Workers dug up pavement on the grounds of Holy Redeemer Parish in North Portland and created a 7,500-square-foot vegetable and flower garden. The idea was to help the environment, enhance human health and build communal bonds.
Water that once cascaded off the blacktop and polluted the local watershed now soaks placidly into the garden soil. The produce goes to the school cafeteria and to the parish's St. Vincent de Paul food bank. Home-grown salad is served at religious education sessions and adult faith formation. When the parish hosts ecumenical and interfaith gatherings, vegetables are on the bill of fare. Parish volunteers get a good workout by tending the parcel and children help plant and tend the crops.
This all is highly satisfying to Desiree Senffner, the parish nurse at Holy Redeemer. One of her jobs is to encourage healthy habits among church-goers and neighbors.
Senffner recalls lugging a box of produce to the food bank. Even before she made it in the door, needy people were plucking vegetables off the pile. Usually, food pantries get older produce that won't sell in stores. But at Holy Redeemer, the offerings are just picked. "They want healthy food," Senffner says.
On top of it all, says Senffner, the garden creates a place on campus where people can encounter nature and beauty. The garden grows flowers used to decorate the church.
"We show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of God's creation," says Matt Cato, director of the Archdiocese of Portland's Office of Life, Justice and Peace. "A garden can become a classroom and teach us how to be good stewards of God’s creation."
A school garden, Cato explains, can inspire environmental and agricultural science education and enhance nutrition. A community garden can be grounds to socialize with neighbors and participate in the community. A church garden, he says, can be the means to provide good food to the local food pantry.
"In practice, we can be drawn closer to many teachings of the Catholic Church simply by building, working and harvesting a community garden," Cato says.
Holy Redeemer is one of the hosts of upcoming workshops on parish involvement in caring for watersheds and wildlife.
Interfaith Network for Earth Concerns, a program of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, organizes the workshops during April. Part of an ongoing program, the sessions will teach congregations to improve the stewardship of their land to benefit watersheds and wildlife, reduce maintenance and create spaces for spiritual renewal and education.
One workshop is set for 5:30 p.m.- 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 24 at Hillsdale United Church of Christ, 6948 SW Capitol Highway in Portland. Holy Redeemer, 25 N. Rosa Parks Way in Portland, hosts the other session, 5:30 p.m.-8 p.m. Thursday, April 26. Registration is free but donations of $5 to $15 are encouraged. Registration forms are available online at www.emoregon.org/emo_events.php.