Debbie and I have learned a lot about growing vegetables this year. We learned that mulch under your raised beds acts like a big sponge and makes the beds too wet. But, we also learned when you remove the mulch and create drainage that the beds return to a productive, healthy state. We learned not to fertilize beans because you get more vine than beans.
We also learned that plants start to play out as the season progresses. Tomatoes get smaller, insect attacks increase, and the general quality of the veggies is not as good as the first harvests. I think we picked the last of the tomatoes last week. We pulled up some plants a couple of weeks ago, and the rest will go this week. We also learned that voles like potatoes, especially russets, and that they will chew on as many potatoes as possible, without actually eating a whole one. We lost most of the russets that way. But apparently voles don’t like red potatoes because they didn’t eat the Cranberry potatoes. Or maybe the voles had so many russets to eat they didn’t make it to the red potatoes. But, either way, we harvested some late red potatoes that are delicious.
The garden looks pretty sad right now. All the lush cucumber, watermelon, and cantaloupe vines are gone. The sugar snap peas gave out long ago. The remaining tomato plants are stalky and almost leaf-bare. The bean vines are drying up, and the compost heap has grown dramatically. To look at it, you might think that the garden was dead.
But it’s just the end of a season. We have already received our lettuce and celery seeds, plus we’ll plant more spinach, too. As you know, these cool weather crops don’t like the July and August heat. But, this fall, if all goes well, we’ll have fresh salads again. Plus, the freezer we bought this year is over half full of frozen tomatoes waiting to be made into soup and sauces; frozen apples that we bought locally; frozen blueberries picked in July; some beans from the garden; and, frozen peaches.
My point in all this is that seasons bring changes to gardens and churches. What works in the garden in the summer doesn’t work in the fall and winter. Experienced gardeners know that and adapt. Experienced church leaders do the same. Our culture is changing, and so must our churches. Church attendance nationwide has fallen from about 40% of the population to only 17.5% on any Sunday. “Regular church attendance” is now considered to be 3-out-of-8 Sundays. Older adults are more likely to attend church than younger adults. And the list of changes goes on.
We can bemoan the fact that it isn’t “summer” for churches anymore. But, like the garden, that won’t do us much good. Instead we can figure out what will “grow” in this new environment we find ourselves in. Like our experience in the garden this summer, we’re still learning. Some things will work and others will not. But churches, like gardeners, are optimists. We believe that next year will be better.