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I’m always amazed at what donuts can accomplish. There’s always a little anxious energy in the hour before one of the occasional events that we host. That energy is amplified when we’re having an open “work day” at our Urban Farm. It’s always hard to say what the weather is going to be like and we’re rarely certain just how many people will show up. Our February work day with CBFVA congregations and personnel was no exception. As the members of Grace and Main gathered early to go over the plans one more time before everybody got there, there was still a faint, anxious buzz. So, we did what we’re good at.
We put out cider donuts made hot and fresh that morning. We put out the big coffee pot and some creamers, including some cashew milk shared with us from the neighborhood when they heard we were going to have a work day. We laid out extra gloves and stacked some tools against a nearby tree. We checked to make sure we had remembered to bring prayer books for our guests to use before lunch. We kept an eye on the hill that we knew the vans would soon come down and made sure bottles of water were cold and there was sunscreen set out for those who forgot theirs. In short, we practiced hospitality and let the donuts and coffee get ready to do their part of the work.
Our little, intentional community has committed itself to the practice of hospitality, (among other things). But hospitality is not only opening our homes to provide space for others to rest, eat, and share life. It is also about opening our lives and making room for the other—whether they be people experiencing homelessness, people in need of a listening ear or a cup of coffee, or vanloads of volunteers who are coming to work in our gardens. Hospitality isn’t only something we provide, but is something we receive as well. We receive hospitality when we find a seat on somebody’s porch and catch up over tea, or when we are welcomed into a neighborhood by people whose family has lived there for generations, or when loving hands plant seeds though they may not see the produce when it is harvested.
When the first vans came down the hill, I said a quick, silent prayer of thanks and hope. As they unloaded, found the bathrooms, marveled at how incredible the donuts were, and refilled their coffee cups, the buzz of anxiety faded—the donuts had once again accomplished something amazing. Friends from Roanoke, Oak Level, Richmond, Halifax, and Danville began good work planting hundreds of seed starts in our greenhouse. Many of the seeds they started will end up in gardens all around the city, not just the gardens at the Urban Farm. We cleared brush and prepared the part of the property that will soon become a neighborhood “commons.” A few lovely people helped us to put gutters on the new tool library and get our rain water catchment system installed to make sure that our gardens have plenty of water. A host of fasting teenagers—nearing the end of their “Thirty Hour Famine”—built a stone and dirt swale to redirect water toward our new retaining pond. These good people collected stones from ditches, steadily removed trash from a hillside, and helped us to participate further in what God is doing in our midst.
We stopped for midday prayer before lunch and gave thanks for all that had gone well that day and all that was still yet to happen. We joked and laughed and daydreamed about other things that we could do on the land. We talked about how the mushroom logs produce mushrooms, about the process to change our city’s zoning codes to allow for our work (and now the work of several other gardens), about how many years it takes the asparagus to come in, about beneficial weeds and insects, about the praying mantis egg sacs we found and carefully transplanted to the garden, and about favorite and least favorite vegetables (mine are asparagus and cauliflower, respectively, if you’re interested).
At the end of the day, we waved goodbye to these people who gave a Saturday to good work. With bent backs and dirty hands, they had given thanks for food to eat and people to share it with, even if their hands might not touch the harvest. As the vans ascended the hill away from us, I marveled at how much work they had accomplished in a part of one day and about the careful balance between the slow and steady work to which we’ve committed ourselves and the sudden, short presence of friends from all around. As it turns out, hospitality isn’t just donuts and coffee; it’s also sometimes about welcoming people to participate in community even for just several hours and giving thanks for that offering. We gave thanks for the generosity of congregations and partners around the state who have supported our work with their time, prayers, encouragement, and financial support. There weren’t any donuts left in the box, but they had done such amazing work.
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