All I wanted was decent falafel not too far from my house. When I moved down to this part of Durham a few years ago, I asked Yelp where to find falafel, and drove the couple of miles to the Mediterranean Grill & Grocery on Revere Road. It was lunchtime on a Friday, my day off. I pulled into the giant parking lot and marveled at how many other people apparently wanted this particular falafel on this particular day. But when I went in the door of the restaurant, electronic bells tingling as it closed behind me, there were no other customers. I ordered my falafel and took it outside to sit underneath an umbrella on a patio filled with flowers blooming in planters. As I took the first bite of that [unparalleled] falafel, soft chanting began to drift through the air. I looked up and realized, after tracking the shelves full of shoes outside the door to the adjoining space in the strip mall, that I was gobbling up my lunch on the lawn of a big masjid, filled with Muslims chanting Friday prayers in Arabic. I finished my falafel, covered in prayer, and left full of blessing, beauty and hummus.
I didn’t realize, that day, that I had stumbled into a neighborhood that would become really important to me. Parkwood is a planned community, first built in the 1950s to house workers moving in to staff IBM’s headquarters. The Grill and mosque occupy a long, low strip that also houses an Islamic school and – oddly enough – the Triangle Bridge Club. The adjacent ball fields are constantly filled with tiny baseball players and parents. Across the street is the Baha’i Center and next to that is Parkwood United Methodist Church, whose building is also home to the Parktown Food Hub.
Sometime after I discovered the World’s Most Delicious Falafel, I met Pastor Anita and Pastor Sharon. Anita was the pastor at the Methodist church, and Sharon was a Lutheran church planter learning about the neighborhood in order to partner with people already making a difference. Peace Covenant and Parkwood UMC began partnering – a joint Christmas Eve service, shared Bible Studies. The three of us and Rachel, another UMC minister, began meeting monthly as a Clergy Covenant Group, sharing stories of ministry and supporting one another through all kinds of life.
Sharon’s church planting eventually connected her to a woman named Aja, who had for a long time been running a food pantry out of the local elementary school. Aja, a natural connector, had tons of volunteers, food sources and connections to hungry kids, but the pantry needed a bigger space and room to grow. The connection led to the Parktown Food Hub, which has connected Methodists, Lutherans, Brethren, Muslims, atheists, Boy Scouts, mindful families, ghost hunters, seminary students, youth groups, Latinx congregations, social workers, public school teachers, and an unimaginably diverse group of people to gather together, share food, and build community for the last two years.
My congregation is connected to the Food Hub, volunteering and supporting the work through our annual budget. During the pandemic, I started volunteering in the garden out back, where Sharon’s wife Lisa – also the head of the trustees at Parkwood UMC – put her farm kid know-how to work and, with the help of a dedicated team, transformed an abandoned preschool playground area into a garden. The garden is created out of old pallets turned into raised beds, a playhouse built by a church member who realized the space needed some shade, donated seeds and stakes and soil, and compost – so much compost – comprised of the dredges, ends and scraps from the Food Hub distributions.
It is a gorgeous place. I don’t know how to describe the spirit of it without sounding incredibly cheesy. I can tell you that Saturday mornings in the garden were a big part of keeping me alive and well during the loneliest pandemic months. I can tell you that people show up and seem to just…fit in. I can tell you that Pastor Sharon operates on an assumption of abundance – abundance of food, for sure, but abundance of gifts, abundance of love, abundance of belonging. And God seems to like that M.O. The place has grown in leaps and bounds. When a need emerges, so does a solution. My sense of the ministry at the Hub is that the people there are surfing the waves of grace, holding on to God’s wily Spirit and following where she’s leading.
There is no grasping at what once was, no holding on for dear life to, well, anything. It is a place of open hands and generous spirits.
On Thursday, my last day working for the Church of the Brethren, some dear church folks took me out to dinner on the flowering patio of the Meditteranean Grill & Grocery. I ate falafel. We celebrated with baklava.
Today, I began a new position as Garden Minister at the Parktown Food Hub, which is a slightly misleading (though SUPER awesome) title. I know very little about growing a garden. I have soaked up some things through osmosis, from my Grandpa Bobby and my friend Lauree and volunteering here over the last couple of years. But the title really means “the minister who happens to be in the garden,” at least for now. The idea is to expand the Hub’s capacity to connect and nurture community, both inside and out. We’re starting with monthly garden potlucks – last week at our first one, there were figs and pears and lavender lemonade, an accordion and a *baptism.*
This morning, as we worked to clear out the beds to make room for fall planting, the Baha’i choir began their outdoor practice. They sang, we worked, and the entire morning there on this corner where I stumbled into holy falafel felt nothing less than blessed. And I am deeply, deeply grateful to be a part of it.