Recently one of my friends came to Broadus for the first time. As he and his family got out of their car he looked around and said, “it’s nice here, it feels peaceful.”
And that is exactly what Bonnie Greenwood is hoping and praying for as she makes her way to the church, usually three times a week, to care for the gardens. She is quick to say that she doesn’t do it alone, a whole team of Broadus people pour their sweat and time into making the grounds a welcoming place.
Bonnie Greenwood in front of one of the Broadus gardens
Bonnie heard once that 17% of people who end up going to a church regularly do so because they like the way it looks, they find it pleasing. So, she thought she would take charge and care for those 17%.
Fifteen years ago, her faithful gardening service at the church may have begun for the sake of others, but for Bonnie it became a way that she connects with God. “I just got down on my knees when I was weeding one day and I just was sort of talking away, and I thought, you know, this is a good prayer time,” she says.
Bonnie is a self-proclaimed talker and she likes the “good-salvation-army-stand-on-the-street-corner-with-a-tambourine-move-it-along-hymns” like, When We All Get to Heaven and Standing on the Promises of God. Her father taught her hymns like these and she likes to challenge herself while she plants and weeds to see if she can sing all five verses the way they used to on long car rides across Ontario, Canada.
But when I asked Bonnie how she experiences God out in the garden, she explained, “I think it’s just in the quiet and because there’s no television in the background, there’s nothing to keep you from doing some listening…one of my big things is I don’t spend much time letting God get a word in edgewise.” She goes on to say “it’s just soothing. I enjoy weeding. I like looking and thinking ‘isn’t that neat and isn’t that clean?’ and the flowers stand out so, and I enjoy it and just find that it’s relaxing.”
In the quiet of the garden there is a lot of time to think. Strawberries come to mind for Bonnie.
When she was a child her mother had a strawberry patch. I grew strawberries once as a child, too, but Bonnie saw and understood something in the strawberry patch that I did not.
She explained to me how each strawberry plant becomes a mother as it sends out runners whose ends can be stuck into the ground. Eventually, the mother plant gets exhausted and dies, but by that point hopefully those runners have turned into new plants and in time will send out their own runners. And so, the cycle of new life, death, and new life can continue. “That’s what a Christian life ought to be. We ought to be a strawberry plant and put out a runner,” Bonnie says.
Suddenly, a strawberry plant will never again be just a strawberry plant; Bonnie has transformed it into a parable.
Jesus taught in parables, too. It was how he connected with his hearers and conveyed deep truths about life with God that are too big and mysterious for humans to grasp otherwise. All throughout the gospels he tosses out these story seeds and slowly but surely a picture grows of the Kingdom of God. His hearers become runners and eventually, they share and send out more runners to tell the good news that has taken root in their lives.
When you come up the long tree-lined driveway to Broadus Memorial Baptist Church I think you will find it peaceful. It really is beautiful thanks to the gifts of time, care, and expertise Bonnie and others devote to tending the grounds week in and week out.
As you look around and notice the fruits of these gifts, I hope you will consider the strawberry plant.
I hope you will think about the prayers that have been poured out by people on their knees pulling weeds and lugging jugs of water to quench the thirsty plants.
I hope you will stop for a moment as you get out of your car and listen for the echoes of hymns hummed and belted over the past fifteen years (all five verses of them).
I hope you will know that you are welcome in this place, that it has been prepared for you.
And finally, I hope you will take a moment to pause wherever you may find yourself today and listen; perhaps you will hear God reaching out to you in love through something small and ordinary like a strawberry plant, too.
There was a time in our history that we had three nurseries full of babies and preschoolers. There was a time when we took twenty plus youth to summer conferences. There’s no way of knowing exactly what the future holds, but that’s not where we are right now. Does that mean children and youth have no place at Broadus? Absolutely not. Our ministry to children focuses on Kingdom Kids, a mid-week program that we’ve offered for about fifteen years. It’s a program for children in grades K-5th, but occasionally we’ve slipped a four-year old in there with their older sibling. Kingdom Kids includes children whose families regularly attend Broadus, but also children who live in Wilton Farm, a neighborhood just a half-mile away. They are our neighbors, and we look for ways throughout the year to welcome them into our church family.
Wednesday evenings, Mr. Mike and Ms. Nancy take the bus to Wilton Farm to pick up children who are eager to come to Broadus. They’re happy to come not just because of the meal that is being prepared for them by Mr. Dan and his kitchen crew, but because they are going to be welcomed by people who are truly happy to see them. After dinner, they have a time of learning and worshipping together. They’re on a four-year curriculum rotation: Journey with Jesus – the life of Jesus, Rock-Solid Followers – the early church and Paul, Fruits of the Spirit, and Parable Quest – the parables of Jesus. They hear stories, sing, complete activities, and do crafts that relate to the topic of the night. From the beginning the goal has been to help these children understand that God loves them and that He wants them to love Him, love their neighbors, and love themselves. We want them to understand what that looks like so we make sure that the children treat each other and their leaders respectfully.
A number of years ago, the then principal of Stony Point Elementary School emailed me to ask at what time we were having our children’s Christmas pageant. She wanted to come because she had been in the cafeteria that day and overheard some of her students talking about being wise men and shepherds and angels. When she asked about it, they told her all about what they were doing at Kingdom Kids that night. What happens here on Wednesday evenings goes home and goes to school with our children. It doesn’t matter if we have twenty kids in our program or five, what we’re doing matters in their lives. That’s why we’re here. To make a difference for Christ.
