Bob Sitze’s article, “Saving the World One Church Garden at a Time,” in which he reports on one congregation’s attempt to establish a garden on its grounds, struck a chord with me. Like many others (to judge from both personal conversations and media reports), I have been intrigued by the recent batch of books and articles on slow food or local food—a rebellion against industrial agriculture and the processed foods it produces. One of the leading books, Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, asks “What should we have for dinner tonight?” and answers with four meals, one from McDonald’s, one from Whole Foods, one from a local “grass farm,” and one that he hunted, gathered, and grew himself. It is a deeply affecting book. A lasting image for me is that we now are all, because of the way corn has worked its way into our food system, “corn walking.”
The book has a moral: there is good food and there is bad food; there are good ways to produce it, sustainable ways, and there are bad ways. But as is my inclination—it’s a vocational hazard—as I read the book I tinkered with ideas about how its lessons applied to congregational life. This was reinforced by an article Pollan recently wrote for The New York Times Magazine, “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch” (July 29, 2009), about the turn television shows, especially those on the Food Network, have taken. They are no longer about being a good cook; rather, they are about being a good eater. And good eaters we have become, to the detriment of our health and our waistlines (at least mine). How, he asks, can we overcome the damage that our industrialized diet has done to our health? One expert answers: “I have the diet for you. It’s short, and it’s simple. Here’s my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That’s it. Eat anything you want—just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself.”
What does this have to do with congregations? You have to do it yourself. You can’t pick up some processed program off the shelf and expect it have the nutritional value that a locally produced one will. Even if the result seems to be growth as high as a scientifically engineered corn seed, like that seed, which is designed to grow only one season, the results are temporary and illusory. You have to do the work to produce sustainable results. This involves knowing your land—or community—and what kinds of crops—or ministries—will flourish there. It means paying attention to the weather—or the culture—and taking appropriate steps to conserve our resources. It means knowing what and how you are trying to grow, and using the right tools and techniques.
This is how we try to help, with this magazine and all of the other resources we bring to congregations in these challenging times. Our goals are simple if ambitious: to raise up the role of congregations, to support authentic spiritual community, to build strong leadership, and to nurture healthy congregations. One of the ways we do this is to offer you the reflections of others who are doing the work. This issue is full of them. We encourage you to engage their reflections, and to do some reflecting of your own.