by Stephanie Shockley
When my parish had to cancel our annual Christmas craft fair due to COVID, we took on a different fundraiser – a pumpkin patch. The pumpkin patch is outdoors, in the side yard of the rectory, by a busy road – and it’s colorful, festive, and fun. It’s the perfect event for these times.
I try to look for the spiritual lessons in ordinary things, and the pumpkin patch in my yard has offered an abundance of wisdom.
Here are some of the lessons that have come to me over and over again during these weeks of selling this quintessential symbol of autumn:
Ask for help: We are a small congregation, and we did not have enough people to unload a tractor trailer of pumpkins ourselves. We asked the community – everyone we could think of – for help. Even though the pumpkins arrived on a weekday afternoon, dozens of people came to our aid. The result was a chaotic scene of wheelbarrows, pumpkin piles, and camaraderie that would never have happened if we hadn’t asked for help.
Trust others: When you have 1,000 pumpkins to sell, you don’t lock them in the parish hall every night. Instead, you trust that they will still be on their pallets in the yard at the beginning of each day. As far as we can tell, the only pumpkin theft has come from the squirrels.
Nothing lasts forever: Pumpkins are a vegetable. Even when well cared for, they rot, they get infested by ants, and, as mentioned before, the squirrels love to break them open and eat the seeds. Nothing in our earthly life lasts forever. Neither good times nor calamity are eternal.
Stay grounded: In a time where everything is “virtual” the pumpkins are very real. They are heavy and hard work to move. They have dirt from the fields clinging to them. They are things of substance and weight at a time when everything is in “the cloud.” They remind us to ground ourselves by being present and connecting with tangible things in the world around us.
Find joy: There is nothing like the joy of small children running into the pumpkin patch squealing “Pumpkins!!” This has been a hard year, and there will always be hard times. Even in the hardest times there is a place for joy. There is always time for being in the moment and delighting in God’s creation.
Appreciate the uniqueness of each individual: Our pumpkin patch visitors are captivated by the uniqueness of each pumpkin. Our pumpkins come in a variety of colors – bright orange, peach, white, gray-green, and mixtures of those, and a number of textures and patterns. They range from small enough to fit in your hand to so heavy you need to wheel them to your car. Each has its own unique look and personality. No two are alike, but each one adds something to the pumpkin patch. This is a reminder about the uniqueness of each person – and how every one of us adds something one of a kind and irreplaceable to the world.
Many of us are looking towards the upcoming months with great trepidation. We worry about the aftermath of the US election, weathering a pandemic winter, and so many other concerns, both personal and communal. We are tired and anxious, and our faith is being tested. Perhaps we are having trouble seeing God at work in the world around us. Perhaps we do not know how we will get through it all.
As the seasons turn, and we consider All Hallowstide (Halloween, All Saints’, All Souls’), remember the lessons of the pumpkin patch. Ask for help when you need it. Trust others to do what’s right. Stay grounded in the present moment, and in the love of God. Allow yourself to find joy in something or someone, even if for just a moment. Appreciate the uniqueness of each person – include yourself. Remember that even if you feel helpless, you have something, even a kind word, to contribute. Finally, remember that nothing on earth – not the good, not the bad, lasts forever. The only thing that is forever is God’s love for us. Take heart in that and allow it to reassure you in the days and months ahead.
The Rev. Stephanie Shockley is the Priest-in-Charge of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross in North Plainfield, NJ. She has also worked as a hospital chaplain as well as a volunteer chaplain to New York City’s activist community.