Community Missions of Niagara Frontier Inc. and St. James United Methodist Church in Niagara Falls, as part of their joint Gardens of Compassion project, will present three special community events on July 27, Aug. 24 and 31. All three events are to take place from 7-8 p.m. at St. James United Methodist Church, 4661 Porter Road, Niagara Falls. They are free and open to the public.
"We really want our gardening initiative to be one that gives back to as many people in the community as possible," said Rev. Mark Breese, agency minister and director of ministry and community partnerships at Community Missions. "These events do that by bringing education, creating conversation, and allowing people to just have some fun together as a community."
The July 27 event is titled "Food is Our Medicine." Presented by Ken Parker, the event will explore food, farming, indigenous plants, health and the idea of "Caring for Creation" from a Native American perspective. Parker is native plant consultant and project director of the Haundenosaunee Community Food is our Medicine Project at the Seneca Nation of Indians.
On Aug. 24, there will be a musical performance called "Concert By the Gardens of Compassion," which features the local band Wing and a Prayer. Led by Kevin and Lynne Jacob, Wing and a Prayer has performed at local churches and community events in WNY for the past 21 years. They present a mix of original music along with old Gospel, rock and folk standards. Band members also include Rick Strusienski and Gordy Goodearl.
The Aug. 31 presentation, "Is Christianity Good News for the Environment?", will be given by the Rev. Daven Oskvig, senior pastor at Kenmore United Methodist Church and adjunct professor in Canisius College's department of religious studies. Oskvig's presentation looks at society's increasing concern for the environment and how many faith traditions provide a moral compass for life and living, yet often fail to respond to the responsibility to care for creation.
The presentation on July 27 and Aug. 31 will take place in the church sanctuary. The concert on Aug. 24 will be held outdoors, adjacent to the gardens. If there is inclement weather, the concert will take place in the church.
The Gardens of Compassion initiative is a unique community garden created in partnership between Community Missions and St. James. It has the three basic goals of producing food for those in need, addressing the stigma associated with mental illness, and learning about man's responsibility to care for creation.
"In many ways, the Gardens of Compassion is all about creating community by holding up the simple fact that we are all one human family who all inhabit our beautiful and amazing planet together. That sounds very grand, but it's actually gets down to very basic stuff," Breese said. "Being part of one family means that we have a responsibility to care for each other in times of need, and that we all have a responsibility to care for our one home, the Earth. Even though both responsibilities are large, if all of us make an effort even in small ways, like at a sustainable community garden, it adds up to make a difference that matters."
In addition to these evening community events, the Gardens of Compassion also provides programing on many of its regular group gardening days (Wednesdays from 3:30-4:30 p.m.). Already this year, Cornell Cooperative Extension has provided nutrition and healthy cooking presentations, and local musician Brian Beaudry gave a "Music by the Garden" performance while volunteers cared for the gardens. There are also presentations and discussions around the topic of "Caring for Creation," such as one recently led by Rabbi Ellen Franke of Temple Beth El in Niagara Falls.
"It's our partnerships that make the Gardens of Compassion possible and unique," said the Rev. Matthew Kofhal, pastor of St. James United Methodist Church. "These partnerships and the gardens work perfectly with our church's goal of being a space for the whole community."
Many partners have come together with Community Missions and St. James to help to get the initiative started or to sustain it over the past four years. Cornell Cooperative Extension, Goodman's Farmer's Market, United Methodist Women and Brighton Community Church provided assistance to get the initiative started. For the past two years, funding from a One Great Hour of Sharing Development Grant from the American Baptist Home Mission Society has supported the initiative. In 2016, Greenprint Niagara WNY also became a partner, supplying many seedlings and other support, and The Service Collaborative of WNY provided funding for materials that helped expand the gardens with four new 4-by-8-feet raised beds (for a total of 16 beds), and also helped recruit volunteers through the www.VolunterWNY.org online platform.
For more information about the Gardens of Compassion initiative and the special events this summer, visit the Community Missions website at www.CommunityMissions.org/gardens or contact Breese at 716-258-3403, ext. 2259.