Community Gardens In The Heart Of A City

While I’m on vacation, I asked a few Sojourn ministry leaders to keep the conversation going here at These are men and women who are leading us forward. Some of their work is behind the scenes, but it is all appreciated by me, by all the Sojourn pastors and by the many lives they have touched.

This week you’ll enjoy the perspectives of Nathan Ivey. Nathan is Pastor of Community Life at our Midtown Campus, and the founder of Seed, the Sojourn renewal ministry that has helped countless neighbors and drawn national attention from church leaders who want to replicate what we’re doing in their community.

Today he writes about the vacant lot that Sojourn transformed into a community garden in Shelby Park, and how you can do likewise in your city or neighborhood:


The Bible begins in a garden and ends in a city.  How beautiful, then is a garden in the city!  Sojourn Midtown has a unique setting in our city and neighborhood. Being from the state of Kentucky and the city of Louisville, we are submersed in both an agricultural and urban context. Thus, we have both a passion for gardens and the city. And, we believe these present amazing gospel opportunities for us in our neighborhood.

In looking at the Bible, one of our first loves as a church, we see that the Bible story begins in a garden (Eden, Gen. 2:8) and ends with a garden in the heart of God’s city (the new Jerusalem, Rev. 21-22). A garden in the middle of the city…what a beautiful picture!

The imagery of Revelation 21-22 has supplied us with a vision for the city of Louisville. We foresee a beautiful garden providing food, shade, and restoration for our inner city neighborhoods – Germantown and Shelby Park.

This year, Sojourn transformed a vacant lot in Shelby Park and transformed it into a community garden.  Why? Because

  • Gardens begin with God. A garden provides us with a picture of how God intended life to be lived – a way of life and a state of worship. The garden is a place for human work and divine provision.
  • Gardens foster community. Gardens provide fresh produce and plants as well as satisfying labor, relationships, and a sense of community. The same community we were created for can be experienced in our neighborhoods through a community garden! It’s a place for conversation, relationships, and ample opportunities to share our faith and lives with others.
  • Gardens provide restoration. Gardens improve a neighborhood’s health and wellness, and provide restoration to a community, as well as a connection to the environment. God cares for the whole person and we can see some of these needs met through a community garden.

Join the movement!

Connect with Sojourn’s Garden – care for a plot, help keep the grounds, meet a neighbor.

Start your own garden in your city. Collaborate with your neighbors, local stores, and your city officials to see your urban garden become a reality.  Check out the following links on how to get started:

Maybe you already have a community garden in your neighborhood. Join the action! Check out the following website for a community garden near you:

For those that weren’t born with a green thumb, shop at your local Farmer’s Market to support the movement. Find the one closest to you!

Embracing Our Identity As The Church In The New Sojourn Gallery

Michael Winters has overseen The 930 Art Center at our Midtown Campus since 2006, and is Sojourn’s Visual Arts Director. Michael is my guest blogger this week at


Yesterday, the post here was about looking back at The 930 Art Center.  Today’s post is about looking forward to the new Sojourn Gallery at St. Vincent’s, which will open on Saturday, August 25 (God willing and construction continues smoothly) with a big open house, and then with first church services on Sunday, August 26.

The gallery nearing the end of construction

How are we going to choose what to show?

The new space is a new opportunity to rethink vision for our arts ministry and slightly shift the gallery’s emphasis.

We don’t ask “What will we not show?” and then make a list of do-not’s for artists – do not show nudity, do not show violence, etc.

Instead we ask, “What art is best for us to share in this time and in this place?”

I now believe that finding the best work for our context requires a full embrace of our identity as the church.  The church is something very different from any other institution or group.  The church is not a museum, business, government, social service agency or a school.  Why do we then so often adopt the methods of these other institutions?  When working with art in the church, we don’t need to borrow the rules and regulations of the fine art world.  We need to more fully understand who we are as the church and allow relationships and practices to be formed from that identity.

In Sojourn we describe our identity as the church through these aspects: Worshipers, Family, Servants, Learners, and Missionaries.

So when thinking about mixing visual art in the life of the church, is there art out there that affirms, challenges, or otherwise encourages us to embrace those identities?  If we can’t get our hands on art like that, can we make it?

I think our tentative schedule for first exhibits at The Sojourn Gallery will encourage us to embrace these identities.

Gene Schmidt walking I Corinthians 13 through the streets of Philadelphia. Photo by Alicia Hansen.

