The Rev. Nandra Perry has enlisted the wider community to build a community garden at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Hearne, Texas. She intended that the garden would be the focal point for various community evangelism efforts, but found that interest in the garden and grounds came less from the neighborhood and more from the youth of the community; a thriving Young Life chapter meets weekly on the property.
Because of this learning, grant funds were diverted from additional garden beds to the construction of picnic tables and outdoor storage. Creating the visible outdoor hospitality space has been most productive. They were asked, by a stranger, to host a large funeral reception. And VBS ‘17 was much more successful than the previous year; interdenominational partnerships were key to this success. She concludes that, “Real evangelism is about building a presence in a community: showing up again and again and again until people believe it when you say you are there for them … and authentic evangelism requires a willingness to build relationships across denominational lines. In our setting, there is no time or luxury to be squeamish about how we might doctrinally differ … and we’ve learned that we have some things to learn from (our ministry partners from other denominations) – like how to be less reticent about the e-word!”
Her work continues, as St. Philip’s is an active partner in the Texas Rural Leadership Program. This video from summer ’19 tells about a storytelling project in Hearne, and the value of extended relationships over time.