Last Monday I was reminded why we at Trinity Lutheran are so blessed to be partners with the Univ of ID Extension. It’s the extension of what? That’s what I remember asking my mom long ago. I remember my parents calling the Extension when I was a kid. Occasionally we would have weeds of new varieties at the ranch. The people on the other end of the line were experts—they knew the species and, more importantly, what to do about them.
I did not think much about the Extension again until I served as a pastor in rural Iowa. A daughter of my congregation worked for the Extension. She lived in a neighboring town, the county seat and the home of the county’s Extension Office—an extension of Iowa State University. Far away from the land-grant university’s main campus in Ames, every time I walked into the Extension I was greeted by red and gold and even the occasional Cyclone, the university’s mascot.
The Extension Program Educator asked me to serve on the 4-H Youth Committee and so began my own education about the gifts and work of the Extension. Through my work on the committee I learned a great deal about 4-H specifically: chapter grants, individual projects ranging from citizenship and sewing to livestock and horticulture, awards, leadership development, and of course the county fair. In my conversations with the educators I learned that there is much more to the Extension than 4-H. The tabs on the website give just a glimpse of their work: 4-H and Youth, Agriculture & Environment, Business & Communication, Families & Healthy Living.
When we in the church use the word collaboration we are often referring to ministry with other congregations. During the church seasons of Advent and Lent you will find Lutherans eating meals with other Christians before or after we worship together. One of Trinity Lutheran’s most significant collaborations is our annual Easter Vigil with Grace Episcopal Church. It is also common for Christians to hold joint Vacation Bible Schools. Many congregations in Nampa host other worshiping communities in their buildings. During the week of Thanksgiving I try to attend the interfaith worship service at St. John’s Cathedral in downtown Boise. (If you are tiring of churchy words then fear not; I too am ready to move on.)
What about collaborations with other organizations? Lutherans and other faith communities have rented or given space to groups for years. I wonder if anyone has ever counted how many AA meetings are held in churches in the Treasure Valley every week. For over a year Trinity has been hosting the Nampa Children’s Theater. As important as these ministries of hospitality are, I would not categorize them as collaborative.
Many congregations partner with schools–providing meals, after school activities, and mentors. Congregations also house preschools, with varying degrees of connection to the congregation. We also invite YMCAs and self-employed instructors to teach Yoga and Zumba classes, in attempts to promote healthy lifestyles and fellowship.
Still, I think the Extension may be one of the best ministry partners for ELCA congregations. We seem to embrace hunger ministries and the Extension educators know a great deal about food. So what made me so excited last Monday? I met with three Extension Educators: Joey, who trained Trinity Lutheran Church’s Master Food Safety Advisors and will teach our three-session workshop on Home Food Preservation; Ariel, the horticulturalist who created and teaches the Victory Garden series we host each spring; and Rhea, the Extension Educator from Twin Falls who I had never met. Rhea is part of a team of educators who have begun creating brochures (part of Eat Smart Idaho) about produce grown in Southern Idaho. The brochures include recipes, preservation instruction, nutrition facts and pictures to help identify varieties (in cases like squash).
When Ariel saw these brochures she thought of our cookbook project (see Part 2 in our After the Harvest grant proposal). Suddenly my goal of giving people cooking instructions for Kale and Cabbage has evolved into something bigger and better than Ariel and I could have dreamed of when we wrote the grant proposal last summer.
There is something powerful about that word extension. In my heart at least, there is a new answer to the question, an extension of what? Here in Canyon County, the University of Idaho Extension, Trinity Lutheran Church, and Trinity Community Garden have become extensions of one another and we are all better for it.
Stay tuned: soon we will be ready to collect YOUR recipes for produce grown in Southern Idaho.