Confirmation students at Peace Lutheran Church, Wayland, Mass., are getting all the dirt on Martin Luther and his catechism.
While preparing the earth for planting, turning the soil and picking weeds, the five students grow in their faith. They spend their class time outside in the garden (weather permitting) while volunteers read Scripture to them.
Yes, you read that correctly — volunteers walk with them and read to them.
Jeff L. Johnson, pastor of Peace, sowed the seeds of this approach to confirmation, suggesting last spring that students do their learning outside while planting a vegetable and flower garden. It seemed like a good idea since the four girls and one boy were always asking to go outside anyway, he joked. Learning the spirituality of the outdoors in addition to the Scriptures is a good thing, he added.
It’s easy to be outside at Peace, 20 miles west of Boston, since its 3 acres are wooded and border conservation land (www.peacewayland.org). The church is all about the environment: installing solar panels for energy; maintaining memorial and butterfly gardens; and hosting seminarian Anna Mullen, who is studying environmental ethics, eco-theologies and sustainable communities.
The congregation even worships outside to bless the gardens and celebrate the changing of the seasons.
“We’re a congregation willing to not only open our doors to other people but open ourselves to the natural world,” he said. “We’re in a natural setting so we want to be neighbors with the earth; to be in touch with living things in untraditional ways.”
The confirmation project involves a local organic farmer, who provides plants and garden guidance. For Lent, the students planted seeds that will be moved to the garden when the weather warms up.
Last year the class harvested pumpkins, squash and sunflowers so tall that passers-by stopped and commented. The harvest was donated to Florence House, Lutheran Social Services of New England’s home for teenage mothers in Worcester, Mass. And the sunflower seeds fed the birds.
“I liked being outside because it’s nice to get fresh air and we had something to do while listening,” said student Leah Scheidemantel. “It was different. It was fun to hear nature sounds like birds while we learned about our religion.”
In winter months and when the weather is bad, the students attend class indoors. “Outside there’s not a lot of discussion, but they hear the words of our faith as they work in the garden,” Johnson said. “Better than sitting at a desk, and it brings stewardship of creation in connection with the word.”
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