Friends of Episcopal Relief and Development share the story of how The Falls Church Episcopal in Falls Church, Virginia is growing both a revitalized congregation and bok choy.
The congregation has seen tremendous growth since moving back into its buildings after a lengthy lawsuit over ownership, from an average Sunday attendance of ninety to now almost two hundred people. While there are many factors that contributed to this growth, one area that has become particularly vibrant is the youth and children’s ministry.
In August, Nina Bacas, Director of Children’s, Youth and Family Ministries, decided to incorporate Abundant Life Garden Project® resources into the Sunday School curriculum. The classes, broken into five groups, ranging in age from three years old to sixth graders and up, began working through Abundant Life Garden Project® lessons. Additionally, they planted a garden on the church grounds and each week a different class was responsible for the care and maintenance of the garden.
The lessons each week made the connection to the garden very clear. As students were learning about agricultural practices around the world and how tiny seeds–like the mustard seed in Jesus’ parable–grow into something good and wholesome, they were using their hands to cultivate soil, to deliver clean water to the earth and to harvest the bounty that came from their own hands. Each Abundant Life Garden Project® module teaches about the work of Episcopal Relief & Development, while allowing for tangible connection to the Episcopal faith and practical connection to the earth.
One particular vegetable that grew in abundance in The Falls Church garden was bok choy, a type of Chinese cabbage. So plentiful was the yield of this vegetable that part of the harvest was given to the food pantry of the Lazarus Ministry, a self-help ministry of The Falls Church. This ministry, run by lay people, is open each Thursday morning. People can come and select fresh fruits and vegetables, canned goods, dairy products, and personal care items from the pantry, as well as use computers to help them search online for employment opportunities.
Additionally, a portion of the harvest was given to the Shelter House, an organization that helps formerly homeless women and children transition into homes. Three of these families live in proximity to the church and received fresh produce from the children’s garden. Preparations are now being made to plant the spring garden, building off the lessons and the excellent work of the autumn.
“I love it when different ministries come together – a blossoming children’s and youth group, using our historic grounds creatively, and serving the poor,” says Rev. John Ohmer, Rector of The Falls Church. “Just like those vegetables grow naturally out of good soil, good works come from good hearts rooted in the Holy Spirit.”