What is this space used for now?
Historically the "back yard" at St. C's has done a number of things. It has been a playground, a failed pumpkin patch, completely unused space, and currently it houses garden beds that grow food for our food bank, flowers for our altars, and wheat that each year our children grind into flour, and use to make communion bread. Even with all this activity, the space remains mostly unused, and is extremely under-developed.
Why a memorial garden (and what is a memorial garden?)
Right now at St. Columba's, we do not have a space dedicated to our beloved dead, and there is nowhere for ashes to be legally interred, for our elders who wish for their remains to rest on church grounds. This garden will include two internment beds: garden beds full of flowering plants and beautiful greenery where ashes can be buried and become part of nature, and forever a part of St. Columba's. This is so important, and it is only one part of the dream we have for this wonderful outdoor space.
The story begins with some windows - stained glass windows. Another Episcopal Church, St. James in Sedro Wooley, WA, had a building that had to be demolished. The congregation asked that the stained glass windows, installed in the 1990s, be preserved, and used somehow, in some other way. These windows have been gifted to St. Columba's, and will be the centerpiece of the sacred space we hope to create in the garden. Here is some of the presentation statement, given by artist and designer Lia Nouwen:
First and foremost is the inheritance of 7 beautiful stained glass window panels, depicting scenes of faith featuring diversity.
These panels provided the initial inspiration of the garden design. In addition to the mental vision of colorful sunlight streaming down into sacred space: there are the concepts of alpha and omega, the journey of birth to death, diversity, transformation, and the stewardship of the Earth. Also factoring into the concept, is the life work of St. Columba and his homeland Ireland and the abbey on Iona.
The primary goal is to create a welcoming space than can be used by parishioners and the community year-round. It is a space for the beloved departed to be interred and celebrated. A space for children to play, explore faith, create art, and experience nature. A place for families. And finally, a place for refugees, fleeing the unspeakable, to find peace and rebuild their lives in the love of God and a welcoming community, an extension of the refugee community garden ministry which occupies an acre of land on the other side of the fence from this dedicated, sacred space.
The design includes an open-air sanctuary of stained glass, interment gardens, vegetable gardens for community food shelves, a custom baptismal font, a children’s play space, a congregation BBQ and gathering space, a cutting garden to grow flowers to decorate the church and altar, and a water mitigation system to address flooding in the rainy season.
There are challenges to be sure, but with the talents, love, and collaboration of the St Columba’s congregation; a beautiful space of beauty and faith can be created that will embrace the community in God’s love.