By Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor
Have you been enjoying the wonderful peaches we have in South Carolina this summer?
Right now is that special time of year when the peaches are ready. And they have been good this year. I have noticed that even the grocery stores in Tennessee have South Carolina peaches for sale.
It seems like I have been stopping by roadside markets for a couple months now to purchase this delicious produce. Recently, as I was deciding which kind to get, another shopper inquired if the variety was Freestone. When she learned they were all Clingstone, she quickly turned, and out the door she went, saying she would not have anything except Freestone.
Yes, folks have their personal favorite type of peach. Whether it is White Lady, Southern Pearl, Red Haven or July Prince, there is a variety of peach for everyone. I have even learned that some peach lovers argue that the best peaches come from the area where they grew up or from a particular farm.
Recently, there has been a lot of conversation about the fruitfulness of our churches. What does it mean for a community of faith to bear fruit? How do you measure that? Is it by the number of persons who profess their faith in Jesus Christ? Do you count the quantity of small groups or how many people go on mission trips from the church? Can you measure the influence that the members of a church have on their community as they live and work there? Are they like leaven at work in a loaf of bread that causes it to rise?
These are questions that every congregation needs to be exploring. Each of us wants to be growing closer to God. We believe that the Holy Spirit is at work within us, sanctifying and moving us on toward perfection. As disciples, we want to become more and more the church that God calls us to be.
Many United Methodists have studied Robert Schnase’s book, “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.” At the Cabinet Retreat in July, we discussed ways we can help the churches across the state to become more fruitful. We read “Bearing Fruit,” a new book by Lovett Weems and Tom Berlin, in which the authors suggest that the various activities of the church are done “so that” people will come to know Jesus in a real way. We need to remember the “so that” behind all that we do.
There is a wonderful truth in the 18th verse of the 27th chapter of Proverbs: “If you care for your orchard, you’ll enjoy its fruit.” Caring for the peach orchard adds up to a lot of intentional year-round work. Harvesting the fruit is just the final step after many other tasks. Other responsibilities include pruning, protecting from frost, spraying to prohibit insects and disease, and even tree-shaking – shaking out extra fruit so the best peaches can get bigger and better.
Just like the farmer always has the harvest in mind, we in the church must remember that we are in the business of the caring and feeding of souls, both our own and those of our brothers and sisters.
If you care for your orchard, you will enjoy its fruit.