There are plenty of things you can pretty well guarantee will be part of serving at your local church. Discovering pools is not one of them.

It is, however, a side-effect of the community care that members of St James’, Turramurra have been part of since 2010: gardening for locals. It began as a youth group initiative, then spread to members of the evening service and morning family service. 

“The heart behind it was to be connecting with those in need in our community and reflecting in our lives the same gospel that we preach from the pulpit,” says one of St James’ assistant ministers, the Rev Ed Hungerford. 

“We wanted to be connecting with people, building relationships and sharing the gospel, but we also wanted there to be a lovely harmony between the gospel we preached and how it was expressed in our lives.”

Partnerships then developed with local nursing homes, with schools and other organisations (which referred families to the church for gardening help), as well as with Easy Care Gardening – a not-for-profit group in Sydney’s northern suburbs that supports elderly and/or disabled residents who still live at home.

The ECG group from St James’ has been running for a decade, and although COVID has reduced the opportunities to get into gardens and interact with homeowners, the team is at work whenever it’s possible.

Angus Sturrock found out about the ministry from his time as a Turramurra church warden, got involved and has been in charge of the ECG group for the past three years.

“From my perspective there are two sides to it: one is getting to meet people in the community that have a level of need and build some level of relationship with them, and the other one – which surprised me a bit – was that just serving together, and the fellowship of working together, has been a real blessing in itself,” he says.

“It’s quite surprising – with 15 people you can achieve a lot in a few hours. The people we’re helping are always quite amazed by the transformation... we usually generate about 15 garbage bags of weeds, and 15-20 bundles of pruned trees or bushes.”

And then there are the unexpected discoveries.

Meredith Kirton from Easy Care Gardening explains that, when someone from the organisation first visits a garden  to see what needs to be done, “a big part of the work is making it safe again because often, by the time people have reached out for help, it’s become an unwieldy beast. Sometimes they can’t reach their clothesline. We’ve also found swimming pools!

“I liken it a bit to a spare room. You just keep shoving stuff in and eventually no-one can sleep there. A garden can sometimes be like that, and then you turn your back on it because it’s too big a task to tackle. So, our teams come in and get it back to a manageable state. And often, during that process, it enables the owner to start tinkering around again and enjoying their gardening.”

Mr Sturrock says the overgrown nature of gardens they tackle means team members have “found a couple of ants’ nests the hard way”, but generally the time together is full of positives – well beyond a tidy backyard. The gardening group, many of whom are younger, can be introduced to community service; there is time and opportunity to connect with the homeowners, often over a shared afternoon tea; and relationships can grow with the client and within the group itself.

“Our team is largely [comprised] of our Bible study group, with our kids, and I really enjoy the sense of community as we serve together,” he says. “Our efforts are small but provide a really practical way of helping and connecting with people in the local community who are in need.”