Last year, I wrote about a mission with a dream to transform an urban neighborhood in Thomasville, GA, with a simple, yet intensive effort, to build a community garden and refurbish a church vicarage into a community center.
That dream is now a beautiful blessed space, and it is thriving. It is attracting the interest of the neighborhood on Oak Street as well as local city government officials and agencies that are anxious to see it succeed on the grounds of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church.
EDAT, or the Episcopal Development Agency of Thomasville, has had many minds at work in the past couple of years, coming from the three Episcopal Churches in the city to commit to working jointly to make this dream a reality. Three members from All Saints, Good Shepherd, and St. Thomas formed the initial board of directors. They quickly realized they needed to gain a couple more people from outside of the church communities to serve on the board. In July, they hired Keith Jenkins, a native Georgian with community organizing in his bones, to be the executive director. Keith took to the neighborhood around Oak Street, talking to the residents and getting them excited to come work in the garden.
The garden has done quite well. In fact, amazingly well! This winter, Good Shepherd was using greens grown on the premises in their food ministry program. Neighbors were excited to pick okra off of plants that were growing taller than anything they'd ever seen. Children in the neighborhood learned how to pickle vegetables.
As Keith talked to folks, he learned what it is they're hoping to get out of this project: programs about health care, healthy living, and job creation opportunities. Social service groups have come in to set up after-school tutoring, a necessary support so the next generation will be ready to become the job creators in the community. Habitat for Humanity stepped in to refurbish the vicarage, sanding and refinishing the floors, repairing the walls, repainting the structure.
And the neighbors watched this transformation. There were some who wanted to get involved, to also help out. This was their community center, their garden, their little corner of Thomasville.
The gospel lesson for today was another episode of the authorities in Jesus' day playing a game of "gotcha." The game is not too dissimilar to the shouting matches that pass as political discourse in the country today. The question before Jesus was for him to say what is the greatest commandment. And Jesus, good Jewish man that he was, quoted the Shema, "Love God with all your heart, with all your strength and with all your mind". And love your neighbor likewise. Jesus goes on to assert that all the other 612 laws found in Torah are all linked to that simple, yet challenging task, to love God and love your neighbor. The EDAT project is an embodiment... the incarnation... of that simple command. It is born from a place of love grounded in God that then reaches out to neighbors to make something good happen. All are welcome into this Love that has built bonds between people from different worlds in Thomasville.