When the Rev. Chris Jorgensen was looking at ways that Omaha Hanscom Park United Methodist Church could reach out into the community, the answer was right outside her door.
It was a garden the church had started about 10 years earlier, with the assistance of the Big Garden mission in Omaha.
“We didn’t get that far outside the church, but we did get outside the church,” Jorgensen, in her third year as pastor at Hanscom Park, said with a laugh. “We got technically outside the doors.
“When I got there, there just wasn’t very much happening with it,” she added. “People would plant, and we’d bring the stuff back in to give to people in the church.”
Big Garden continues to work with Hanscom Park, Jorgensen said, including providing the seeds for the current garden.
Over the summer, the garden grew as both a chance for small-group fellowship and an outreach into the community.
Hanscom Park members gathered Thursday evenings to work in the garden for an hour, followed by a short worship time led by Jorgensen. Grants from the Nebraska United Methodist Foundation helped fund an acoustic guitarist to provide music.
Jorgensen said her husband described the service as having a “house church” vibe to it.
She said many of the 15-20 regular attendees are new members of Hanscom Park.
“It’s given them an opportunity to have something to take responsibility for and be involved with,” Jorgensen said. “They really love it. The enthusiasm in which they’ve received it has been high.”
Jorgensen said those attending have formed a bond.
“It’s so intimate, and you’re doing gardening together,” she said. “I think it increases the meaning of our time together.”
Each service concludes with communion.
“I think communion is a really important ritual to connect with God rather than yammering on about God all the time,” Jorgensen said.
Among those who are part of the garden group is Charleen Bonacci.
“It’s just a casual fellowship,” said Bonacci, an elementary school teacher. “It’s been interesting to watch the garden grow — just like the song, ‘Inch by inch … .’
“I think the garden has been received well, and I think everyone who’s taken part in it has really, really enjoyed it,” she added. “From a lay standpoint, it’s probably one of the most rewarding things I’ve been a part of.”
But the fellowship of the garden is just part of its outreach.
The Hanscom Park group harvested its bounty and took it to a farmers market in Omaha beginning the middle weekend in August.
Suggested prices were posted for the vegetables, but signs also told customers that if they couldn’t afford it, a “pay what you can” alternative was available.
“I think it’s important to build self-sustaining ministries rather than constantly asking people to give more and more,” Jorgensen said.
Some materials promoting the church were available at its tent with the market, and members were encouraged to interact with customers.
Bonacci said she was pleased to see how the project progressed.
“Once we saw what it was all going to be about, it went really well,” she said. “I’m anticipating we’ll do it all again next year.”
Jorgensen, who said the church stand will return to the farmers market for the next few weeks, was also pleased with the outcome — and encouraged to think out of the box a little more often.
“I feel like the church needs to kind of try things and see how they work,” she said.
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