Sunday, after services, if the weather's fine, children gather at the gazebo to pick and savor the fresh raspberries growing nearby. They wander among rows of beans and, unable to resist, pluck a few.
Snap. Snap. The crisp green vegetable flies into mouths of all ages, raw and crisp as God created it.This is the garden at St. Stephens Episcopal Church, 4615 S. 3200 West. It has grown with the congregation and, like the congregation, it has changed some over the years. But it is part of the heartbeat of this thriving community of faith.
It's also a symbol of that faith. A dozen or so years ago, the congregation decided to plant a garden to raise vegetables for church members and, more important, for strangers who often rely on food banks for survival.
"I don't think of it as St. Stephen's garden, particularly," said Valerie Moore, parishioner and one of the horticultural faithful. "It's God's garden. We're just there to tend it and distribute it."
Over the years, the gardeners have experienced "varying degrees of success," said parishioner Dorothy Alley, another of the gardeners.
But whether the plants thrived or struggled in the soil, one thing has always been successful, she said. The garden has strengthened the sense of community that binds the church together as surely as their shared faith.
"It's nice to have something pretty you can share," she said.
So on Wednesday nights, they garden. Sometimes a couple of people show up; often a dozen or more. Alley is often accompanied by her grandson, sixth-grader David Bice. Children and parents, sisters and brothers, individuals and friends show up to hoe and weed and plant and harvest.
Moore sometimes brings friends who have disabilities. They love getting fresh produce and enjoy helping tend the plot of land. Isaiah, she said, told people to feed the hungry. They're doing that.
And it reminds her of her childhood visits to a much-loved grandmother. The woman lived in Helper where "everyone has a garden." Day after day, she saw people drop off vegetables for her grandmother, who gave others vegetables from her own garden. "If someone went visiting," said Moore, "they'd drop off something from their garden. And visitors left with a paperbag filled with fresh fruits and vegetables."
The St. Stephen's gardeners usually cap off the festivities by sipping rootbeer floats in the gazebo as they gaze over their handiwork.
And God's handiwork.
Parishioner Paul Dufendach described it this way, writing for the Diocesan Dialogue, published monthly by the Episcopal Diocese of Utah: "This garden has profoundly changed the way we at St. Stephen's look at our relationship with the Lord and with others. We can feel a spiritual dimension to our digging and planting. We become more aware of the wonders of God's creation and our own connection with it, especially those of us for whom nature is often associated only with the cabbage in the supermarket, the nuisance of pigeons or the drudgery of lawn mowing.
"Awareness comes from digging in the soil and getting our hands dirty, from planting and watching the crops grow, from picking them and from enjoying and sharing them. Few of us really get to see and enjoy the fruits of our usual labor, but gardening is different. We participate in God's creation and see, feel and taste what we and God have done together. We accomplish something tangible."
What started as a utilitarian vegetable garden to feed the poor has become a place of comfort and contemplation, Alley said. They planted vegetables that repel insects among the beets and squash, the tomatoes and rhubarb. A few years ago, they built the gazebo, with planter boxes and surrounded by raised beds.
"We wanted a place where the children could walk and enjoy the green. A place that's pretty, to go to discover things."
It has, indeed, attracted the children - of all ages.
A few years ago, when several years of composting and planting had made the soil magnificent for growing, the parishioners reluctantly agreed they needed a new church building, which would have to be built on the garden site. But they incorporated "God's garden" into the plans. From the parking lot, it's the first thing visitors see, framed by rose bushes. The glass windows at the front of the church overlook the garden.
But the best thing about the garden, according to Moore and Alley, is one needn't be a member of the parish to participate.
"It's a way of participating in a community," said Moore.