Kingdom Kids might be the centerpiece of our children’s program, but we see “our” kids at lots of other times. Movie nights, Trunk or Treat, Children’s Easter Celebration, special outings, Hearts and Hands (our Vacation Bible School alternative), and Back-to-School Night. Over the years, we’ve developed relationships with their families and are able to welcome them to activities as well. Some of the families have joined us in worship on Sunday too, but that was never the goal of this ministry. It’s not about getting people to “join” the church. It’s about being the presence of Christ to our neighbors and about helping to usher in His kingdom on earth. When our Kingdom Kids sing their songs for us (frequently accompanied by lots of motion), when they tell us what they’ve learned in the year, when they pack shoeboxes for children who are in need, and make Valentine’s for our homebound members, we know that we are doing exactly what God wants us to do in this time and in this place. We’re taking care of the children He has placed in our care.
This article, written by Pastor Nick Deere, originally appeared in our weekly newsletter, The Beacon on July 17th. If you are interested in receiving a copy of The Beacon each week and staying up to date on all of the things happening around Broadus, please contact the church office, or click here to view the latest issue.
As you might have seen, the trees lining the drive to the church
are in a bad state. They have fallen victim to the emerald ash borer,
an invasive beetle that has been spreading in our region. Soon the
trees will have to come down. In talking with those at our church
who know much more about trees than I do, I learned of another
problem that has made this situation worse: monoculture planting,
the practice of planting all the same type of tree. Arborists now
recommend planting a variety of trees so that if a blight or beetle
comes along you don’t lose them all. Having a variety of trees creates
a more resilient group.
In its history, the church universal has moved away from
monoculture. The early church quickly expanded out beyond it roots
into the Roman world. Soon the early church moved into areas like
Ethiopia and India. The good news of Jesus extended across various
cultures, and these cultures have a lot to teach each other; from the
Celtic Christianity of Ireland, to the faithful witness of the Chinese
church today, and many more.
At times in the life of the church there have been people who have
wanted to seek monoculture instead. At its worst, this impulse leads
to sins like racism, xenophobia, and fear of others. This is something
Paul warns the early church about often.
One of the great benefits of being in a city like ours and a church
like ours is that we get a glimpse of the diversity of the church
universal. May we continue to celebrate and live into this truth by
cultivating practices of listening to and seeing every person as created
in the image of God, not only in the church but in all areas of life.
According to Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan American fact gathering organization, in 2017 27% of Americans described themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” That was up from 19% when they asked that same question in 2012. Their research showed that this increase was true in every age category and every level of education and was evenly split between men and women. Churches across the country are grappling with what that means for them and their future.
At Broadus it’s been no different. We look at decreased attendance and giving and wonder about where we’re going. Members voice, sometimes in Church Council or deacon’s meetings, but more often in whispered conversations, “where will Broadus be in 10 years?” Given what we see going on around us, that’s a legitimate question. And for those of us who love this particular faith community, it’s a scary question.
We decided that it was important as a congregation to try to understand what it means when individuals defines themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” What are they saying about themselves, but more importantly what are they saying about the church as a whole? What do we need to hear and how do we as Broadus need to respond? Where is God’s voice in this conversation and what do we hear Him saying? To help guide our conversations, we suggested that our three adult classes study Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening by Diana Butler Bass. Books were purchased for anyone who wanted to read along, and each week discussion guides were prepared to help readers process and apply what Bass wrote. Group discussions followed each of the three sections allowing participants to hear what individuals in the other classes were saying. We had a plan that we believed to be Spirit directed, but we knew that there was no way to determine the outcome.
On August 25th we finished up our study with a group discussion. For some participants, it was frustrating that Bass did not provide more concrete answers about how to address the place of the church and Christianity in 2019 America. But that was never her purpose. Her purpose was to get us to ask questions of ourselves as she described trends that she observed and set them in the context of church history.
Our last group discussion centered on what we should focus on next. To try to answer the question, “What were the topics discussed, or questions raised, that you would like to further explore?” There were plenty of answers that we’ll have to sort through in the coming weeks. There is an interest in learning more about spiritual practices, things like fixed hour prayer, hospitality, meditation, community…practices that have long been associated with spirituality. There is an interest in considering how Broadus currently defines church membership and exploring changes to that as we seek to live out the truth of the gospel: ”For God so loved the world…” There is an interest in gaining a greater understanding of other world religions and our relationship to them.
Clearly Bass accomplished her purpose. We read, discussed, agreed, disagreed, and allowed the process to help us focus on Broadus and ask God “what’s next?” It will take time, but we will get to each of these topics because God’s Spirit is so clearly moving in our midst. The challenge, as it always is, will be to listen and discern and follow. It’s an exciting time to be part of the Broadus faith community!
At Broadus Memorial Baptist Church we believe we are called to love God and love our neighbors. The stories you read on this blog offer a witness to the ways we respond to God's love and seek to share that love with others.
Scripture describes the church as a body, made up of many parts. Just as your tiniest toe isn't aware of the intricate work your heart or brain do, it can sometimes happen that people in the church body only see what is happening immediately around them. Our hope is that reading these stories will help forge connection and inspire greater love and understanding for one another.
At Broadus we are a community defined by warm-hearted fellowship and thoughtful inquiry. We hope you see evidence of that in the stories we share here. We hope you know, or come to know, that you are a part of God's grand story and that you are welcome to join us, on a Sunday, a Wednesday, or any gathering in between.
The life of faith is a journey, and we are not meant to walk it alone. Our stories connect us and we are excited to share some of ours with you.
If you have a story you'd like to share or would like to connect in some other way you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (434) 977-7381.
Please visit our new YouTube channel to find all of the latest videos of sermons, Bible studies, and ways to stay connected while we are not gathering in-person.