Sacred Places Winter 2021 - Page 12

Using Outdoor Sacred Places in New Ways

Using Outdoor Sacred Places in New Ways

by Cherilyn Widell
Director , National Fund for Sacred Places
Historic sacred places often have underutilized indoor spaces available for new uses that can be shared by community partners in urban neighborhoods . Smaller , rural churches , located in corn fields like Shrewsbury Parish on the Eastern Shore of Maryland , have outdoor spaces — like farmland or a cemetery — to offer as well . So , when Shewsbury ’ s leadership team attended New Dollars training conducted by Partners for Sacred Places , including the asset mapping component , they began to plan how their outdoor areas could connect with their community in new ways .
“ It came to the fore through a process we were involved in called ‘ New Dollars / New Partners ,’ which is a program that churches in the Diocese of Easton partici- pated in to look at how to use historical sites to reach out to the wider community ,” The Right Rev . Henry Sabetti said . “ In the midst of the whole pandemic , this has been a morale builder ,” said Sabetti of the community garden project during the recent planting session in October .
Seed money , literally , came from a $ 5,000 grant from the Diocese of Easton to explore whether some of the farmland could be used to begin a community garden . The original concept was to share the garden and its bounty with members of the Latinx La Sagrada de Jesus congregation which also worships on the church property . Because Covid 19 had prevented the Latino community from participating , parishioners began building plots and offered them to those in the community who had no land or had never gardened before . The chairman of the Shrewsbury Community Garden , retired farmer Robert O ’ Connell , reached out to the Bayside HOYAS ( Helping our Youth Achieve Success ) which took six plots .
“ We were actually looking for a way to teach about nutrition from the ground to the plate , so to speak ,” said John Queen , president and co-founder of the HOYAS . “ We were just trying to set up the program to implement that part . They ’ ve been very gracious as hosts ,” Queen said , “ It ’ s been great . I ’ m glad they reached out to the HOYAS and asked us to be a part of it .”
“ If we can find enough people ,” O ’ Connell said , “ we ’ ll have room for 15 more plots .” At least 10 % of all of the yield is donated to local food banks . “ Hopefully next spring we ’ ll be able to set up hives ,” Father Sabetti said . “ It ’ s not just for the parish . It ’ s for the community . It ’ s called a ‘ community garden ’ and we ’ re going to try to keep it that way ,” he said .
Meanwhile , big things are also happening with new uses in the Old Shrewsbury Cemetery , a cultural landscape which dates to the first quarter of the 18th century . Armed with a grant from Preservation Maryland , Cemetery Warden Robert Busler hired the GIS Laboratory at nearby Washington College to map and interpret each grave and complete a technical survey , including ground penetrating radar , to update the burial records . The nearby Brown House , a 1924 Sears and Roebuck catalogue bungalow once used as the Parish Hall but now empty , will be converted into the Cemetery Office and opened to the public as a Visitor Interpretation Center for the Stories of the Chesapeake Heritage Area .
A large computer screen , with “ pop up ” capability when a gravesite is selected , will share historical and cultural details about the chosen individual gleaned by college students and genealogists from veteran and local historical society archival records . The existing online web application will incorporate hyperlinks to images for the referenced graves in the cemetery . A future interpretation accessible by Iphone is planned as well .
Additional funds will develop specifications for the rehabilitation of the Brown House as a visitor center that connects to other historic sites in Kent County . Two historic sites that are directly related to the history of the Brown House are the Rosenwald School houses located in the county , built in 1926 and funded by Julius Rosenwald ( President of Sears and Roebuck ) as part of his African American Schoolhouse philanthropic program .
Members and community volunteers add a new plot to the Shrewsbury Parish Community Garden . Photos Courtesy of Kent County News
Despite the pandemic , Shrewsbury Parish has found new dollars , new partners and new uses for its outdoor spaces . Sabetti sums it up : “ It ’ s been fantastic .”