I attended a Presbytery meeting yesterday at Centretown United Church in Ottawa. It is a big old church building on Bank St one block north of the Queensway. You can't miss it.
At least that's what the people of Centretown Church thought. Indeed, how can you miss a building that is as big as a city block with a tower 5 stories high? But when church people talked to their neighbours about the church the response was often, "no, I don't ever remember seeing it." The reality is that this beautiful (at least in the eyes of those of us involved in church) grey stone building that had been so much part of the community for generations, has become all but invisible to many who walk and drive along Bank Street these days.
But something happened in the past year and people have begun to notice the church again. It started with the emerald ash borer beetle, which destroyed the lovely ash trees adjacent to the church growing along the sidewalk. Sadly, the trees needed to be taken down. And that left some large empty planters, and some grieving people. No trees, just dirt. And empty space.
What to do? Then someone suggested they use the planters to grow vegetables. and they could donate the vegetables to the food bank. The reaction was mixed and true to form in church communities, there was great discussion and many opinions voiced. The people took a chance and planted carrots, beets, kale and lettuces.
Now anyone who has ever grown a garden knows that you can't just put the seeds in the ground, leave them there and hope for the best. You have to be there everyday, watering and weeding. People who walked by the church everyday began to noticed what was happening and stopped to talk to the gardeners. They offered to help. Some loved to garden but lived in apartments and didn't have the opportunity to do so. Soon there was a small army of helpers happy to help with the work of growing the community garden. Some were delighted to be part of this new ministry. And it is a ministry. These folks may not come to church on Sunday morning but they come to work in order to feed hungry people. And now they know where Centretown United Church is. The church isn't invisible to them anymore. More than that it has become part of the lives of many of the people who walk by it everyday.
There is a certain connection between the Centretown story and our circumstance at Aylmer United Church. We have found the same phenomenon with our lovely little church on a main corner in Aylmer. People don't see our church. Many that I speak to who have lived here for years don't have a clue where Aylmer United Church is. When we start locating ourselves by saying we are "across the street from Tim Horton's" we know that the focus of community has changed tremendously since the church was built. There is something rather sad there.
But we were noticed on a Saturday early in October when we had our 190th Anniversary Open House! Why? Because there were people outside doing things. The Scouts and Guides pitched tents, cooked apple crumble, sold cookies and apples, and played games. There was such energy on the front lawn and it drew people inside. Our beautiful banner certainly made an impression too!
I realize that we can't have the Guides and Scouts out there everyday. But maybe there is something else we can do. We do have some lawn space - quite a bit actually. How can we use that space better to serve our community? Should we take inspiration from Centretown and build some community garden's next summer? Should we put in some benches, or picnic tables? How do we live out our ministry in the community? What do you think?