Garden Earth and church gardens: creation, food, and ecological ethics
Grenfell-Lee, Tallessyn Zawn
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In order to address the full magnitude of the ecological crisis, communities need points of contact that provide enjoyment, build community, and foster "nature connection." The ability of the local food movement to provide these points of contact has fueled its rapid expansion in the last decade; however, no study to date has examined the impact of direct involvement in the movement on the ecological ethics of local congregations. This study assessed the impact of a communal vegetable garden project on the ecological ethics of an urban and a suburban United Methodist congregation in the Boston area. The study used a participatory action ethnographic model as well as an Ecological Ethics Index scale to assess overall impacts as well as impacts in the areas of ecological spirituality, community, discipleship, and justice. The study found impacts in all four areas, particularly within the suburban congregation, which integrated the project into the central identity and ministries of the church. The urban church had already integrated other food justice ministries into its central identity and ministry; the data also showed impacts in the urban church context, particularly among the project participants. The main findings of the study revealed the influential role of supportive communities, and particularly of elder mentors, in fostering nature connection experiences among the participants. The church-based locations of the gardens, as well as the hands-on, participatory nature of the projects, increased Earth-centered spiritual awareness and practices as well as pro-environmental discipleship behaviors. The visual impact of the gardens in a church context increased awareness of issues related to food justice. The gardens functioned as a means of grace that connected the participants and the wider congregations to the land near their church buildings in new ways; the gardens provided a connection to concepts of the Divine in the Creation as well as enjoyable opportunities to share the harvest among the community and with hungry communities. In these ways, the gardens connected the congregations to the Wesleyan ideas of grace and inspired new forms of Wesleyan responsibility for social and ecological transformation.