“I grew up in a Candy Store Church where we consumed spiritual candy to obesity and competed with other churches of similar ilk. For sure, there were many things at my CSC that commended itself, but I found that we were only growing in girth and not so much in God. My fondness for sweets notwithstanding, there’s only so much of it that a body can take.
Then I found the Vegetable Garden Church. While I intend no malice toward any church in particular, I would like to rate my experience with this new church in contrast to my former.
It seems like a healthier way of doing church…
I think VGC has a greater chance of producing a healthier sort of Christian disciple. You tend to leave from their gatherings healthier than when you came in. In CSC, you may mistake being “full” for being nourished. At VGC, your pangs of hunger are healthily satisfied rather than just being silenced until the Sunday sugar high turns to a Monday low.
You may or may not get a buzz at VGC, a high from your church experience, but you’ve been nourished to live healthily out in the community throughout the week.
At the “Confectionary Church” I just got fat from incessant eating without exercising. But here at VGC, not only is my diet healthier, I get plenty of exercise cultivating and working in the garden.
It offers more than old stale confection…
Rather than being locked in a sanctuary exchanging between ourselves what we already knew, at VGC they learning from one another. Their property is fenceless and so people from the neighborhood can come and go as they please. It’s not just a reiteration of old stale confection that our ancestors left laying around, what they offer is an opportunity to be involved with the propagation of something that lives!
The sessions are much more of an invitation to come and cultivate something rather than simply chew and swallow something made by another. They’re learning how to grow their own produce instead of consuming the sweet product of the professional Confectioner.
Their services are “practices” rather than performances…
The term “service” sounds like someone died and is gone, while what they do at VGC is something new each time, something alive, something growing.
They don’t just meet to eat, but to practice how to live their faith in the community. Sometimes they’re all about doing the hard work of plowing hard soil, weeding soil that’s crowded with weeds, or harvesting what’s been cultivated. They don’t just eat together, they work together!
The work isn’t done when they leave their gardening sessions. Each member has their own personal garden at home and in the community to cultivate. They’re learning to garden in a hands-on way, as opposed to simply listening to lectures about gardening. They gather to practice what they’ll do when they scatter throughout the community.
I really like the vision of the church…
Their vision isn’t something they distill into a statement for their website. Though you often hear them talk about “growing together,” they seem to actively avoid slogans and mottos to describe what they’re about. But if I were to put it into words, I’d say their vision is to multiply gardeners and gardens. The vision of my old Candy Store Church was to make consumers of confections. The Confectioners make and distribute the candy and thereby create consumers. The gardeners at VGC, on the other hand, feed the hungry by planting vegetables and teaching them to do the same.
At CSC we put on “Confectionery Conventions” to market our product in hopes of gaining new candy customers. At VGC they go out into the community individually to teach their neighbors how to garden for themselves. Once they get the gardening bug (no pun intended) they tend to want to come to their gardening gatherings for camaraderie, the exchange of gardening tips, and periodic lectures on some of the new advances in gardening from the their resident specialists.
The leaders are more about training than just teaching…
Speaking of those lectures, they’re quite different than the expert confectioners at CSC who seemed to be mostly about showing off their candy making knowledge. Through their talks the VGC, “expert” gardeners train them to use the very same tools that they use in their gardening.
I always felt like the CSC leaders were holding something back from us second-class citizens of the confectionary world. They were the confectioners and we were the consumers. Our relationship was symbiotic. We needed them to make the candy and they needed us to buy it so they could continue making it. I never got the impression that they wanted us to be candy makers ourselves, but rather consumers of what only they could cook up to impress us enough to keep coming back for more.
The VGC leaders are more like facilitators than figureheads. They not only demonstrate how to use a tool, they hand it to the members for their own gardening pleasure.
It’s like a community garden where everyone is welcome to garden WITH them. They seem to actually believe that each person has something to contribute, all the way to the person who isn’t yet following Jesus. In my former church we veterans were pretty constricted to knowing what we knew and knew that there was nothing new to know! But in this church there’s an unwritten philosophy that says that we all stand to learn from each other, regardless of spiritual maturity.
This church isn’t competing with other churches…
In contrast to the Candy Store Church where we always had something to sell, VGC doesn’t think in terms of “their slice of the market.” In fact, they don’t really do any “marketing” per se. Their bottom-line has nothing to do with profit or even how many people visit their garden. To them, people are not a means to an end, they are the end. They’re not trying to fill the seats so they can feel better about themselves. They seem to realize that they exist for the community and not the reverse.
They’re not trying to have a bigger, better garden than everyone else. Their pride in their church notwithstanding, they claim no superiority over other gardens. While it’s true that they love their church, they sincerely do want others to flourish as much or more than they do. They pose no competition with anyone else for the market, their ultimate hope is that all the gardens will together feed their malnourished community and teach them how to grow their own spiritual food.
Their “share of the market” is whatever it is. They want everyone to know the joy of gardening and benefits of eating healthy, but if another garden grows larger than theirs they celebrate it. The net growth of all the gardens and the general health of their community is what makes them happy.
Rather than consumers, their members tend to be workers…
In my old Candy Store Church we had a select few candy makers. It was one of those implied messages that not everyone was qualified. It was only the master Confectioner that knew how to make the best candy. The rest of us were just eaters who paid for the candy so the workers could continue their work and make more candy.
At VGC, while they all do eat, and quite well I must say, they’re all laborers in the garden. Everyone’s a gardener in the church. If you don’t know how to dig or plant or prune or harvest you’ll be taught, but not just so you can have a certificate that says you’ve been to the class, but so you can actually dig, plant, prune and harvest.
The church produces a high yield on a low budget…
Unlike the CSC, whose product comes with a price, at VGC they don’t sell their produce. At the candy making church they have workers to pay, machinery to maintain, and mortgage payments to make (big ones!) – to say nothing of a colossal advertising budget! It takes a lot to “run a church” of that type. My old CSC spent embarrassingly large amounts of money for the best staff, the state of the art equipment, and unrelenting building projects and remodels. At VGC they haven’t so mortgaged themselves to the hilt that they can’t afford to give their produce away for free. Rather than pool their money for in-house budget constraints, they’re free to be generous with the poor in the community and around the world.
All you need for a VGC is some dirt, a few tools, lots of seed, and a few willing workers. The rest is up to God to make his sun to shine and his rain to fall. It’s a much simpler (not easier) approach. In most ways, membership at my old CSC was “easier.” Just show up, buy sweets, sell them to one another, and go home. But at VGC you don’t pay for someone to do your work for you. You should always bring work gloves to church. If you forget, they have extras.
I gave VGC four instead of five stars because, though it’s a great model of what church should look like, there’s no one perfect example of the model. They still have tiffs over gardening techniques and a rare rock star instructor. I guess that’s just human nature. But it’s the best church I’ve found so far.
Thanks for listening.
I have an audio podcast exposition of the Candy Store Church if you’re interested.