By Jill Schmidt, Dialogue Resource Team, First Mennonite Church of Denver
Growing up on a dairy farm in Kansas, planting and harvesting were deeply ingrained in me. Spring days were spent helping my mom plant and nourish the garden, summer days spent harvesting, preserving produce and helping my dad put up hay in preparation for the winter months. Fall days involved mulching the ground to allow for renewed growth the following year and winter days continued operations of the dairy farm. Every season required different care and tending, each for a reason and each in preparation for the next. Having been born into this, the patterns of tending to growth and life in Kansas were auto-pilot for me. Three years ago when I moved to Denver, I was excited to have a garden carry on this practice. Other plains to high dessert transplants might predict my struggle. Summers one and two bore no fruit minus the kale that sprouted and thrived voluntarily. This summer, my third, has proved just slightly more promising. The practices I had finely tuned in Kansas have been hard to redefine. My green thumb feels clumsy and incompetent in this new landscape. The seasons change at different times and where I once had abundance, I now have only a taste to enjoy from time to time.
I cannot help but compare this clumsy feeling to how it can feel in the changing landscape of the church. Practices that once seemed second nature and bore so much fruit in decades and homes past can seem to wilt in our new landscape. On a personal level, I often wonder how the faith practices that I was once deeply immersed in can catch root at this time in history and this context. If I keep planting my tomatoes the same time, watering the same amount and expecting the same growth as I once did in a different context, my disappointment will increase and I will probably give up all together. To succeed as a gardener in Denver, Colorado, I will need to seek advice, educate myself, talk with native gardeners and understand my climate. Is it not the same as our faith context changes? Some of our congregational changes are a result of moving and locational changes and some result from the changing era. We are not nourishing churches of 1960 or 1980 or 2000. What must we learn about the Christian climate of 2016, the context that our world faces today and the needs of our current personal lives? What does our community need to produce fruit and whom must we seek counsel and advice from?
I have faith that my garden will one day produce again and my shelves will be stocked with salsa made from the fruits of my garden. I will change my practices and expectations but first I need to accept what my current climate is and re-learn what I once found to be second nature. Similarly, our congregations can accept today’s context and practices and be thriving, fruit bearing communities. Congregations are thriving already can provide counsel and those trying to relearn can seek advice.