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Garden connects church, community

BOSTON (BP)–Four decades ago, a fire broke out in a Boston neighborhood. Homes were leveled to ash and lots were left empty. The community banded together and transformed the area into something positive for a neighborhood that had faced tragedy.

A group of neighbors in collaboration with a local school created an urban garden — an infusion of green space and art. But with time, weeds — some 5 feet tall — took over the area. Rather than being a place of rest and solitude, it became known for dodgy activities.

But that began to change last year when Shawmut Springs Church in Boston was awarded a grant to help rebuild that portion of the community. Church members saw the restoration not only as a way to improve their community but as a way to reach out and minister.

Together with neighbors, church members and student volunteers, the space was cleared out and made ready to fulfill the potential planned 40 years earlier.

“To combat the drug use and sexual activities that were going on [in the garden] … we decided to take what had gone to ruin and restore it,” said Rob Glass, a North American Mission Board Mission Service Corps missionary and pastor of Shawmut Springs. “We [the church] called this idea the Garden of Art Project.”

The group of volunteers planted trees and flowers, painted stepping stones with vibrant colors and refinished benches and chairs — a complete makeover from its drab origin.

Glass, who is the coordinator for the garden project, and his wife Heather have served in Boston for four years with NAMB. As MSC missionaries they raise their own support.

“I was drawn to Boston mostly because I wanted to help make communities of faith among college students,” the Tennessee native said. “The garden has been a big avenue for us to practically love our neighborhood. It has helped us to break down prejudice that people have about Christians and to build relationships with them.”

Last year as Glass sat reading in the newly revitalized garden, he noticed a woman admiring the freshly planted flowers. He greeted her, and they began talking about the park’s facelift. She gushed at how beautiful the volunteers had made the area — a big difference from how it once looked.

“And they are a church,” Glass recalled the woman saying in astonishment. She found this peculiar since they hadn’t forced the community to listen to “stuff about Jesus” or asked for any money. The woman assured him that this was a good thing.

“For me that was so encouraging as it was really evident that we were breaking down some walls that had been built up in her heart,” Glass said.

The garden has allowed the church to build relationships with others as well — especially students — by hosting volunteer groups to aid in the revamping process. The hard work has helped the church build influence among those who don’t have a positive view of Christianity.

To continue fostering relationships, Shawmut Springs hosted their second annual neighborhood Garden of Art Celebration with live music, free food and activities in May. The young church — primarily college students, young professionals and families — used the time to build new relationships and invite people to visit them on Sundays.

Shawmut Springs currently meets in two area homes.

“This is how we want to grow, not allowing the size of our location to determine our growth, but as God leads and guides, we move,” Glass said. “Someday we hope to be meeting in a multitude of homes, dorms and coffeehouses.”

This relaxed atmosphere and desire to minister and serve their community is historically wrapped in the church’s name: Shawmut.

The land where Boston is now located once was occupied by the Algonquin, a Native American tribe. According to the church’s website, they named the land Shawmut, meaning “living waters,” or sometimes translated “fountains of bubbling springs.” The name derived from the freshwater spring that provided water for the locals’ animals and crops.

Shawmut Springs Church desires to keep that tradition going, to be a spring of living water to university campuses, workplaces, communities and the world.

“We … believe that in order to be fresh water to those around us, we must first receive this symbol of sustenance and life from Jesus Christ, the source of living water.”
Marie Travis is a writer in Nashville, Tenn. To learn more about Rob Glass and missionaries like him, visit the video gallery at namb.net.

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  • Marie Travis