Lovetown, PA by Gene Schmidt and photography by Alicia Hansen

Over the past few years Gene Schmidt’s work has moved out of the studio and onto the streets in a series of projects he calls urban pilgrimages. Combining elements of performance, pilgrimage, and sculpture, the projects are often inspired by, or are meditations on, biblical texts in the context of an urban environment. While these projects are done in public for anyone to see and respond to as they wish, for the artist they are spiritual journeys and lengthy prayers with physical weight and dimension.

I think this project is a fascinating example of an artist embodying the missionary identity.
Who is Shelby Park?

This exhibit will use photography as an entry point into learning our new neighborhood.  Though it’s only a couple blocks from our previous location, this is a new place to explore with new people to meet.  Photography can help us sharpen our understanding of who we are by deepening our understanding of where we are.

We made this for you
This exhibit will invite artists to embody our identity as servants by giving the gift of art to designated individuals and organizations.

Picturing Genesis
As we recently studied the book of Genesis over the course of a year, Sojourn artists illustrated an image for each section of sermon text.  These illustrations were made for the purpose of coming alongside the worship life of the church.  Bringing them all together as nice, big prints in the gallery will be an act of worship too.

Juried: Art by Christians in Higher Education
This exhibit will invite Christians in colleges and universities to submit their best work.  This will hopefully reveal a survey of the kinds of artwork Christians around the country are making.  This will help us get to know one sector of the larger body of Christ family from across the country.

So, my prayer for this new venture is that our church members, artists we work with, and visitors of all kinds will be transformed by the gospel as we embrace our identity as the church and share the best artwork we can get our hands on (or make with our own hands).

You can keep up with Sojourn Visual Arts through and

After Six Years Of The 930 Art Center — Was It Worth It?

Michael Winters has overseen The 930 Art Center at our Midtown Campus since 2006, and is Sojourn’s Visual Arts Director. Michael is my guest blogger this week at


Over the past six years our church has facilitated hundreds of art exhibits and concerts through The 930 Art Center, but now as we prepare to change worship spaces we’ve thrown our final 930 events, and in just a couple weeks we’re taking down the last exhibit.  The signage will come down, the Facebook page will go stagnant and I’ll be left asking what’s left to show for all the work and money and love we’ve put into this venue.

Stirring Exhibit installation view.  Art by Matt Dobson and Denise Burge.

Stirring Exhibit installation view. Art by Matt Dobson and Denise Burge.

When we moved into the building at 930 Mary Street we were a church of five hundred and accustomed to renting Sunday worship space.  60,000 square feet looked like infinite possibility to us.

We had a lot of dreams and ambitions at the beginning.  Were they fulfilled?

We wanted to break down the sacred/secular divide.  We wanted to create natural connections between our church and our neighbors.  We wanted to inspire curiosity about God’s world and celebrate whatever was worth celebrating.  We wanted to serve artists at various stages in their pursuits and meet their needs.  Our mission statement described all this as “a shared space where people of various backgrounds and beliefs could come together for a shared vision of a more beautiful world.”

Sometimes, these good desires found fulfillment.

Our Neighborhood event photos

Our Neighborhood event photos

One of my favorite evenings involved a gallery exhibit called “Our Neighborhood” and a concert by Psalters, a musical tribe of punk/hippie Christians.  We fired up the grill and mixed up 20 gallons of lemonade and invited the neighborhood.  It was like a circus.  It was beautiful because people of diverse backgrounds really did come together and share a vision for a more beautiful world.

I can imagine what could have happened instead on that evening.  The church building could have been empty.  The air condition could have been humming to itself.  Moonlight could have drifted in the window, but no one would have seen it.  We could have all been at home watching sitcoms.  By God’s grace, we cultivated something better, something vibrant, a little like the way God makes things – full and complex.

Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s concert photo

Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s

Most of the time though, our successes were preceded by confusion.  People were constantly trying to figure us out.  “So, does the church have a problem with what you’re doing here?” they’d say.  “I am the church” I’d reply.

Another time, someone applied for an internship not researching enough in advance to know that The 930 was owned and operated by the church.  I told him we only used interns connected through our church and invited him to attend Sunday, thinking that was the end of the conversation.  He ended up doing a yearlong internship.  At the end he wrote “I began to see this internship opportunity as more of a spiritual renewal than work experience for school credit and I’m extremely grateful to God for pointing me here.”

 Installation view of Starcross’d by Dayton Castleman

Installation view of Starcross’d by Dayton Castleman

I’d like to think that occasionally, as people tried to make sense of why a church would host something like a giant cardboard fighter jet kissing a goose, or a concert by rough-around-the-edges bands like Shellac, their curiosity turned into a little bit of awe.  One time, I remember watching a guy across the room in the glow of concert lights.  He had gone through addiction and a divorce and had gone through a dissatisfied relationship with another church.  That previous church was strict and serious and ungracious.  Now, he was new to our church.  His eyes lit up in the glory of live rock n roll, wonderfully confused at how this could be happening in a church, a church he would soon call ‘his’ church.  I doubt he’d credit that show as the reason he committed to our church community, but I’m sure it played a part.  It made a qualitative difference.  On some nights, the mixture of song and light and laughter was really beautiful.

I hope God was honored by the work here, and I hope someone whose name I don’t know keeps a treasured memory of when they first believed the possibility of a church community marked by love and beauty, creativity and joy.

Yes, it was worth it.




What Art Can And Can’t Do For Your Church

While I’m on vacation, I asked a few Sojourn ministry leaders to keep the conversation going here at These are men and women who are leading us forward. Some of their work is behind the scenes, but it is all appreciated by me, by all the Sojourn pastors and by the many lives they have touched.

This week you’ll enjoy the perspectives of Michael Winters. Michael is the Director of Sojourn Visual Arts and curator of The 930 Art Center. We owe much of Sojourn’s “vibe” to Michael, a gifted artist, visionary leader and dedicated theologian.

Today he writes about what art can (and can’t) do for your church:


Art can’t replace gospel proclamation, but it’s also true that gospel proclamation can’t replace art.


Art can’t save souls, but everyone’s soul is enriched when the worship music compliments the lyrics beautifully.


Art can’t give you the body and blood of Christ, but it can give you good bread, wine, and a cup.


Art probably won’t boost church attendance, but I know at least one faithful church member who first became aware of our church through our arts programming.


Art probably won’t do a lot for your fundraiser, but the economics of art can teach us to better gauge the true value of things.


Art won’t make your church trendy and hip, and is more likely to make you look like children until you get good at it, but God likes children.


Art won’t usher in the kingdom of God, but Jesus shared visions of the kingdom of God through artful analogies.


Art can’t picture unseen spiritual realities, but it can reflect them.


Art won’t save the world, but the world will be made new through Christ, so let’s make something new.


Being Single In A Church …

Amanda Edmondson is my Executive Assistant at Sojourn Community Church, and Midtown Campus Coordinator for our Women’s Ministry. Amanda is my guest blogger this week at

When I first started attending Sojourn there were a few things that drew me in. First, the teaching is from the Bible and always gospel centered. It is intentionally reaching out to those with spiritual and physical needs.   The less spiritual reason … mainly because there isn’t a “singles ministry”. I wanted to be a part of a church where it wasn’t compartmentalized. One of the most beautiful ways community is played out at large is in the diversity of age, marital status, and ethnicity.

Being single at times can be hard but being single in the church is even harder. Here’s a post I wrote for Sojourn Women over a year ago on contentment and singleness.

This past year I turned 30 and it seemed that everyone at that moment had opinions on what I should do with my life and my singleness. Many people suggested I consider going over seas and serving on the mission field, “because that’s what you do when you are a 30 year old single female”, for some women that’s apparently what they do, but not me — not because I’m not willing but because that’s not where the Lord has called me.

Others suggested I go back to school — another great suggestion but again not where the Lord has called me. Online dating comes up often; someone even took the liberty of signing me up last year –I still don’t know who did that but no thank you.  There’s nothing wrong with any of these suggestions. But dear friends whom I respect and are daily doing life with me helped me realize none of these are for me right now.

Being single in a church makes me no different than my friends who are married or who are parents. We each have the same need for a savior. Our lives do look very different in the sense of responsibilities. Just like we second-guess people who are young we do the same with people who are single. At the root being single in a church makes me no less or more qualified to serve.

When Daniel first suggested I blog on this topic I cringed. As I thought it over I realized how thankful I am to be a part of a church (community group) where I am pushed to look more like Christ than I am pushed into a marriage. Not everyone’s experience of being single in a large church is the same. To be honest in the past at other churches it looked very different for me.  It was helpful in those times and even now for me to be reminded that people won’t always love us perfectly. Only the Lord does.

I hope that in five years whether I’m single or married my desire and delight in the Lord would only be greater. That I would still long to behold Christ and live a life worthy of my calling to know God. I hope to live life in light of an eternal perspective and to find my joy, my hope, and my identity only in Christ because He is all I will ever need.


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