ll be fencing the garden shortly, a necessity, as church gardens make excellent browsing and forage sources for rabbits and moose. I talked with Lisa Wilkinson, co-coordinator of their garden, who, with member Dick Mikkelsen has been a strong champion. They’re planting potatoes, cabbage, carrots, primarily, along with a mixture of other things. They’ll be donating their product to LSSA and Beans’ Café according to member/gardener wishes. They’ll be planting in compost, and are setting up a composter on site to further this practice. Lisa shares their goal is “to teach and donate”.  That’s the first step in involving a wider community.

St. John United Methodist Church has had a “Jesus Garden” for several years. Coordinator Allison McLain has personal and practical visions for the Jesus Garden. Allison says, “My Jesus Garden vision for this year is one I have followed for as many years there have been Jesus Garden’s in my life: grow fresh vegetables for people in need of food. Growing vegetables is something that I can do to support people in need and happily there are friends at church and a husband and daughter who believe in this idea too!!! I feel called by Jesus to do this…and I wonder sometimes if Jesus called me to do this because it is something reasonably easy for me to do for people in need with a full-time job, family, church, and the other adventures in my life.”

My practical vision for this year is to expand our vegetable growing abilities by asking people in our church to be Potato Nannies – to grow potatoes at home in buckets – all the potatoes would of course be part of our St. John Jesus Food donation to Downtown Soup Kitchen. With potatoes growing elsewhere we will have more space to grow more chard and kale in the garden at St. John. My goal for this year is to grow and donate 300 pounds of food to DSK.”

“Kale and chard are two standard soup ingredients for soups on the weekly menu at Downtown Soup Kitchen (DSK), where all the Jesus Garden produce is donated. Last year we donated 260 pounds of produce (peas, red runner beans, chard, kale, parsley, basil, lovage, and potatoes.). I plan what we grow with Vicki Martin at DSK; we only grow what will be used in soups made by DSK chefs. Often what we deliver early in the week is used later that week in soup.  If our donated vegetables don’t go into soups right away DSK volunteers process them for freezing and later use.”
Other churches with gardens this year include:
Central Lutheran Church
Christ Church Episcopal Church
Joy Lutheran Church
Lutheran Social Services of Alaska
St. Anthony’s Catholic Church
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Turnagain United Methodist Church
Trinity Lutheran Church – Palmer

If I’ve omitted any church from this list, please let me know and I’ll add it to a new tab I’ll be placing on my website ChurchVisits.com.

Blessings to all churches for the coming harvest from these gardens. I’ll provide updates as I receive them. Write me at churchvisits@gmail.com to keep me updated. There is a very practical side of ministry but most local churches seem to be missing the boat in applying that lesson.

Church gardens grow community: It’s time to start planting more assertively.

Last year, I wrote about local initiatives some churches have taken by planting church gardens or allowing church property to be used for community gardens. When I started writing that column, I pre-supposed those gardens would be used primarily for producing fresh food for Bean’s Café, Downtown Soup Kitchen and other community organizations that feed the hungry. And many church organizations do use them for that purpose.  What I didn’t realize was that a growing number of churches allow anyone to use a garden plot on their grounds regardless of where the food goes.

As I wrote that column, I was unaware of the garden at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Northeast Anchorage. It was created through parishioners’ conversations with neighbors. The neighborhoods around the church are heavily populated with immigrants, and many have garden plots at the church. These gardeners are allowed to use their assigned plots for growing produce to feed their families. Many of them also sell produce at various times throughout the season. What a wonderful use of church property. I visited the garden last fall during the AFACT celebration of Medicaid expansion. It’s beautifully tended, containing many vegetables not native to this area; often the gardeners are immigrants from Southeast Asia or the South Pacific.

Many churches have beautiful grounds, often park-like, even without many trees having access to sunlight for growing. This land might be utilized to grow food for food banks, church pantries, feeding programs and church suppers. Entire outreach programs could be constructed around such programs, even to the point of their being utilized year-round. There is much wisdom in Jewish medieval philosopher Maimonides’ saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Many recipients of community feeding services might have a greater appreciation of the gift of food if they understood, through participation, the work that goes into producing food.

