New Roots in Nature

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UPMP Reflection
by Jamie Mangiameli, UPMP Resident at New Roots AME

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Summer is often a transient time for faith communities because people are traveling, and schedules are out of their typical rhythm. The transience and fluidity offered by summer proved to be a wonderful time to try something new, and to live into the calling of New Roots AME, as a congregation who actively rethinks and reimagines what church can be. For the month of August, New Roots AME has been meeting in outdoor spaces all around Dorchester. From Nightingale Community Garden, to Tenean Beach, to a backyard barbecue, to Carson Beach, this month has given us ample opportunity to pause and appreciate creation, even amid the city. As we walked around the garden, or dug our toes into the sand, we truly felt what it meant to be a church without walls. Airplanes flying overhead during the sermon, the wind ripping across the shore during our community prayer, reminded us that we are not called to be isolated in our faith communities, or peering at the city through stained glass windows, but we are in and of nature as much as we are in and of this city.

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In a time such as this, a time where violence, destruction and heartbreak seem to dominate our realities, it has become increasingly necessary to pause, to breathe, to center oneself in the midst of chaos. The first Sunday of August was the Sunday immediately following the mass shooting in El Paso, a tragedy that encapsulated the inherent violence of white supremacy in this country. Members of New Roots Church gathered in Nightingale Community Garden with heavy hearts. In the face of grief, words, concepts, theories, and stellar biblical exegesis feel empty and pointless. Rev. Mariama turned to the garden for revelation. Against all odds of city life, the garden flourished. Sunflowers bloomed across the plot offering vibrant and energizing bursts of yellow. We walked the garden like a prayer labyrinth, which grounded us in the space and gave us time to rest in awe of creation. We then gathered around the communion table to break bread and share wine, which bled into our monthly potluck - an intentional extension of the Eucharist. We shared watermelon and garden-fresh tomatoes among other delicious dishes. This meal collectively prepared by members of the community. The hope of God was revealed and shared, not through a carefully curated liturgy, but an open-heart surrender to notice how God speaks through carrots bursting from the soil, the aroma of basil, the bees getting their fill in the heart of Dorchester. 

Although New Roots already does not own a church building (we gather at Epiphany School in Dorchester), spending the month of August in nature pushed me to think more deeply about place, our connection to the community of Dorchester, the greater city of Boston, the United States, all of humanity, and creation as a whole. As we stood with our feet sinking in the sand, little crabs crawling across our toes, cool water running and sustaining life, the interdependence of creation became more evident than ever. Rev. Mariama reminded us that we are not separate from but are deeply intertwined with the natural world. We are not merely visitors, strangers, or consumers, but God’s calling for New Roots, for myself, for you, can be revealed in the sun shining, the waves crashing, the wind blowing, the tomatoes growing. 

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In order to flourish, the natural world requires collaboration and patience. This fact is widely known but scarcely practiced, especially in ministry. The natural world is intricately bound up with other species and elements, dependent on one another for survival. I will carry this insight forward as I continue to collaborate with the incredible UPMP cohort, as I continue to learn from the New Roots community, and as I continue to discover the places where I need the sunlight, soil and water of others to flourish.