March 2015

Church with Garden and Food Pantry Seeks Same

Introduction to The Episcopal Church's Asset Maps

This article is also available in Spanish here. Este artículo está disponible en español aquí.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

(1 Corinthians, 12:4-7)

After months of sub-freezing temperatures and weeks of hopeful anticipation, spring seems to have finally sprung here in Chicago. Having grown up in North Carolina, I’m more than ready for warmer weather… and the opportunity to get back into our church’s garden.

I first came to St. Clement's Episcopal Church – with its food pantry and then dormant garden - in February 2012. My wife had just taken a position at the community health center in Harvey, a troubled suburban city just across the southern boarder of Chicago. We moved to be closer to her work.

Moving also meant that we needed to find a new church home. We were drawn to St. Clement’s, located a few blocks from the community health center, in part by her patients' stories of the pantry at the “red door church.” That door has been raised to icon status among our neighbors. Like many of our sister churches, St. Clement's has a mounting attendance deficit, with average Sunday attendance hovering around fifteen. And, also like many of our sister churches, St. Clement's is steadfastly, stubbornly, extending the hand of Christ's Kingdom to our neighbors who are hurting. Despite our small numbers on Sunday morning, the “red door pantry” provides food to well over 100 neighborhood families every week.

Mary Lou’s community garden

In the summer the red door pantry supplements the canned goods given to our guests with fresh vegetables from Mary Lou’s community garden. Located on a formerly vacant lot adjacent to the churchyard, the garden was started by St. Clement's member Mary Lou Smith after the two abandoned houses on the lot were destroyed in the early 1990s by a fire. A master gardener through the University of Illinois extension center, Mary Lou tended the garden with enormous faith and care until age forced her to retire in 2010. When I came to St. Clement's the garden had been fallow and empty for two years. After just three weeks worshiping at St. Clement's I mustered all of my 22-year-old zeal and gumption and volunteered my services as coordinator for the community garden project. I had learned to garden from my grandparents as a kid growing up in North Carolina but had exactly zero experience managing this type of project.

There are times in all of our lives where it is easy to see God's hand at work. I needed a place to belong and feel productive, Mary Lou's garden needed a gardener, and the people of St. Clement's had enough faith to turn me loose on the project. That first year the garden thrived and our guests enjoyed fresh vegetables all summer long. Then winter came, bringing a welcome break, at least for the first few weeks. This was my first Chicago growing season and only my fourth Chicago winter.

By mid-December my garden zeal teamed up with my cabin fever and I went a little crazy. By late December seed catalogs began arriving in my mailbox in all their titillating glossy glory. I began attending diocesan meetings and gardening planning meetings. In late January as I was flipping through one of my glossier catalogs dreaming of spring, I noticed a small article towards the back about the “seeds of hope” program. This seed supplier was encouraging community gardens associated with feeding programs to write in for a free supply of seeds. I jumped on it and applied.

Wanted: A congregational networking tool

By early March my spring fever had reached delirium levels and my application for seeds of hope program long forgotten. In my quest for things to do, I’d registered for a diocesan summit on social outreach. The morning of the summit, a package arrived: St. Clement’s had received a cubic foot of seeds. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of the seed company and wanted to share this good fortune with other congregations with community gardens. I was surprised to find there did not seem to be an easy way to do this. I am not sure what I expected, but it seemed odd that a networking tool for congregations did not exist. After some detective work, we were able to compile a semi-complete list of congregations with food gardens. I called up a few of them and managed to give away about half of our seeds all the while thinking there must be an easier way to accomplish this.

Growing our garden

That was a few years ago. My drive to contribute has led to joining the small staff at St. Clement's, overseeing the pantry as well as the garden.

I’ve been asked how, being such a tiny congregation, are we able to serve so many guests in our food pantry while also tending our garden. Because we are so small, we use a unique staffing system. Most of the folks who help out during pantry are neighborhood folks who have stepped up to support our mission even though they still qualify for, and occasionally rely on, the services they help provide. We are grateful to receive this gift of Christian service from our friends and neighbors.

The Asset Map

In addition to my role at St. Clement’s, I also work as an intern with the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, working in the area of community engagement. I am particularly excited to be part of the roll out of the Asset Map project. It seems I was not alone in my feeling that there should be an easier way to network churches.

The Asset Map is the product of a partnership between our Diocese, Episcopal Relief and Development, and The Episcopal Church. The map is designed to capture information about the different ministries and programs of each congregation in The Episcopal Church, with all dioceses invited to participate. The map will then keep and display that information, in a graphical form, online where it can be accessed and updated by individuals across the Church.

The map has the potential to be a powerful networking tool for all congregations actively involved in ministries, but it will be especially helpful for congregations wanting to form new ministries and programs who are having difficulty knowing where to start. If there had been an asset map two years ago, I might not still have seeds in my basement.

Nathan Davis serves as director of St. Clement’s food pantry and garden and as an intern with the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago.

Try This:
You can add your community garden or other ministry to the asset map. First, find your diocese on the list at Once you've navigated to your map, zoom in to find the pin for your church or facility. Click on the pin, and then click on the name. This will take you to a page just for this location. On the right, click on the button that says "Take the Survey!" Scroll down the survey and add any information you can. After completing the survey to the best of your ability, click Submit at the bottom of the page. In participating dioceses, your suggestions will be sent to an administrator selected by the bishop to review and publish. If your diocese is not participating yet, your suggestions will be saved until an administrator is able to review them. Have questions? Use the Contact form to reach out to the Asset Map team.


  • "Like" the Episcopal Asset Map on Facebook to follow along with developments, resources, and tips, or join the conversation about how this platform can be even better

Don't miss an issue of Vestry Papers! Sign up for your free subscription here.

This article is part of the March 2015 Vestry Papers issue on Advocacy