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Tucked deep in the heart of Sanford, North Carolina, Center United Methodist Church is growing a different kind of ministry. Just outside of the church sits Selah garden, an expansion of Center UMC’s outreach. 

“The word Selah is found in the book of Psalms—it seems to indicate a break in the work of worship,” says Jarrod Davis, Center UMC pastor and REDI alumni. “The word seems to mean ‘stop, take a moment, and consider what’s going on.’ That’s the idea behind the garden—to take time to stop, breathe, and consider what’s happening through our church.” 

Center UMC is a part of the NC Rural Center’s Faith in Rural Communities initiative, a program that partners with rural churches throughout the state to assess their congregational assets and opportunities for community engagement. 

Funded by The Duke Endowment, Faith in Rural Communities helps to create high-impact projects that will benefit both the economic and social well-being of the communities served. “Rural churches have the potential to impact their communities in innovative ways,” says Heather Kilbourne, Faith in Rural Communities project manager. “This initiative seeks to fulfill unmet needs and expand ministries using the resources and partnerships already in communities.”

According to Davis, the garden started as a way to provide an accessible space for older adults to garden and engage with their community. The space has been designed to accommodate for health or physical limitations; the aisles are wider than average, the plant beds have been enclosed and raised to standing-height, and scooters are available so volunteers can move around more easily. On Saturdays, the garden hosts a free produce stand for the community. 

“We wanted to take the work and community we were building with our seniors and expand it to reach more people,” says Davis. 

A key component of the Faith in Rural Communities curriculum is coaching designed to help rural churches better support community growth and nurture community leaders from within their own congregations. 

“From the Faith in Rural Communities coaching and our work with the Rural Center, we learned what more we could do,” says Davis.

The idea for a children’s camp was developed in one of the Faith in Rural Communities coaching sessions. “It evolved really quickly,” says Family Promise coordinator and Center UMC congregant, Linda Higgins. “We had the garden and these existing partnerships and decided to bring them all together.” 

Family Promise focuses on providing resources to low-income families or families experiencing homelessness through a community-based response, according to their mission statement. Center UMC partnered with the group to provide healthier food options to families participating in the Family Promise program.

The Food, Fitness, Fun camp was designed to merge information about nutrition and information about health and fitness in a way that would be impactful and meaningful to children experiencing or transitioning out of homelessness. 

“Having the ability to learn from others and having the support of the Rural Center helped us expand and take this work to the next level,” says Higgins. 

According to Davis, one of the biggest impacts of the Food, Fitness, Fun camp is that it is changing the mentality of the ministry. “We’re no longer content with just inviting people in to church; we’re going out and engaging,” he said. “I’m seeing a community being built up just by being present with each other in these different ways.”