Church cultivates community, garden in Southwest Cedar Rapids

Church hopes garden will reach across cultural, racial boundaries

Published: January 20 2014 | 11:43 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:23 am in

On 10 acres of land in Southwest Cedar Rapids, a local church is hoping a garden can build community across cultures.

New Disciples of Cedar Rapids is working to start a community garden on almost ten acres of land in Southwest Cedar Rapids, between Williams Boulevard and 33rd Avenue.

The garden is meant to be a “reconciliation garden,” with the aim of bringing together people of different racial, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds over shared soil and a shared harvest.

“When you’re working with your hands, you don’t have to speak the same language,” Pastor Stasia Fine said. “You don’t have to have things in common beside the garden. You’re just gardening together.”

New Disciples formed only a few years ago from the merging of First Christian and Cedar Christian Churches. The congregation worships from a shop front in Berry Plaza at 2000 Wiley Blvd. SW, Suite 103, Cedar Rapids.

Fine said the congregation is seeking ways to make people of different backgrounds feel welcome in their church. The neighborhood has seen increasing diversity since the flood of 2008 displaced many Cedar Rapids residents from other neighborhoods. There are also a growing number of refugees from Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the neighborhood.

“It’s something we’re trying to be intentional about in our congregation,” she said. “That’s a core value of who we are becoming. The body of Christ is diverse, and it’s importance to us to reflect that diversity.”

The congregation purchased the land between Williams Boulevard and 33rd Avenue with the intention of building a new church. But it could be years before that project comes to fruition, and church members want to put the land to good use in the meantime.

While living in the Washington D.C. area, Fine worked with author and Christian environmentalist Nancy Sleeth on the reconciliation garden concept, which Sleeth has implemented in several cities.

Rama Muzo is an intercultural specialist for the Cedar Rapids School District who works as a liaison to the Central-East African refugee community. He is working with the New Disciple congregation on outreach efforts. He said, with language and cultural barriers, refugees in Cedar Rapids often feel isolated from the wider community.

“We still have a long way to go, but we’re getting closer to a way of understanding each other,” he said. “It’s a journey. The good thing is we’re starting somewhere.”

A planning meeting for the project will be held at the church at 4 p.m. Monday. The meeting was scheduled for Martin Luther King Jr. Day to embrace Dr. King’s spirit of hope, Fine said. Anyone interested in learning more or being involved in the project is welcome to attend.

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