Serenity House, a community center and outreach ministry of Arch Street United Methodist Church, sits near the corner of 12th St. and W. Lehigh Ave, in the heart of North Philadelphia. The former parsonage of the now-closed Cookman UMC, this rowhouse was converted into a community center in order to maintain a presence of serenity in the neighborhood.
Over the years, neighbors situated in one of Philadelphia’s most impoverished and struggling areas have come to know Serenity House as a healing place where all are invited to gather for peace, fellowship, and encouragement. Recently, a partnership with students from Swarthmore College has allowed Serenity House to expand healing efforts to the Earth as well as to neighbors. Those efforts recognize that the health and wholeness of individuals and communities is deeply connected to the health of the Earth on which we live.
Swarthmore students and other community members organized with Serenity House’s neighborhood men’s group to cultivate a backyard garden. They also learned about solar power and installed a solar panel on the community center’s garage. That project became the origin of the Serenity Soular Initiative, a growing enterprise that will equip Serenity House with solar panels while giving neighbors valuable job training in the green economy.
Two blocks away, Serenity House is participating in another community project that clearly demonstrates how environmental flourishing is connected to human flourishing. The People’s Garden is a place for neighbors of all ages to play, rest, grow and harvest fresh fruits and vegetables, organize, learn, and build community.
Over the past year, a team of neighbors and allies have been organizing together to transform a vacant lot into a community garden. Neighbors dreamed of a garden where they could find nutritious food in the midst of the scarcity that makes this one of Philadelphia’s food deserts. They also sought peace and safety in the midst of a city fraught with violence, and local pride and self-determination in a neighborhood threatened by disinvestment and displacement.
After many long hours of planning and work, those dreams are coming true! In early March, the first workday drew neighbors of all ages to build raised plant beds, prepare the soil, and vote on the name “The People’s Garden.”
Excitement rose, especially among the children, who were impatient to begin planting. After that success, made possible by the richness of community, the diversity of valuable talents and gifts in the neighborhood, and a deep well of devotion to healing and humanity, it was hard to see the neighborhood as poor and struggling.
The truth is, like a mustard seed, this community has boundless potential. With some water, sunlight, and love, this North Philadelphia neighborhood will blossom, bringing beauty and hope to all of Philadelphia.
The People’s Garden invites you to participate in this wonderful project by donating towards the purchase of seeds, seedlings, soil, tools, a rainwater collection system, food and supplies for work days, tuition for gardening education, and transportation for supplies.
After you donate, please sign up for occasional email updates and come visit The People’s Garden to witness how you’ve contributed to the flourishing of community!
By Rachel Ternes, United Methodist Young Adult Missionary
Serenity House Community Organizer