From Resurrection Gardens to ‘Grow a Row’

July 14, 2022 by Erin Dunigan

On Palm Sunday members of the First Presbyterian Church of Saranac Lake did something different – they gathered together after worship. It was the first time they had done so since the beginning of the pandemic. The reason? To create Resurrection Gardens. It seemed like the perfect way to celebrate being  together again.

Though the congregation in Upstate New York's Adirondack region had been meeting masked for worship, there had been no after-church activities since the beginning of the pandemic. Palm Sunday's Resurrection Garden Project marked its first gathering in more than two years.

Resurrection Gardens is a simple idea, not unique to their congregation, explained pastor Joann White. The garden is made with soil, grass seeds, a tiny flower pot that is turned on its side to represent the tomb and a rock to block the tomb. Three crosses are placed in the garden, which is then covered in the grass seed. The soil is kept moist during Holy Week, so by the time Easter Sunday arrives, the grass has germinated, the garden is green, and the stone can be rolled away from the tomb. A simple tabletop container garden in a dish, Resurrection Garden kits are even available from online sites such as Etsy.

“It was such a beautiful morning to be able to gather together, have Palm Sunday worship, and then make our gardens,” said White. “We invited families from the church to make gardens and asked them to invite their friends and others from the community,” she said.

For a small church, the response was a big one – the church's social media post about the Resurrection Gardens went viral and received over 2000 views. Families from the church and the community participated. Kits were also mailed and hand-delivered around the community to those who requested them.

These Resurrection Gardens are part of a larger year-long outreach experiment. FPC Saranac Lake received a grant from the Synod of the Northeast to work with church consultant John Fong, a Presbyterian himself, to help them think creatively about reaching out to the world around them.

Inspired by the response to Resurrection Gardens, the church is now in the midst of its next outreach experiment – Grow a Row. “We have invited people in the church and the community to ‘grow a row' of vegetables in their own garden to provide fresh vegetables to the local food pantry,” said White.

The church's own garden is part of the wider community garden. When the church first suggested the idea, the leaders of the food pantry were skeptical. They told the church there would be no market for fresh vegetables and that those who come to the food pantry would not know how to cook the fresh vegetables since they are more accustomed to packaged and frozen food. So, the church not only provided the fresh vegetables, but also recipes and cooking instructions to accompany them.

“Now, not only do people want the fresh vegetables, but people show up early because they want the first pick of the produce,” said White. “We have made so many friends in the community who we never knew or saw before,” she said.

“We are an earth care congregation and we are passionate about growing healthy food for the food pantry as a way to care for our neighbors in need,” said White. “This gives people a different look at evangelism – seeing yourself as a faithful person embedded in the community who invites their neighbors to share in what they are passionate about,” said White.

At the beginning of each growing season, the church holds a service for the Blessing of the Seeds. The seeds are placed on the Lord's Table, there is a liturgy, and then the seeds are blessed. “After the blessing, when I was organizing the seeds to plant in our community garden, I was missing some packets of seeds,” said White. She wondered what she might have done with them. A few weeks later, after worship, she was talking with a young adult new to the congregation. He told her that he was so inspired that he had taken the seeds to plant his own garden and participate in Grow a Row.

“With all of this, we are just sowing the Word out there – in new ways because of this new world that Covid has brought us – but we are trusting that some will find good soil and take root and become a blessing to the community,” said White.