In other areas around the Lower 48, churches are seeing the value of community gardens and implementing them. For a church community the size of Anchorage with over 375 houses of worship, there are few churches using their land as God’s gift. Conversely, clergy here frequently dwell on stewardship as a church member responsibility. Why don’t they apply the same stewardship rules and principles to church property?  I realize some church properties are too small, bounded by parking lots, contain too many trees, and meet in schools or mini-malls. But what about the rest? I know of churches adjacent to vacant lots that could be used to promote community gardening.

Practical Christianity is harder to do than theoretical Christianity. We attend church, listen to sermons, study the Bible and intellectualize what Christianity is all about. Matthew 25 shares Jesus’ words about practicing practical Christianity. “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” The chapter continues to detail the unfortunate fate of those who did not practice these virtues.

It’s been my observation that many Christians find it easier to contribute money to churches or go on short-term mission trips than to roll up their sleeves and create meaningful change in the community. Some churches do it better than most, but there is much room for improvement. Millions have been spent in Anchorage to invest in foreign missions in countries where Christianity is predominant, when Alaska is one of least Christian states in the U.S. The mission field is here!

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church is an example of what churches can do quickly. Starting last year, they planted seven gardens, with additional potato beds planted for F.I.S.H. They’re planning eight more big raised beds for their new Thomas Center for Senior Leadership later this year. Rector Michael Burke reports they have “lots of gardeners and visitors to the gardens and labyrinth.” Currently all produce grown is donated to organizations that feed the hungry.

Lutheran Church of Hope started small and late last year with five elevated boxes behind the church. Congregation member Don Bladow “has been the primary blood, sweat, tears, and prayer behind the garden,” says Pastor Julia Seymour. Don completed the University of Alaska Extension Program’s Master Gardener class in anticipation of a busy planting season. He plans to have 20,000 square feet under cultivation. Bladow says they’ll plant about one-third of that this year. He’s been raising money for the garden by turning wood bowls from trees that were on the property. All of the proceeds go into the project. Money is still being raised for specific gardening needs. This summer they’ll plant broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, parsnips, radishes and zucchini. All produce will be given to Lutheran Social Services of Alaska (LSSA). Any of our food pantries will say how welcome fresh grown food is to recipients. Don maintains a blog on this project at harvestofhopememorialgarden.blogspot.com. Our community needs many more like Don.

Local churches currently having or developing community food gardens include Lutheran Church of Hope, St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, Joy Lutheran Church – Eagle River, St. John United Methodist Church, Turnagain United Methodist Church, Chugiak United Methodist Church, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School, Trinity Lutheran Church – Palmer, River of Life – Chugiak, and Central Lutheran Church.

Something our local church community might consider is what Methodists in Kalamazoo, Michigan are doing. They’ve created a “Summer Christian Camp” for a distressed neighborhood there. They focus on young adults 16-28. This 10-day ministry focuses on food and hunger and includes community gardening, 4-H community projects, ‘Free Store’ ministry, and Loves and Fishes food pantry. They train youth leaders, educators, pastors, and other passionate Christian adults.

Jesus often referred to food, hunger, feeding, planting, sowing and harvest themes in His ministry. I challenge other local ministries to emulate those lessons.

Modern-day Slavery Addressed at Turnagain UMC

Unusual Program by Anchorage Church Standards
Rarely does my social consciousness get raised in my many Anchorage area church visits. Bob, a good Rotary friend, emailed me of an upcoming presentation dealing with Sexual Slavery scheduled to be presented at Turnagain UMC last Sunday. I was immediately intrigued as to how churches dealt with this incredibly damaging issue, and made plans to attend, though I was concerned there were no other announcements of this presentation in the local press.

