Monday, June 3, 2013

The Strawberry Church

After starting it up last year, the strawberry patch in front of our kitchen window is now going like gangbusters.   A little water, a little weeding, and that five-by-five square of stolid Virginia clay has been a veritable cornucopia of sweet and/or tart berries.  So many, in fact, that for the first time in my existence, I spent my Monday morning alternating between prep work for my book release and making home-made strawberry jam.   Yummy, yummy jam.

A larger patch has gone in on the other side of the driveway, and though it's taken a hit or two from some burrowing critters, it's on the way towards producing a really rather nice yield come late summer.  More jam will be forthcoming.

I really enjoy growing strawberries, particularly when the tiny little cherub who lives next door comes over to check out how they are doing.   "Hello, neighbor," he says, in his tiny little voice, and then wanders over for one of those conversations that make me wistful for when my own lads were that age.

He's marveled at our blueberries, and squatted down and peered earnestly at the green beans, and looked at the riot of blackberry vines.  But the strawberries?  He loves those.

Sure, they're simple to grow, being a robust and unassuming little plant.   But to a preschooler, for whom the world remains bright with magic, a bursting strawberry patch is an amazing, marvelous thing.

A week or so ago, when I was first showing our little neighbor the first tiny budding green berries, it struck me that the strawberry is a particularly sweet metaphor for the kind of church I think I like the best.

Into my mind popped an idea for a children's picture book.

Well, sort of.  Not really a children's book.  More a book for pastors and seminarians and church planters, the ones who are still children at heart.   So I wrote the following, with half a hankerin' to publish it on Createspace.

 Anyone know a good illustrator?


The Strawberry Church
by Rev. Chauncey Gardner
as told to David Williams

When you were little, you heard stories about Jesus.

You thought, I like him.  What he says is good.

Now you are all grown up.

Being all grown up, you are thinking that you’d like to make a church grow, too.

But what sort of church will you grow?

There are so many kinds.

There are churches like corn in a field.  

They stretch, row after row under the big sky, all the way to where the heavens meet the earth.

They give us sweet corn.  

But you can get lost in them, and you need big machines and chemicals to make them grow.

And too much corn makes our souls fat with sticky syrup.

Some churches are like black mold.  

They live in wet dark corners, and send out spores that make it hard to breathe the air.  

Do not grow one of these.  


Instead, think about growing a strawberry church.

Strawberry churches are wonderful things.

Here are some things you should know about a strawberry church.

Because you are a grownup now, we will make a list with numbers.

Why do grownups like this?  

Maybe we like to count because it makes us feel smart.

I don’t know.

So anyway, here are the things you might want to know.

1) Strawberry churches grow almost anywhere.

You set them in the ground, and the next thing you know, you have strawberries.  

They grow in so many places.

Plant them in shade.  Plant them in a pot on the balcony of your apartment.

Put them in loam.  Put them in clay.

They grow.  

2) Strawberry churches aren’t big, and they aren’t proud.  

They don’t reach up tall to the sky.  

They just sit there with their little white flowers and their big leaves, and soak in the sun.

This is OK.

They will not make you feel like you are the best person ever.

This is a good thing, because that feeling will make you all full of yourself.  

But they will be good, in their simple way.

3) Strawberry churches are not complicated.  

They are very simple.  Give them a little water.  

Pull up a weed sometimes.  

Maybe put up a little fence so the birds and the rabbits will not eat them.

You will have to work a little bit.  

But not too much.

A church that makes you so busy you can barely breathe?

It’s not a strawberry church.

4) Strawberry churches are good for you.  

They are full of vitamin C.

They are full of fiber.

They are part of this balanced breakfast.

Life is better with them.

And you can share them with others.

5) Strawberry churches are sweet.

Grownups and children love strawberries.  They are delicious.

You do not have to say, I know it tastes terrible, but it is good for you.

You say, here is a delicious strawberry.

And they say, thank you!

6) Strawberry churches spread.

Put some strawberry in the ground, and what happens?  They grow, and then they flower.

Then they start making other strawberries.

They reach out, and touch the earth, and poof!

Another strawberry.  And another.

If you are not careful, they will take over your whole yard.

They do not want to live just in the patch.

They want to be everywhere.

Why do they do this?

Because they are strawberries.

7) Strawberry churches look like the Harvest.

Jesus talked about the harvest.


About how some seeds die.

About how some seeds are too high maintenance.

And about how some can’t find root in the soil.

Strawberries, with a little care, yield a hundredfold.

A thousandfold, if the patch is in good soil and sun and you care for it.

So look for these things in that church.  

If it is already there, look for these things.  

If you are planting it with friends, look for these things.

If it’s the church you’re in right now, look around at it.

Is it sweet and joyous?

Even in the hard things, does it feel right?

Maybe it is a strawberry church.

I hope so.

It will make you happy.  

Or maybe a raspberry church.   

Raspberries are pretty great too.