March 2011
Caring for God's Creation

Faith in Action

Faith in action – loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength by loving our neighbors as ourselves – is the hallmark of Jubilee Ministry. At Messiah-St. Bartholomew in Chicago’s south side neighborhood of Avalon Park, loving and serving our community is a way of life.

The Messiah-St. Bartholomew Development Center (MSBDC) is a vital presence in Avalon Park, working with community members to meet changing needs through a variety of enrichment and life skills programs.

Last year, in response to the difficulty community members had in accessing fresh produce, MSBDC, in partnership with Faith in Place, wrote and applied for an Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity grant to start a community garden. The garden, located on the grounds of the nearby Aztlan Community Center, quickly became a collaborative effort with participation from the Messiah-St. Bartholomew congregation and other community groups.

During the summer of 2010, the garden produced cucumbers, eggplants, greens, herbs/spices, peppers, and tomatoes. Five young adults were hired to supervise, plant, and maintain the garden throughout the summer and fall. Members of the parish planted and weeded, encouraged by the staff to make a three-times-a-week commitment to the garden.

A flower garden and butterfly habitat were also planted, serving to both beautify the garden site and to provide a natural method of encouraging useful insects while discouraging those insects harmful to the garden.

As the summer went on, people began to use the garden for early morning meditation and exercise. The garden offered a place of serenity and calm amidst a busy neighborhood.

Parish youth took part in the “Seniors on the Block” plant project, a neighborhood beautification program in which each youth assisted a community resident by planting, watering, and maintaining their property.

As part of the learning experience, volunteers and staff visited organic farms and participated in workshops on recycling and green growth.

At the end of the growing season, MSBDC celebrated with the first annual Harvest Mass and the creation of the Summer Youth Garden Cookbook. The cookbook grew out of a requirement by the funding source that each participant provide recipes and a cooking demonstration using produce from the garden.

Our 2011 gardening season began on April 1, with expectations to increase the size of our harvest and the number of volunteers involved in this ministry. On Palm Sunday, we’ll hold an Earth Dedication Celebration incorporating a procession and the distribution of palms.

Our partners in this ministry include:

  • Faith in Place, an organization partners with religious congregations to promote clean energy and sustainable farming. They provided seed funding for garden tools and a stipend for youth workers, as well as a connection to Chicago’s green network of neighborhood gardens.
  • Aztlan Community Center provided land for the garden as well as the water needed to sustain it, at no cost to MSBDC.
  • Green Corps Chicago, a program of the City’s Department of Environment charged with promoting environmental responsibility and establishing natural spaces that are safe, healthy and sustainable. Community gardens are created through the hands-on work of Greencorp’s trainees and its public/community partners. This program is open to any school, faith institution, library, public housing community, or block club working in a public space. At the MSBDC garden, they provided certification for a master gardener and seeds for the project.
  • St. Augustine Episcopal Church, Wilmette provided seedlings and flowers for the garden.

Through this ministry, the Messiah-St. Bartholomew community continues to live into its commitment to the guiding principles of a Jubilee Ministry, fighting against poverty and injustice by empowering people to change their lives.

Philip Mantle is the director of the Messiah-St.BartholomewDevelopmentCenter and the Jubilee officer for the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago.

Faith in Place
Green Corps Chicago
Green Corps Chicago: Stories from the Green Collar video

This article is part of the March 2011 Vestry Papers issue on Caring for God's Creation