When Rev. Eric Markman became pastor of Hartford Street Presbyterian Church in Natick, Massachusetts, 5½ years ago, several members warned him not to do anything with the church’s land. Hartford Street Presbyterian had been through a difficult and ultimately unsuccessful effort to create low-income housing on part of its nine acres of land-locked property.
But in Markman’s mind, the land didn’t belong to the congregation. “This is Christ’s property,” Markman said. “This is not ours. It needs to serve the community in some way. How can we do that?”
During the past 2½ years, Markman and the congregation have answered that question. The church, along with the town of Natick and several faith communities, has created a community garden of 55 raised beds.
The garden reflects the congregation’s diversity. Hartford Street Presbyterian is a deeply diverse congregation, with members from Cameroon, India, Poland, Canada, and other countries. It is diverse economically as well. While some live comfortably on six-figure incomes, others live on Massachusetts’ paltry bottle return fees, scavenging for five-cent returnable cans and bottles.
The congregation’s multifaceted diversity gives members a stronger connection to all parts of the community and an understanding that a small raised bed in a community garden may provide steady income and a better life for a family.
The congregation is growing, with 130 members and a full parking lot each weekend. Michael Fitzgerald, a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and member of the church’s session, credits the New Beginnings program with helping the church define its sense of mission, and spurred the congregation to create the garden. Hartford Street started the New Beginnings program in 2014.
New Beginnings invites congregations to participate in a discernment process to determine the future and purpose of a church. “As part of New Beginnings, you need to define who you are,” Markman says. “There is a common visitation here. We’re not just multicultural. We believe all humans are equal, and that made us feel comfortable working with the Islamic Center of Framingham and Temple Israel. The congregation believes it and lives it out.”
Robyn Davis Sekula, Correspondent, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: Boston Presbytery
Let us join in prayer for:
Hartford Street Presbyterian Church
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
God of abundance, fill our hearts and our souls. Open our eyes to see those around us who are hungry, whether for spiritual or physical food. Equip us to be your hands, bringing both spiritual and physical sustenance to your children and to our sisters and brothers all around us. Amen.