Saturday, October 5, 2013

Project Eden: The End and The Beginning...

About a month ago the Cathedral Student Ministry decided that a proper gift to the Cathedral for it's 160th Anniversary Celebrations would be a revitalization of the garden beds around the Cathedral. At the time I wrote a blog post about the idea, showing pictures of the garden beds, and discussing the dream of a more beautiful space (the post is below this one). Well, I kind of haven't posted anything since then. And not for any particular reason other than the fact that life gets ahead of us sometimes. But, it's nice to come back to Undiscovered Brother with an update about the project that only one and a half months ago was merely an idea--a dream. 

On Sunday, 22 September, the Cathedral Student Ministry planted the garden beds! They named the gardening project, Project Eden. And, indeed, the mood of the event was that of a new beginning.

When we started the project we were unsure of exactly how everything would come together. We knew we wanted to present the garden beds to the Cathedral as a gift. We knew that we wanted to invite Cathedral congregants to offer their gardening gifts and talents. We knew we wanted to invite community members and organizations to  share in the project. We knew we'd have to account for vandalism--people stealing plants for medicinal reasons, loose donkey and cattle eating the plants, and our homeless brothers and sisters potentially using the garden as a toilet. So, we began with a lot of questions, with a lot of hopes, and with a vision that had shape, but no specific detail. We offered our idea up to God, and we asked for the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and hearts to potential solutions and possibilities. We knew that congregants would love the idea. We knew that community members would love to offer their help. And after hearing warning after warning of the potential vandalism by "street people," we felt that we had to continue by trusting our neighbors--whether living in homes or out of them--appealing to their deeper humanity.

One day, on a pastoral visit with the Cathedral's Pastoral Assistant Wayne Van Rooyen, I met Val and Rose Buchner. Val and Rose are avid gardeners. Their yard is bursting with indigenous South African plants, flowers, and aloes of all kinds. In their backyard one can find lemons and a lettuce patch. It is, indeed, a place full of life--well taken care of and nurtured. Val gave me a tour of his gardens, and showed me the type of manure that he uses. Behind a shed he had bags and bags of horse manure from a place in Grahamstown called the Grahamstown Riding Club--horse stables. Val agreed that he'd be eyes and ears on the ground for us--pun intended--helping us think about types of plants we could use, and how to manage such a big project. After that visit the CSM spoke with the folks at the Grahamstown Riding Club to see if they would be interested in sponsoring manure for our project. After discussing the option as a charitable donation, the lady at the riding club laughed at me and said, "'s just manure. We'd be more than happy to give you whatever you need."

A few days later I was talking to Maurice about the garden and all of the things that the Student Ministry needed to do in order to get things ready by September. Maurice suggested that I talk to Br. Timothy Jolley from the Order of the Holy Cross, the monastery where Maurice is staying, because Br. Timothy takes manages the gardens at the monastery and probably would be more than happy to assist with the garden. He was! The idea excited him like one couldn't have imagined. He drove with me down to the Cathedral from the monastery, and he discussed what plants would work best in what garden beds according to what trees were around, and the amount of sun the garden beds received. Soon after the CSM planned a retreat weekend to the monastery. Along with Val Buchner, one Saturday, we attended noon-day prayer with the brothers, we had lunch with them, then Br. Timothy walked us through the monastery gardens to show us indigenous plants that were strong and would work well in the garden beds. He then offered to donate ALL of the plants that we would need for the garden. After we took a tour through the gardens we sat in a conference room at the monastery and workshopped the project. We started off with prayer, then we discussed what we thought the Spirit was saying to us about this project by focusing on the feelings and emotions we experience when thinking about Project Eden. A discussion of our feelings was a starting point for us to begin thinking about we wanted to tell the story of Project Eden, how we wanted to plan the gardening event, and the general ethos that we wanted this project to take on. In that workshop we planned the program for the garden party, and the events that would take place during the gardening (ex. face painting, speck boom planting stations, and a hotdog stand).

At this point, with all of the excitement from congregants and community organizations alike, we knew that we were on to something. Still, we could only see the shape of the project. But, the details were starting to come together. Even the local grocery store agreed to donate 200 hotdogs and hotdog buns for the day of the event. But, what happened next would take many people by surprise...

In staff meeting one morning the Dean and Sub-Dean of the Cathedral asked me had I seen the municipality digging up the garden beds. I hadn't. I was shocked. In talks with many Cathedral members I learned that the garden beds actually belonged to the municipality, but the municipality had given the Cathedral permission, long ago, to do whatever we pleased with them. I ran down to the gardens, and asked the foreman to have his boss call me before they planted anything. The next morning I got a call from the municipalities director of grounds and gardens, Kevin Bates. After I explained the project to Kevin he was more than happy to meet me so that we could discuss a possible collaboration. We met at the garden and he loved the idea that the CSM was taking up this project. He offered to import large and small aloes, and an assortment of other indigenous plants for the project; as well as wood chips and large rocks for accent.

This was the result a one and half month long process of prayer, people coming together, and planning...

I'm not sure anyone could have expected such a warm reception to our idea. From the offering up of resources and helping hands, to the prayers that could be felt. What is most evident here, for me, is this theme of "process." Often we hear that we must fall in love with the "process" if we are to get the most out of life. For a long time I didn't know exactly what this meant. Yet, as I get older that concept of "falling in love with the process" makes more sense. It is true in terms of planning a garden, waiting for some internal transformation of the spirit, or watching a plant take root in the ground to become something that we cannot yet see, but trust will be. The process is the liminal space of our existence where most of the work is done, where mini-victories are won in respect to the larger battle, where mini-setbacks keep us on our toes, where one waits for a response to an email asking for sponsorship or advice, where one stumbles upon a new friend that has endless knowledge about the very thing you've been struggling to grasp or understand, where people disagree about what will work and will not. The Process is the space where we are called to be active in planning and active in waiting--putting things in place, and leaving room for the Holy Spirit to put them there for us. No one in CSM knew about the Grahamstown Riding Club before this event, or that Val Buchner had a garden for a yard, or that Br. Timothy was a gardener par excellence, or that the Makana Municipality had planned to cultivate the garden beds the same week as our event. But, because this project was held in prayer I believe that the energy of God drew all of us together.

The students will have a memory that they can cherish for years to come. They have an experience that they can share with friends and family. They can talk about how one small idea became a reason to bring neighbors together. I call that revelation: when seemingly isolated situations speak vividly to one another, through time, bearing a gift that brings about the greatest joys of the heart, mind, and soul.

And looking at the garden two weeks later we see that the end of one process inevitably inaugurates another process. We rejoice in the moments of completion, and we look to God with faith and thanksgiving to be with us as we begin the new process of taking care of and watering the gardens. And it is by faith, and the evidence of the garden, that we know that God will show us new things as we learn what it means to be responsible for and with the blessing God has given the Cathedral!

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