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.