Disciple: Food, Faith and Community in a Pandemic
The Friendship Table and Good News Garden at St. Mary’s, High Point, feed body and soul
When St. Mary’s, High Point, conceived of launching an intentional community program for young adults at the intersection of food and faith, the church did not anticipate the challenges the ministry would face in its inaugural year. The vision was clear: a small group of young adults committing to a year of communal living under a rule of life, practices of prayer and formation, and service to alleviate hunger and food insecurity in the community of High Point. With the onset of COVID-19 in early 2020, however, it became clear The Friendship Table would need to adapt creatively and prayerfully in order to make this vision a reality.
[Image: As part of The Friendship Table at St. Mary’s, High Point, member Daniel Doctor, Jr., volunteers with Growing High Point’s Beeson Community Garden to grow, prepare and distribute local produce to residents in High Point. Photos throughout by the Rev. Jonathan Pucik]
PARTNERSHIP, PRODUCE AND PRAYER
With the Spirit’s help, in the fall of 2020 The Friendship Table was formed with five students from High Point University, Guilford College and the University of North Carolina Greensboro. Instead of living together under a full-time model, these young adults committed to a year of “hybrid community,” including a blend of physical and digital opportunities for prayer, formation and service.
Students safely gathered in person, partnering alongside local organizations like Growing High Point to alleviate food insecurity in sustainable and ecologically conscious ways. This partnership included taking on the Senior Produce Program, which provides a weekly box of fresh and local produce to residents in High Point who live in designated “food deserts,” a term used to describe areas in which a significant portion of the population does not live within a walkable distance to a grocery store. Grown from nearby urban farms and community gardens, this produce provided a sustainable source of nutrition for a number of senior residents and their families throughout the pandemic.
“Members of The Friendship Table help with growing, harvesting and preparing the food for distribution before driving door to door to deliver,” said Willa Mays, executive director of Growing High Point. In 2020, this program delivered more than 6,000 pounds of produce. In 2021, The Friendship Table played a supportive role in launching Growing High Point’s Growdega Mobile Market, a grocery store on wheels that provides fresh and affordable produce to residents across the city.
“The Friendship Table has been a blessing,” said Mays, “We are thrilled to partner with this amazing group that has helped us so much in numerous ways to feed our community.” For members of The Friendship Table, these initiatives provided opportunities to get to know neighbors across socioeconomic lines, to meet people where they are with grace and compassion, and to seek and serve Christ among all people in High Point.
For community, prayer and faith formation, members of The Friendship Table engaged in a weekly rhythm of digital practices. Drawing from a broad range within the Christian tradition, students were exposed to a variety of prayer practices including Morning and Evening Prayer, Lectio Divina, centering prayer and small-group Bible study. Students also engaged in opportunities for formation through St. Mary’s, attending digital classes on the poetry of Anglican women, the spirituality of Bishop Steven Charleston, and a seven-week introduction to centering prayer. Through digital gatherings, members of The Friendship Table found support in Christian community, praying for, challenging and encouraging each other in the midst of a tumultuous and ever-changing year. In May 2021, members concluded their program year with a greater awareness of the factors that contribute to food insecurity, a deeper knowledge of spiritual practices and a clearer sense of Christian vocation.
[Image: As part of The Friendship Table at St. Mary’s, High Point, member Louis Gozan volunteers with Growing High Point’s Growdega Mobile Market to grow, prepare and distribute local produce to residents in High Point.]
COMMUNITY, HOPE AND RENEWAL
In early 2021, it became clear to the community of St. Mary’s that it could not leave the work of addressing food insecurity to members of The Friendship Table alone, that the Spirit was calling St. Mary’s to think critically about how parishioners could positively contribute to a healthy and sustainable food system for all. As a result, a small group of St. Marians took to the soil to create a Good News Garden on the grounds of the church. The produce harvested from this garden will be donated to local food initiatives including the Senior Produce Program. The newly finished garden consists of six raised beds, each four feet wide and 12 feet long. Additionally, a number of fig and blueberry shrubs were planted creatively throughout the church grounds as edible landscaping, producing our first harvest.
In addition to its produce, the Good News Garden has served as a place where authentic Christian community is cultivated. “I am buoyed by the number and variety of St. Marians who have responded to the call to build this garden,” said lifelong parishioner Paul Siceloff. “Four work sessions and behind-the-scenes planning have brought together new and long-time members previously unknown to one another. To date, we have sweated, strategized, laughed and smiled together in the hope and joy of producing a bountiful harvest to share.”
“It always amazes me how our church family pulls together to help others in our community,” parishioner Audrey Harris said. “The energy and excitement around our community Good News Garden has been so uplifting during these strained times.”
Parishioner Katharine Hawks writes of the spiritual renewal found in the practice of creation care, “Even though the work is sometimes hard and there’s so much to navigate in growing a garden or growing our faith, we know the fruits of work will produce everything we need. The garden is a place to go and renew the spirit through work. I am grateful for this and for being a living, moving piece of God’s promise to us all, that the nurture and care we pour into the things we love will be watered well with God’s peace, love and hope. While we do the heavy lifting of tending to creation, we are tending to all that God hopes for us and for the earth. Sometimes what we get from manual labor is a chance to work it out with the spirit. Work is the love of God made visible.”
[Image: The Good News Garden on St. Mary’s campus is ready to feed the community.]
In the wake of many challenges, The Friendship Table and Good News Garden have served as signposts for St. Mary’s, places to find the Holy Spirit at work calling the community to a deeper love of God and neighbor and bearing witness to the abundance and glory of God’s creation. As these initiatives serve as opportunities to bless the wider community, parishioners and members of the Friendship Table alike are finding new hope as they serve as Christ’s hands and feet in the community of High Point.
“While there have been more than a few obstacles in this journey for the parish, the passion and perseverance of St. Marians to make both The Friendship Table and the Good New Garden actually happen with the goal of assisting our neighbors who have no food security is one of the joys of my life,” St. Mary’s parishioner and The Friendship Table board member Sally Bulla said. In the midst of challenging times, these are the acts of joy and hope, a declaration of the Good News of God’s love in Christ Jesus in both word and deed.
The Rev. Jonathan Pucik is the director of The Friendship Table, priest associate at St. Mary’s, High Point, and vicar of Galloway Memorial, Elkin.