Gusty winds kept some of us in Nebraska from big home garden projects today, while others were out there somehow keeping everything anchored down and hoping for the best (e.g. no hail storms this evening) for plants being set out. All things being equal, today would be a big gardening day. Most obviously, it's Memorial Day, the third day of a long weekend at the beginning of the summer. Less known, but in some ways more relevant, because of the date for Easter this year – which determines the date of Ascension Day (June 2 this year) and all the other days from Easter through Pentecost – today is also the first of the three Rogation Days. Traditionally, Rogation Days are a time for prayers of petition, and particularly for prayers for the land and its newly planted crops and for special blessings for fields. Today, with our understanding of the way care for the environment affects our ability to grow crops, the Rogation Days invite our prayers not only for the fields closest to home, but for the entire planet.
At St. Stephen’s this Sunday we used the Rogation Day propers and observed Rogation Sunday. We talked about stewardship of creation in the homily and at a program afterwards launching our GreenFaith green certification work. We remembered the way this work is rooted in Scripture and in Anglican tradition, and also recognized the way our parish has always cared for the parish grounds.
St. Stephen’s is downtown, right on Route 30, in Grand Island. Surrounded by blocks where the only trees are fairly young, recent additions, our corner has mature trees that have been cared for through years when other downtown trees were neglected or removed. While we lack the spacious grounds of some of our suburban churches, we have managed over the years to find space for three small gardens: a prayer garden in the courtyard between the main church building and the St. Stephen’s Community Center; a memorial garden created by the Webb family near our red doors; and a new (two weeks old!) community garden – with vegetables and flowers for whoever wants them -- behind our youth center across the street from the main building. Despite a steady drizzle Sunday morning, we processed outside for the prayers of the people, remembering the needs of the world at the community garden and blessing this newest of our three gardens. Then we walked back across the street and remembered the departed (including those who died in service to our country) at the memorial garden. Finally, we processed down the alley and through the back gate of the prayer garden to pray for our own needs and those of others dear to us.
Processing from one area to another for different categories of prayers helped us remember that our Sunday prayers and petitions aren’t just for ourselves and our ten closest friends and relations, but for the whole church and the world. Simply being outdoors in the three gardens gave us a spirit of thanksgiving that can be lacking in our standard prayers. The simplicity of our Rogation liturgy made it possible for us to be at once prayerful and refreshed.
Being in a garden, digging in the dirt, helps keep us connected to the Creator; it gives us true spiritual grounding, sometimes in a profound way. Parish gardens, whether designed for prayer and contemplation or to provide food for people, help the members of the parish remember that our lives as Christians aren’t contained within the walls of our church buildings, and they can remind people passing by of God’s gifts to us, especially the gift of new growth. Our community garden is a gift for the parish and for the wider community, a sign of the open doors and open hearts that bring new growth of all sorts to our parish.
As noted in a July 6, 2008 post , gardens are designed for a variety of purposes in a variety of settings, but all have some spiritual benefits in common.
The rain (and perhaps the prayerfulness of the liturgy) kept cameras tucked away Sunday morning. Here is a before picture of the community garden area, a place in obvious need of some beautification! (We were relieved that a soil test showed lead levels well within the acceptable range.)
And here (click here) are some lovely slides of the prayer garden at St. Augustine of Canterbury in Elkhorn, a parish in a suburban setting where there is plenty of room for gardens. This prayer garden is listed with The Quiet Garden Trust, a network of gardens set aside for prayer and reflection.