Every day, little by little it grows. Every day it slowly becomes more visible and tangible. All of us are excited for the day it will fully bear the fruit of all the meticulous “TLC” we have given it. I’m talking about our little green jalapeño plant. Thanks to the collective efforts of Peter our Liberian chief gardener, the Parkside Altar members, and the residents of the Parkside apartments in Glen Ellyn, we have our first-ever community garden! Soon the little chilis, cilantro, okra, beans and squash—reflective of the diversity of our community—will make their way into delicious Mexican sauces, African-American soul food and a variety of other meals.
“What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus asks. His response: Love God with all that you are and secondly love your neighbor as yourself. This gets a little tricky, though, when you don’t know your neighbor, or don’t like them very much. At the Parkside Altar, one of the fundamental things that we do is pretty simple: we try to get to know our neighbors and be good neighbors. It’s a complex simplicity. Not having a church building, but simply living as residents of this community, we try to be the church in the world through our everyday lives. Sometimes people ask us what we do at Parkside, usually wondering what programs we have. “Mostly, we just live and hang out,” is my usual answer, though this casualness fails to describe the intentionality and “thought-through-ness” of our living and “hanging”.
Having a community garden is a way for us to be good neighbors. Planning it out and working together to water and weed it become a way for the community to become a true community—more than just a collection of people living in the same space. Not only do we get to know our neighbors, but other neighbors get to know each other as well.
Dividing the garden into small plots, we paired families together who didn’t know each other and who are from different backgrounds. Brett and Julie C., even though they don’t live at Parkside, decided to jump in on the fun. They were paired with a Hispanic family, giving them the opportunity to meet neighbors—in an even broader sense—that they may not have otherwise met.
An African-American family and an African refugee family got paired together in another plot. This has led to a friendship that grows at about the same rate as their shared plot; slowly, but surely. It’s a beautiful thing. Whether we actually get any vegetables in the end is less important; this garden is growing a community of neighbors.
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Story and photos by Jonathan Kindberg