NOTE: in the past couple weeks we have had disturbing incidents at In The Garden that I felt needed to be addressed, reminding the community that we are family.
Jesus gave us only two commandments:
- This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you (John 15:12)
- The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. There is no commandment greater than these (Mark 13:21)
For those of you who are relatively new to In The Garden, I thought I would give you a little history about our community. We started in 2007, serving sack lunches ‘in the garden’ for a half-dozen people. In the Garden was founded by Joe Mazza, a diaconal student in the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Early on, before people became aware that we existed, Joe and Carrie Stowers used to drive around and invite people to come. In the Garden was held ‘in the garden’ at the side of the church, hence our name.
The first bitter winter, we moved here into the undercroft, so that we could offer hot coffee and a hot, nutritious meal. Since then, the word has spread and the maximum we have welcomed to the community was 185 on one Sunday. That number caused us to change from serving cafeteria-style to the sit-down dinner we now offer.
Our weekly attendance usually exceeds 120 and we have gone from a feeding program to a community where everyone is made to feel welcome and treated as if you are guests in our own homes.
Through the generosity of many different organizations (Episcopal, Presbyterian, Faith Fellowship churches; teachers from Pickerington Schools, students from The Ohio State University, the Muslim Students Association at OSU) we are able to provide you with a warm, nutritious meal as well as hot coffee and goodies. Those who do not wish to, do not have to participate in the short spiritual service, often featuring contributions from members of the community. We always welcome anyone participating in the service.
We have encouraged that those who attend In The Garden consider us a community, and over the years we see lots of familiar faces and have grown to consider everyone a part of our own family, and hope that you feel the same way. We have gone from pandemonium to a what you would expect when members of families gather. We all care about each other; the pains, the joys, the heartaches. . . we are family.
Unfortunately, in the last couple weeks, we have seen some disturbing behavior on some people’s part. Not a lot, but I feel the need to address it so that it does not escalate.
We have a lot of volunteers who give up their Sundays to come and be with us. Some of these volunteers are young children. Recently, two of the girls, one a ten-year old, has been treated in a manner that you would not want your sister or daughter to be treated.
When you receive your plate from one of our volunteers, the curse word or 4-letter word is not the correct way to respond. If you can’t say ‘thank you’, the KEEP YOUR MOUTH shut. You do the entire homeless community and In The Garden a disservice when you verbally assault anyone that way, a child or adult. I am sure your fellow community members don’t want to be remembered like that.
Also, our volunteers are not be leered at, asked their telephone number, and followed around as if you are a stalker. You would not want your sisters or mothers to be treated like that. These people who want to be your friends?
The volunteers and Core Team of In The Garden Do Not carry money – we are here to build a community and provide a warm meal. We have had requests for money for as little as 75 cents and as much as $10,000! We are not a bank – do not ask the volunteers for money.
In our nearly seven years, we have had only two incidents of violence – one was directed at the building and the other was a shouting match which almost got out of hand. I know that sometimes you are in a bad mood, or have been emotionally or physically injured, but you cannot take it out on others here.
I have only had to ask one person to leave (who later apologized and came back). I do not want to have to do that again. . . but if the behavior warrants it, I WILL ask someone to leave.
Last week we had an incident that could have escalated into a situation where one person would have ended up in jail and another in the hospital. Let me make this perfectly clear: THERE ARE TO BE NO WEAPONS at In The Garden. No guns, no knives, no shivs, no weapons.
If someone offends you, either let it go or come see me. We WILL NOT HAVE verbal or physical assaults here. . . I will be more than happy to call the police and have that person removed.
But, let me tell you about the things that I am so proud about. Last week Karen and I served a dinner at another church as part of their weekly feeding program. The amount of people that were there was about what we normally see on a Sunday. But that is where the similarity ended.
When the people came in, they were unruly, pushing through other people and generally surly. They took their seats and started demanding things. This dinner was served family style, so there were large bowls of food on the tables. Some of those who sat in front of a bowl, took all the food, leaving nothing for the rest of the people at the table. We had made enough pasta that everyone could have had thirds if they wanted. But, before we could even finish serving milk to everyone, some of the people were demanding more food and being pretty nasty about it. And there was a lot of pushing and shoving, and no consideration for the few families with babies that were there. The language was very colorful and the volunteers were treated with disrespect. Those of us who served felt battered by the time we left.
That DOES NOT happen at In The Garden. . .
Because we are a community, a community of people who care about each other. . . we consider each other to be our brothers and sisters . . our neighbors. No one has special privileges, no matter how long you have been here or how new you are – we are all equal. And that is what makes In The Garden different, whether you are a volunteer or a member of the community.
All of us who volunteer at In The Garden are proud to say we are a part of this community. . . a part of a great group of people, good people, caring people. And we want to be around you. We are happy to spend out Sunday afternoon here with you.
Let’s continue to be that caring community. Let’s remember that each one of us is a child of God, loved by him. We are one big family. . . and just like all families, we sometimes disagree with each other. But let us do it in love and continue to be that community and family.
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, sometimes we have bad days, sometimes someone says something that makes us mad, sometimes everything has gone wrong this day. Please help us to remember that we are all thy children, loved and worthy in thine eyes. And help us to remember that we are all family at In The Garden, that we should love each other and treat each other with respect. Be with us, guide us, help us to remember Jesus’ two great commandments, and love us. Amen.
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 16 November 2014