Great Pastoral Judgement
Turnagain UMC had a normal church service this day except new Pastor, Bob Smith, surrendered his pulpit to Mark Wexler to share this issue. Mark is co-founder and Executive Director of “Not For Sale”, a modern-day abolitionist movement networking churches, communities, state leadership, and leadership in other nations to stop human trafficking. Learn more about his organization at http://www.notforsalecampaign.org/ .[img_assist|nid=161669|title=Mark Wexler, Guest Speaker – Turnagain UMC|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=278|height=490]

Slavery Huge Problem and Growing
Initially Wexler noted there are currently, worldwide, more people in slavery than at any other time in history, approximately 30 million with between 100,000 and 200,000 of this number in the U.S.! He first showed the slavery of young boys that supports the worldwide cocoa/chocolate industry. The Ivory Coast in Africa, one of the largest cocoa producers in the world, is estimated to use the slave labor of 15,000 boys from other African nations to support its production. Despite legislation and compacts to the contrary, this practice continues to grow supported primarily by Great Britain and the United State’s dependence and strong demand for chocolate goods.

Sexual Tourism/Slavery
Wexler then transitioned into the worldwide sexual slavery problem presenting the story of artist Kru Nam in Thailand who became aware of small children who’d been sold as sex slaves, and began to rescue them. Wexler’s organization is working with Kru Nam by building housing for hundreds of children to house them after they are rescued, and to give them a better life, including access to education. Sexual tourism is a huge worldwide industry supported by many people from the U.S. People of faith should not tolerate it, solidly raising our voices against it. Be informed. Wexler’s group has detailed slavery information here and an interactive worldwide slavery map here.

An excellent documentary, The Dark Side of Chocolate, may be watched for free by clicking here. Fair-trade and slavery-free lists of chocolate can be seen by clicking here.

I applaud Turnagain UMC for having the courage to present this program during their normal worship hour, an extremely rare event in my Anchorage churchgoing.

[Update and Brief Review] Recent Donald Owens Organ Concert at Turnagain UMC

I eat my own cooking, and also attend events I note in this Church Visits blog. This concert was exceptional! Sadly it was under-attended, bearing out my ongoing observations that Anchorage church-goers tend to stick within the confines of their own churches. Mr. Owens was organist at Turnagain UMC for three years and is clearly well-loved there. He presented an excellently performed and sensitive concert on Turnagain’s Rodgers Organ. The pieces ranged from Bach to more modern composers like Dale Wood, Gordon Young, and Paul Manz. [See attachment below for entire concert program] In the middle of the concert he provided a demonstration on his personal Yamaha Clavinova, an absolutely delightful interlude. His renditions of takeoff’s of several local commercial themes like the unforgettable Mattress Ranch music was wonderful. Owens was very entertaining as he also regaled us demonstrating and reminiscing about his brief career as organ player for the Texas Rangers baseball team.

Owens introduced most of his pieces in an informative, gentle, and often humorous manner. After the concert there was a reception featuring various tasty goodies and an opportunity to donate to the young lady going on a short-term mission trip to Russia, the focus of Mr. Owens’ concert. I’m told approximately $2,000 was donated as a result of this event.

If you were not there, you missed a treat! I was so intrigued with Mr. Owens, I asked him for an interview. We’re currently working on it and will be posting it soon. If you like music, there are many free options such as this noted in the Anchorage Daily News Matters of Faith page in Saturday’s paper.

Thanks to you Donald Owens for providing our community with a fascinating keyboard experience.
Well-known local organist Donald L. Owens will be presenting a concert today at 4 p.m. at Turnagain UMC, 3300 W. Northern Lights Blvd. This concert is free but donations are being accepted for Sarah Walters mission trip to Russia. Why not visit a new church, and hear some great music? For more information click here.

Turnagain UMC: Cautiously Friendly

Every day I pass Turnagain United Methodist Church traveling to/from work. I’ve made several abortive attempts to visit this church, but each was unsuccessful. Most recently, I pulled into the parking lot just before service time and there were only three or four parked cars, a bad sign for any church visitor.

