Gardens are often a place for reflection. Before Jesus was betrayed, the Gospels report that He chose the Garden of Gethsemane to pour out His heart and pray to God that this cup be taken from Him. Gardens are also often a source of sustenance. Norman Wirzba, in his book Spiritual Gardening, writes
“Gardening, besides being a practical, life-nurturing task, is also always a spiritual activity. In it people attempt to make visible and tasty what is good, beautiful, and even holy. Every act of gardening presupposes and embodies a way of relating to creation, a way that invariably invokes moral and spiritual decisions. Though membership in a garden is a given, how we will take our place in the membership is not. Our aim must be to develop into good gardeners, gardeners who work harmoniously among the flows of life. This means that besides vegetables, flowers, and fruit, gardeners are themselves undergoing a spiritual cultivation into something beautiful and sympathetic and healthy. A caring, faithful, and worshipping humanity is one of the garden’s most important crops.”
How appropriate, therefore, is it for a series of gardens to be the site of a meditative walk reflecting on various aspects of social justice.
Welcome to the Justice Gardens of the First United Methodist Church, Westfield, NJ. The Justice Gardens are a community and justice focused self-guided tour of the 12 gardens on the property of the church. The gardens fall into 3 main categories of display, contemplation, and production, and are associated with the broad themes of ecological, environmental, and social justice.
How can a garden make a difference? Each garden will feature a plaque with the garden description, a justice meditation, an art piece, rotating children’s artwork on the theme, and suggestions for personal action. A printed guide (also to be developed into an app) will explain each station. The 12 gardens and their themes are:
Display Gardens – for beauty, meditation and relaxation
Contemplation Gardens – offer space for peaceful reflection
Production Gardens – food for human consumption
The FUMC Justice Gardens recently received a grant from the Drew University Social Justice Leadership Project. With this money, we hope to realize the dream of the meditative walk through the gardens. Once the garden walk is complete, the church plans to reach out to the community by having it featured on the annual Westfield Garden Tour, showcasing the gardens during town festivals and memorials, providing educational seminars on gardening to encourage individuals and other churches and local businesses to plant their own justice gardens, and partnering with other local non-profits to raise awareness of these social justice issues. This project is just one of a number of increasingly outward-facing initiatives the church is implementing to bring the good news of Jesus Christ out to the community, especially to those who have not traditionally had a place or a voice in the mainstream Protestant church. It is our sincere hope that the FUMC Justice Gardens will awaken, inspire, and create transformational change in our community and beyond on these important issues of ecological, environmental, and social justice.
Elaine Lehecka Pratt is a member and Certified Lay Servant of the First United Methodist Church in Westfield, NJ. There she serves as the co-chair of the Social Justice Team, and on the Advisory Committee for the Social Justice Gardens, as well as secretary of the Administrative Council, and a member of the Worship, Music, and Arts Team, the Women’s Prayer Group, and the Sanctuary Choir. Professionally, she is a Professor and Program Director of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing graduate program of Stevens Institute of Technology, preceded by over 20 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry.