Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
BALTIMORE, Md.—Joel Kurz, pastor of The Garden Community, tells why he chose that unique name for the inner city church. “I read Isaiah 58:10-12 where it says, ‘and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry…you will be like a well-watered garden.’ The image we got was of a garden springing up through the pavement all over the city.”
Two years after planting “The Garden,” Kurz is watching it develop and he’s thrilled with its diversity, unity and passion in reaching the surrounding neighborhoods.
The church meets at a recreation center at Eutaw Marshburn Elementary School, between affluent Bolton Hill and the poverty stricken Upton community.
“We really wanted to start a church that bridges the gap—not white, or black, not rich or poor, but one that reflects God’s kingdom and we’re seeing that happen,” he says excitedly.
Throughout the summer, The Garden Community ministered through “LoveBaltimore,” a strategic initiative to show the community that the church is there, a part of the them, stepping up to offer help and healing in the name of Jesus.
One LoveBaltimore event was a neighborhood block party. Kurz says, “There’s a little park across the street from our office space that is too often used by dealers and addicts, especially on the first of the month when I’ve seen it fill up with eager drug addicts awaiting that month’s “testers” (think drug samples). So on Saturday, May 22, we decided to reclaim the park by filling it with beautiful music, people and food.”
The party featured hip-hop music, a classical ensemble, lots of burgers and soft drinks, and folks just hanging out, having a good time and getting to know each other.
Other LoveBaltimore activities included cleaning all the alleys in old West Baltimore, painting hallways at Eutaw Marshburn Elementary School, cleaning bathrooms and painting the recreation center that the Garden Community shares with the school. Volunteers also painted a mural/welcome sign above the entrance to the “rec” center entrance. Mission teams from a variety of states worked alongside 100 local residents throughout the summer.
This fall, The Garden Community will impact their community through its third annual “Trail of Tears.” A few times each year church members visit several shooting sites near the church where they conduct a short service, with music, prayers and special liturgy. They also leave a rose at the site. Kurz said the first time they did “Trail” was in the lower half of the Upton community. When they looked at the statistics months later, they found that there were no more shootings in that area. Kurz praises God.
“I really do believe God is giving a special covering over that area—fighting crime through prayer,” he says with a smile.
Several neighborhood leaders have participated in the “Trail” and people have come out to pray with the church. In one instance, as church members offered prayers outside of a small neighborhood store, the site of a shooting, several Muslim men (the store owners) came out to join them.
Kurz is thrilled with what is happening in and out of the church. “People are taking notice that we’re here and that we’re a good thing for the neighborhood,” he said.
The Midtown Benefit District, a citizen-run neighborhood improvement group representing Bolton Hill, Charles North, Madison Park and Mount Vernon/Belvedere, took notice of the church’s activities and invited The Garden Community to participate in their National Night Out block party.
The church is continuing to make more connections, ministering with Johns Hopkins students and Maryland Institute College of Art students who are passionate about Christ and the Gospel.
Kurz and his wife, Jess, moved to Baltimore with their two little girls, five-year-old Jaydn and three-year-old Eden, with a vision to serve Baltimore neighborhoods and share Christ.
“We essentially moved here to do what we’re doing,” Kurz says. They began formally gathering for worship in September 2009. Before that they met informally in an office space.
“We never did launch, it was more of a gradual organic thing,” Kurz said. Now he’s praying for an abundant harvest.