by Eileen Weber
Sometimes we forget that nature can be its own spiritual experience. We are so absorbed in our own technological lives, texting away with reckless abandon. But taking the time to be in a natural setting can make all the difference to your health and your mental well-being. And whatever your personal or spiritual beliefs are, no one can dismiss that when you see plants and flowers grow that something greater than us is at work.
Matt Calkins, the pastor at St. Timothy’s Church in the Greenfield Hill section of Fairfield, thinks nature is what brings us closer to God. “We are connected to the Earth and we have a responsibility as humans to care for it,” he said. “When a branch breaks from the vine, it dies. Just as we do when we break from God.”
Calkins, along with some help from parishioners and the local Boy Scout troop, designed and built an open-air log chapel, a meditation labyrinth, a pergola and picnic area, and an organic teaching garden. All of the materials were either reused or made from felled trees when the group cleared the land. The garden functions as a teaching tool for the Small to Tall nursery school within the parish as well as a CSA for the parishioners. Calkins said the first 10% of the crops will go to the Connecticut Food Bank.
“People come to church for different reasons,” he said. “[At St. Tim’s], we’re not so interested in programs as we are in practices. What gives us joy?”
The log chapel, called the Chapel of Quiet Joy, seems to be one of those things that provides happiness. Calkins said he has gotten great feedback from the parishioners. During the first service they had outdoors, he mentioned that a few of the parishioners were moved to tears by experiencing God and nature simultaneously.
But the outdoor space at St. Timothy’s is not just for worship. It is part of the curriculum. Calkins invited Amie Guyette Hall, founder of From Your Inside Out, to help run organic gardening workshops with their nursery school. This was his way of getting the kids to experience God and nature together. Hall, who is a certified health instructor and square foot garden teacher, said growing a square foot garden makes it less overwhelming for the children.
“You go from square to square,” she said. “It provides structure and chunks everything down.”
She worked with the Small To Tall kids on an “ABC” garden, planting vegetables that coordinate with the letters of the alphabet.
“Did you think of a vegetable that starts with B?” asked Kristen Koenig, Director of Small To Tall Scholars nursery school.
“Yeah,” the little girl replied, “a badata!” She meant potato.
Square Foot Gardening, a concept created by Mel Bartholomew who was a civil engineer by trade, differs from single row gardening. Typically, raised beds are used to plant vegetables, fruits, herbs, and some flowers. Then a simple grid is drilled on top of the bed sectioned off in square feet. Each foot has its own planting. The system is meant to alleviate many of the headaches about gardening that discourages most people from starting one of their own.
Hall has been instrumental in bringing organic school gardens into the Fairfield school district and she has used the square foot system to make it more approachable. Today, almost all of the schools in Fairfield either have an organic teaching garden already or are in the process of creating one. She said Fairfield Warde High School just got approval to start their garden and she will be working with them closely to see that to fruition.
But, learning about how things grow is not the only lesson learned in a garden, Hall commented. “You learn about sharing, waiting your turn, having patience,” she said, with a sly smile. “These are social skills we all need.”
Calkins hopes that all Fairfield residents can enjoy the grounds at St. Timothy’s Church. “The idea is to make it a community asset,” he said, “not just for church members but for all people to come and enjoy.”
If you would like more information about St. Timothy’s Church, you can contact them at 203-255-2470 or e-mail them at email@example.com. For more information on Square Foot Gardening and how you can implement it at your school, contact Amie Guyette Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org.