Previous to that, I’d had a mixup with their summer schedule and ended up entering mid-service. Sunday, February 27, I arrived just before service start. I was handed a bulletin by a Boy Scout, worked my way through a crowd of scouts blocking the aisle, and found a seat. Though only a small crowd was present, no one said a word to me until the pastor asked me to identify myself, from the pulpit nonetheless! As a visitor I felt adrift with no bearings throughout the entire service. Although service times, location, pastor and address were on their main webpage, it took some scrolling around to find them. And too, there was still an announcement for their longest night of the year service in December 2010, two months previous. I sensed that these were good people, but they need to internalize the value of “extreme hospitality” as they seem to be hiding their “light under a barrel”.[img_assist|nid=156081|title=Pastor Kelley and Scouts Around the “Campfire”|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=184]

Neighborhood Churches Don’t Always Attract Guests: Here’s One Reason
Methodists have been spending significant sums of money in support of their “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” advertising campaign. Critics of this expenditure point to membership numbers which show continued gradual declines in UMC membership nationally despite the campaign. One might always argue the declines could have been greater without the campaign, but advertising campaigns, with few exceptions, do not make huge long-term differences in membership. Mainly they help the members feel good about themselves but are so unfocused as to be of little effect.

I always enjoy entering a neighborhood church that extends itself to make me feel welcome, giving me assurance that I made the right choice. To allow someone to enter your church and not make them feel welcome is bad enough, but to ask them to identify themselves to the congregation, during the service, is sad, especially if that person is not of your faith. At that point they’re eying the nearest exit for the clean getaway.

Many Methodist churches seem to have the self-introduction principle embedded in their church DNA. In some cases, it seems to be perceived as a club trait, where club members from afar are announcing their home church (club) and the purpose of their visit. I’ve been pleased when a member takes the initiative to get to know me, and offers to introduce me. But to call people out, causes embarrassment and anxiety upon many first-time church attenders. In all honesty, I was given a guest bag of goodies for which I am truly grateful. But there are other ways of handling this.

Service Not Guest-Friendly
Many church guests find themselves on unfamiliar ground when attending a new church. Tactful, matter-of-fact explanations throughout the service can help provide common ground to gain an understanding of the service and liturgy. Scout Sunday, as this was, is not the best day to attend a church for the first time, under the best of circumstances. I might have passed up Turnagain UMC this Sunday if this had been so noted on the website. The service had many rough edges due to the lack of familiarity of the scouts, counselors, and leaders with the way that church is normally done. Don’t misunderstand me; I believe in scouting and feel it’s an important aspect of American boyhood. Those same leaders and boys have doubtless been going through life ‘doing church’. As such, ‘doing church’ should have been an easy and comfortable experience. It did not appear to be so this Sunday, from the campfire up front, to the scripture readings, to the congregational readings, and the offering, it appeared to be uncomfortable.

Service Highlights
Pastor Dale Kelley gave a good scouting sermon which she said we could listen to or not. But was more of an adult sermon, filled with big words and possibly difficult for a scout to follow. I’ve heard her speak before and she’s a good speaker. The keyboardist/choir director was ill that morning and her substitute performed ably but had difficulty with some of the music. The offering was taken with no mention of excepting guests from giving, a notable omission in any church.

I was most impressed with the member’s child and family who came forward to tell about the 600+ boxes of Girl Scout cookies which had been collected and were being donated to the Downtown Soup Kitchen.

At the end I was startled when they dismissed by joining hands in a circle around the church and singing that old hymn “God Be With You Til We Meet Again”. That truly seemed to be a better expression of church than when I started the day. Having recently buried my mother, this meaningful hymn had a dual meaning for me.

Would I Go Back?
Rev. Kelley asked me to stay for coffee which I declined due to other commitments. Over time I would guess I could assimilate in some way. Many of us long for a real church experience, and continue to seek until we find it. Church means people not buildings. I look for the genuine article of people worshiping God, and fellowshipping together as Christians. I might visit this church again if I were persuaded they understood what happened every time someone walked through their doors.