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Little house of worship on the prairie

One congregation’s dedication to caring for the creation has led its members into new encounters with their surrounding community. “We have long had [caring for creation] ministries; now we want to take them further,” said Rev. Tom Mundahl, pastor at Lutheran Church of the Reformation (ELCA), St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
In 1997, Reformation began a community garden. Then, in 2003, the congregation decided to plant a prairie on its property. It also now maintains a rain garden and forest.
These projects began in earnest as the congregation developed an environmental statement. Since then, ensuing statements have also shown themselves to be a way to care for creation.

From prairie to sanctuary

Recently members of Reformation have begun to hold meetings about how their congregation can serve as a welcoming public space to the surrounding community. One specific way focuses on building community resiliency.

Kids’ Crops summer program participants Lily Chaffee, Bo Chaffee, Tommy Chaffee, Max Fehring, and Kai Imankulov gather in one of Lutheran Church of the Reformation’s community garden plots. Metro Lutheran photos: Ryan Cosgrove

“[The youth] are very interested in the natural world, especially in dirt and rocks” Anne Mundahl said.

Related meetings included the study of a book, The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience by Rob Hopkins. “We are interested in how we can help people start [building] community in the neighborhood,” Mundahl said. “How we can help create people who are ready to embrace the future, rather than seeing the future as some failure of the American dream,” he added.
As those meetings progressed, the members of the Lutheran Church of the Reformation found their dedication to creation care offered multiple ways to contribute to the St. Louis Park community.
One concrete contribution is its summer program, Kids’ Crops. “This is a program that we want to pass on to our neighborhood,” said Mundahl. Kids’ Crops, which is in its second year, is for youth ages three to eight. The program focuses on growing and harvesting produce.
Kids’ Crops was conceived after a few members read Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. “We became interested in how we could reach out to children through nature, with the resources we have,” said Anne Mundahl, a member of Reformation.
The members set aside three plots in the community garden for the youth, and each week the young people gather to work in the garden, have a snack, and learn about growing food. “The programming grows out of the season,” Anne Mundahl said.
The growing season not only affects what the youth plant and harvest, but it also affects their snacks. At the beginning of each Kids’ Crops session, the youth prepare a snack from the produce of the gardens. “It is important that every generation, especially kids, know where their food comes from and feel empowered to grow their own,” Anne Mundahl observed.
“Years ago this congregation began a community garden, prairie, and forest,” Anne Mundahl said. “[Kids’ Crops] is a way of hoping these programs will last to another generation,” she continued. Anne Mundahl has reason to be hopeful. “[The youth] are very interested in the natural world,” she said. “Especially in dirt and rocks,” she laughed.
Currently all of the youth who participate in Kids’ Crops are decidedly middle class. It is the hope of the program’s designers that Kids’ Crops will come to serve a broader audience.

Building a sustainable community

The members of Lutheran Church of the Reformation have other plans to help create community resiliency. They have begun to talk about how the garden can develop a sense of community.
“The garden began as a community effort with people renting garden space,” Tom Mundahl said. “A few people gathered to have a potluck,” he added.

Lutheran Church of the Reformation members tend the community gardens on church property.

The congregation has begun another study, reading In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan. The goal of this study is to explore how congregants can increase community competency about food, and gather around the food from the community garden.
Future plans include becoming a zero-waste congregation and participating in Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light, a new effort to reduce the use of fossil fuels.
The goal of becoming a zero-waste congregation is a continuous one for the members of Lutheran Church of the Reformation. “When you think you’ve won, then you see paper cups being used again,” Mundahl said. Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light is an interfaith group responding to global warming. The first meeting of Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light will be on September 23 at North Mississippi Park in Minneapolis. (For more information, visit its Web site, or call 952/687-1386.)
The caring for creation emphasis has been important to Danielle Fehring, a member of Lutheran Church of the Reformation. “Its why I’m here,” she said.
“It’s such a no-brainer,” she said. “Often it is warped into something to fight about, but there is so much we agree on,” said Fehring.
“It’s God’s creation,” she said. “It is our responsibility to care for future generations.”

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