Asbury UMC in Oklahoma City expanded its Thursday ministry for young people by planting a community garden this year. And UM connectionalism is helping as that garden grows disciples as well as produce.
Two years ago, the congregation began Thursday Night Fun Night, a safe alternative to unsupervised outdoor activity. Neighborhood children and youths, primarily Hispanic, gather with adult volunteers at the church every Thursday and play games, do crafts, and talk about their week and challenges they face. Attendance ranges from 25 to 70 people.
OKC-Asbury is a smaller congregation, and Pastor Dawn Richards said sufficient adult oversight has been difficult at times for the community night. Then students of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Oklahoma in Norman heard of that need and stepped up to help.
They have volunteered in the program every Thursday evening, said Rev. Richards. They give time once a month to paint and do other upkeep at the church.
They also dig the gardening work.
This year, OKC’s Hillcrest-Fuente De Vida UMC joined in this ministry as well.
The addition of the garden especially helps the children and youths connect to God’s creation, noted Richards. The Wesley Foundation at OU collected a special offering one month and helped purchase most of the plants. All ages helped prepare and till the ground and plant the garden, at the back of the church property.
"Our prayer is that Wendi Neal, the pastor at Hillcrest-Fuente De Vida, can establish a relationship with the Spanish-speaking parents of our children and connect them with the worshipping congregation at her church," Richards said.
Over six months, the children and youths have helped weed, water, and maintain the garden. It’s planted with cayenne, habanera, jalapeño, and poblano peppers as well as tomatoes, onions, and a watermelon plant, Richards said. All the produce goes home with the children and youths.
Those who also attend Sunday School have learned even more about gardening, healthy eating, and what God has created to help a garden thrive.
"Alone, Asbury could not have managed this garden or our fruitful Thursday evening ministry," Richards concluded.