Amid a pandemic, the effects of which can leave people feeling isolated and alone, Santa Barbara Seventh-day Adventist Church in Santa Barbara, California, United States, has continued to minister to its church members and neighbors through its community garden.
Though the community garden at Santa Barbara church is not new, engagement with the garden has increased throughout the pandemic. Many residents of Santa Barbara do not have adequate space for their own gardens. With the mental and physical health benefits of gardening, the community garden has been a way for people to combat feelings of loneliness and remain connected.
A report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published in August 2020 found that 40 percent of adults surveyed reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse. Symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased in the U.S. during April-June 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.
“A lot of people miss fellowship with others,” Shannon Gott, Santa Barbara church member and coordinator of the community garden, said. “You see people talking with one another while keeping their distance, being able to be outside and get fresh air and building relationships. It’s been a benefit, especially during COVID-19.”
The idea of a community garden came from Gott, who didn’t have prior experience with gardening herself. “I had been thinking for a while that it would be neat to have a garden be the outreach for the community to bridge the gap, create conversation, and share the gospel,” Gott said.
In the fall of 2018, she invited the church and community to a garden workshop hosted by experienced gardener Lynn Hoag. This workshop gave way to opening a garden for church and community members, using space that was previously occupied by a school on the church property.
“To me, the garden was about family and community,” Riva Robinson, senior pastor of Santa Barbara church, said of the garden’s origins. “It was a way of repurposing a school that no longer existed. The school brought kids and family into the community and brought life and joy to the church, so the garden brought back life and joy to the church.”
The garden has also allowed the church to make faith connections. Some community members have started taking Bible lessons through the church’s It Is Written Bible study outreach, of which Gott is one of the leaders. “Since the coronavirus, our church has done phone Bible studies,” Gott said. “We have a lot of these lessons that go through major pillars of our faith, and community members have joined in. That has been a blessing.”