It is August as I write this piece and it seems strange to be thinking about hay bales and big, bright orange pumpkins but that’s what comes to mind as I consider Doing Good Together. I’m not sure if it’s a United Methodist thing but all of the United Methodist Churches that I know host a pumpkin patch each October, including the one that I now serve, St. Luke, in the Clarksville neighborhood of Austin.
My first experience of a pumpkin patch was many years ago. My husband and I, along with our three children, had just worshiped for the first time at the church that would become our home for the next 10 years. We truly felt a bit out of place because we were dressed in our Sunday best but everyone around us was wearing jeans and T-shirts. I should mention that during the worship service, the sky had broken open in a torrential downpour. It was coming down in buckets!
As the pastor stood to give his final announcements, someone rushed into the sanctuary, and shouted, "The truck is here!" The congregation filled with excitement while we looked around, bewildered. "What is going on?", I wondered to my husband.
As soon as the service ended, a couple turned to us and said, "Want to help with the pumpkins?" Confused, shocked and having absolutely no idea what "helping with the pumpkins" meant, we said, "Sure!"
We took our place in the line stretching from the large semi-trailer out to the church grounds, facing our neighbors. Everyone was laughing as the pumpkins were passed from person to person, in the pouring rain. We were soaked within minutes and filthy soon after that. The rocky ground became a flood zone, and we were up to our knees in water. That year the pumpkins were unloaded and scattered around the pumpkin patch in record time.
We will never forget when one congregation member said, "I guess you’re one of us now. Baptism by pumpkin." It was our baptism into the community, and we loved our time there.
Hosting a neighborhood pumpkin patch is one of my favorite church activities. I love to see the families come out, wander through the maze of pumpkins, searching for the perfect one. Groups of teens and college students gather around pumpkins and take Instagram worthy pics. Grandparents chat while waiting for their kids to decide on a white one or an orange one. And there are pets! So many people come with their pets to take pumpkin patch photos. Dogs, cats, even hedgehogs!
What I love best about it is the community spirit that comes with the pumpkin patch.
We came to serve at St. Luke last year. Mark, my husband, was speaking to the former pastor, trying to get the lay of the land of our new church home. They started talking about the pumpkin patch, and the Rev. Jay’s face lighted up as Mark talked about our pumpkin patch experiences. He got up from his chair, walked to the next office and said, "Pumpkin patch is still on!"
It was in the patch last year that I met our neighbors. I learned about how this neighborhood has changed. People told me the stories of their lives here. I heard repeatedly, "You’ll love living here. Everyone is so great!"
I experienced welcome, joy and neighborliness, just like we were offered at that first pumpkin patch.
This year, though, with the current pandemic conditions as they are, we are not yet certain if pumpkins will happen. When they return, whether 2020 or 2021, the pumpkins will be a reminder that even pumpkins are holy.
The Rev. Bonnie How serves St. Luke United Methodist Church in Austin and loves the color orange. Doing Good Together is compiled by Interfaith Action of Central Texas, interfaithtexas.org.