2:00 P.M. EST April 20, 2010
Don Logner shovels compost at Anathoth Community Garden in Cedar Grove,
N.C. UMNS photos by Ronny Perry.
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Just think: It all started with the wrong piece of fruit.
The earth was days old, and humans were already eating things they
weren’t supposed to. It didn’t please God then, and religious leaders
think it doesn’t now, either.
“The Adam and Eve story says eating is a religious act that has
something to do with our relationship with God,” says Ellen Davis, a
professor of biblical studies and practical theology at Duke Divinity
School in Durham, N.C. “This story says there are limits. There’s only
one rule and the humans violate it. The outcome of their act is the
cursing of the soil.”
How we eat is directly tied to God’s command that we be good stewards
of creation, say a growing number of theologians. The United Methodist
Church warns against the misuse of resources in the production and
consumption of food, and some congregations are establishing community
gardens and avoiding processed food at church suppers.
But there is a long way to go to reach the divine ideal, advocates
“The first human being, Adam, comes from the earth; his job is to
take care of the garden,” says Norman Wirzba, who teaches classes on
caring for creation at Duke Divinity School. “It’s not as if farming or
gardening is somehow tangential to what it is to be a human being.”
Environmental value menu
Ever consider how a cheeseburger could cost less than a dollar?
The demand for inexpensive and convenient food – and lots of it – has
intersected with a shifting agricultural model that reaps massive
profits while engaging in practices that pollute the air, water and
soil, and consume rapidly shrinking resources. Animals are kept in
unsanitary, inhumane conditions and injected with chemicals that promote
rapid growth in a shorter period. The same industry often exploits its
workers by paying unfair labor wages.
“I like to say when we sit down to a meal of fast food, perhaps our
prayer should be more one of confession,” says the Rev. Grace Hackney,
pastor of Cedar Grove United Methodist Church in North Carolina.
Norman Wirzba, Research Professor of Theology, Ecology and Rural Life,
Duke Divinity School.
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Wirzba has seen the “cursing of the soil” firsthand.
He grew up working on his grandfather’s farm in Alberta, Canada. His
grandfather had always used traditional practices, but when he opened a
small cattle feedlot, it became obvious to Wirzba how even small-scale
industrial farming was destructive. In order to fatten the cattle up for
sale, they were taken off pastures and put in confinement, where they
were fed only specific grains. Growing those grains required the use of
pesticides, more acreage and more machinery.
“This model cannot be sustained,” Wirzba says. “Good farming, like my
grandfather did, has at its core the care of animals and the land as
its first priority.”
Scripture points to a different way, Wirzba says.
“If we eat in ways that honor God’s creation, we will have healthier
lands, cleaner water, more contented and happy animals, and our health
will be better too.”
The United Methodist Book of Resolutions urges members to “analyze
their consumption patterns and seek to live a simple and less
resource-dependent life.” It also advocates for responsible land use.
The enormity of the challenge should not discourage congregations
from taking important steps from encouraging their members to adapt
healthier lifestyles to sponsoring farmer’s markets.
“We don’t have to do it on a large scale,” Hackney says. “It may be
as simple as fixing healthier food at your potlucks.”
Or starting a community garden.
Tending the garden
Cedar Grove Church runs Anathoth Community Garden, a 5-acre plot of
land where all the farm work is done by hand, and members share the
harvest. Membership in the garden is only $5, but members are expected
to work in the garden a few hours a week.
The Rev. Grace Hackney, pastor of Cedar Grove United Methodist Church,
was one of the driving forces behind opening Anathoth Community Garden.
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“We wanted the garden to be accessible to anyone in the community,”
Hackney says. “Unlike a typical community supported agriculture program,
where they do all the work and bundle up boxes to give to people, we
divide up whatever is being harvested each day between whoever is
The garden’s original mission statement came from the prophet
Jeremiah, who was called by God during time of war to plant gardens to
“seek the peace of the place” he had been sent and to eat the food that
was produced. Anathoth was the name of the field that Jeremiah was
called to purchase.
Hackney feels a special call to care for the land.
“We all know how the story starts – God said it was good. We were
created to be stewards of that goodness. Over time, the church has
fallen into the same trap many do, to think man stands apart from
creation. But we’re part of creation.”
Tending the flock
Food consumption reflects not only care for the earth, but care for
our own bodies. Remember that saying about the body being a temple?
Leslie Hobbs is a firm believer.
Hobbs, a member of Highland United Methodist Church in Raleigh, N.C.,
became the church’s first director of food ministry when she was
approached to prepare Wednesday night meals.
“During the conversation, someone used the term food ministry and I
said, ‘That’s not just putting together a dinner.’ To me, food ministry
means lining up your food habits and your faith in a way that’s
Leslie Hobbs, director of food ministries at Highland United Methodist
Church, makes church meals healthier by avoiding processed foods.
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Hobbs drew from her culinary background and prepared healthier meals
from scratch, using fresh ingredients and no processed foods.
Before Hobbs began cooking the meals, “members could walk down the
frozen food aisle at the grocery store and identify what we had for
dinner each week!” says Anita Taylor, Highland’s director of children’s
ministry. “We saw attendance decline and we knew we needed to do
something to bring people back to this fellowship opportunity.”
Hobbs says she’s always admired the parables about agriculture as
illustrations of how we’re to live our lives.
“I look at the bounty that God gave us. It’s amazing. We have
pomegranates and peaches!” She adds that when you spend time to prepare
your own food, “it’s a spiritual thing that you can’t get by tearing
open a bag of frozen food and throwing it on a plate.”
It is also a community thing.
Hobbs says her food ministry at Highland has been about making church
approachable and having members want to spend quality time together.
“God made us social creatures,” she says. “If we start cutting
ourselves off from others, we become like a fruit that rots on the
It all comes back to food
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is either “coming from a meal, at a meal or
going to a meal. Eating’s fundamental,” Wirzba says.
And it may not stop when we die.
In his upcoming book, “Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating,” he
contemplates whether we’ll eat in heaven.
“We want to have some idea of whether or not there’s eating in heaven
because that might have something to say about what the eating we do
now should look like,” he says.
So … will we?
“If God’s life is communion, and our life is supposed to be
communion, and we know eating to be a vital part of communion, I think
heaven’s going to have eating in it.”
That news should please Leslie Hobbs. Can you imagine how delicious
the pomegranates will be?
*Butler is editor of 18-34 content at United Methodist
Communications, Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5105 or firstname.lastname@example.org.