Our home has a beautiful garden—it’s a large part of why we bought the tumble-down shell we’ve lovingly formed into something beautiful.
We live in a large city, so its 45-metre-long stretch is quite something. It brings my wife much joy. In the early days of living here, when we had one finished room, barely functional heating and a bathroom that was a mild deathtrap, we spent a few weeks working on the garden.
There were some good reasons for this to do with the order you have to do things in. We wanted to convert our integral garage into my study, I’m sat writing in it now. So, first we needed to build a small outbuilding.
Which of course meant, hire a digger. I was away with work that week and missed a lot of the drama, including four people racing up and down our 45-metre garden with wheelbarrows to take concrete from a wagon to our newly dug trenches. But when you’re moving earth you may as well move a lot of it. We also filled in a pond to make a new kitchen garden area. Later that summer I bought some sleepers and made a series of connected raised beds next to the greenhouse.
The next year the harvest was bountiful. A cob of corn taken from your own garden and roasted over a wood fire for lunch is a special thing. The Dahlias, Helen’s favourites, did particularly well, keeping the house full of some of nature’s most over-the-top flowers for many months.
This year, the harvest isn’t looking so promising. It’s mostly the weather, though there are some other factors. Last year’s spring was glorious, this year spring was wet and summer was late. The first Dahlia came out today, as I write in July.
I was reading Hannah Anderson’s Turning of Days recently—which, by the by, you should purchase and savour—and in a chapter focused on Autumn she describes the precarity of the harvest season and her joy at seeing what does and doesn’t come up:
“But if I’m honest (and I try to be), I know that my ability to delight in this seasonal drama is rooted in abundance. My life and the lives of those I love do not depend exclusively on the work of my hands. Or the whim of a growing season. If a certain crop does well, all the better, but if it does poorly, I can purchase food elsewhere.”
In some ways the precarity of growing things is irrelevant in my modern urban life. I like that we grow things. It feels like the right way to live and is good for our hearts even if my wife does most of the growing. There’s something to be said for the argument that only the rich can grow their own food—but I would side with Tish Harrison Warren in The Liturgy of the Ordinary and suggest that puts a moral imperative on those who can, rather than those who can’t.
Hannah Anderson moves on to apply the lesson of her garden, that she cannot make things grow, to the kingdom by considering Jesus use of the proverb, ‘one sows and another reaps’ (John 4). The natural world reminds us of our interdependence. It’s the same in the kingdom. He who reaps is rarely she who sowed. The fruit our churches enjoy is often not all our own work.
We probably don’t recognise this.
It got me thinking about something else. I’ve moved for a while in the sort of churches that make a big deal of having and casting ‘vision’. Here’s my new insight: this is a distinctly urban way of thinking and acting. At least in part because you have to divorced from the earth to learn the audacity of thinking that you would be able to make a five year plan for growing your church. We don’t anticipate or expect failure.
I don’t think vision is a bad thing. A friend of mine wrote the literal book on the subject. Without vision the people perish (Proverbs 29). While Solomon didn’t mean precisely the same thing we do, it’s not a bad thing to plan, and it’s not a bad thing to have a singular conception of where God is taking you and your church that might be different (while complementary) to those of other churches in your city.
But I do think we should consider how much we’re formed by our environments. I do think we should consider what we’ve lost when we left the ground behind. Perhaps we should also consider that what is an appropriate way to think about church leadership in an urban environment won’t make as much sense in a suburban or rural one. Perhaps we should stop forcing our methods on each other like they’re gospel.
We do already have a gospel.
Perhaps we should also spend some time in prayer to thank God for the workers who went before us. Our new Christians and baptisms are the fruit of our work in the gospel, for example. But they’re also the fruit of other Christians who have loved them and told them the truth. They’re the fruit of other Christians whose lives have made the offer Jesus extends to them plausible.
They’re also the fruit of a nation shaped by Christianity for around a millennia and half. Even though the UK can’t really claim to be ‘Christian’ in any meaningful way beyond the highly literal sense that we have an established church, we do have a legacy of more than fifteen centuries of living the way of Jesus, loving one another, dying well, and speaking the truth of the resurrection. This leaves grooves in our society.
Which is to say that our harvest is because of us, and because of them—every last one of the faithful lives that come before us—and because of the God who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3).
So, let’s thank God.
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