Sunday, October 3, 2010

Listen and Heal Ministry's Prayer Garden

As the caretaker of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden at Faith Chapel in Syracuse, NY, it was with a great deal of interest that I learned of another prayer garden in our area. The founding pastor of my church had sent me a Facebook posting that this dedication was to take place on October 3rd. So today, my wife and I drove to Canastota for the dedication of this new prayer garden at Believer's Chapel.

What I saw was a wonderful new beginning of a garden for those wounded in life, a place of rest and recovery. Many from this church had helped construct this garden that began construction in May. The dedication's program identifies forty-six people that helped in one way or another, all under the direction of a visionary named Bonnie Caswell.

The garden was developed by Listen and Heal, a ministry that focuses on hope and healing, offering a way for people to stand together and start healing from the wound caused by abortion. More about that ministry may be seen at Listen and Heal.

The dedication tickled my heart – a woman with no landscaping experience was led by the Lord to build the vision. Being at truly charismatic person, she assembled many people from her church and the surrounding area to help put together this first phase of their work. The dedication was a fun-filled reminder of the hard work by everyone.

A gazebo is the center of the garden with paths throughout the garden. A number of ceramic statues are carefully placed around the garden to help remind us of our purpose in visiting there. The flower beds are small, but that will likely change as the garden grows in subsequent years. Clearly the garden is a labor of love.

But developing a garden is different from maintaining a garden. Before I even saw "The Garden of Grace", I was reminded of Joshua 24. Here, Joshua stated the often quoted verse, "But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." (v 15). But Joshua knew the hearts of the people, so he accused them of not being able to serve the Lord. Three times, the people vowed their service and obedience to the Lord: "We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God" (v 18), "No! We will serve the Lord." (v 21), and "We will serve the Lord our God and obey him." (v24). Yet a quick look at the book of Judges shows that they did not live up to their vow.

I believe that this story of Joshua and the people is related to "The Garden of Grace" in that Joshua had just taken over the majority of Israel and had assembled all of the people at Shechem. In a sense, it is similar to this celebration that happened today. Now the Israelites had to develop and maintain the land, and so it is with this garden. It seems that people often drift off to other areas of interest once the mountain has been conquered. What the leaders of Israel (if there were any leaders at all) failed to do was hold the people accountable to their vow. The vision that Moses and Joshua were given for the land was not to be forsaken.

Maintenance work for a garden can be considered drudgery by many. The goal is established in the beginning, the enthusiasm builds as the vision takes place, and then the celebration takes place when the first phase is completed. But then the winter sets in and the on-going weeding and care can become tedious in the spring. Somehow the negative momentum must be overcome.

The solution lies with community involvement, continuing the enthusiasm, and keeping an eye on quality. Where I was the lone caretaker of a much larger garden for many years, it became apparent to many that the joy had to be shared. Soon people were calling it "Tom's garden" when it was really the church's garden, and that was not good. This year, by the grace of God, we have had fifty people help out as volunteers, each one assigned to just two or three hours per month. Under my direction as the caretaker, the congregation came to understand what an effort the maintenance work had become.

The visionary has the responsibility for maintaining the enthusiasm. As caretaker of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden, I attempt to encourage everyone that helps, and that is part of my job. But the real visionary for this garden is the founding pastor, J. Lee Simmons. I am so grateful that this Barnabas is part of my life as he encouraged me and the others with all of the enthusiasm that he carries with him.

Quality is a subtle but essential aspect of a garden. When people come to visit, I have learned that piles of mulch or open trenches or obvious weeds or unkempt lawn can severely distract a person. That is true of the garden helper, and that is true of the person visiting for the first time. One of the more subtle aspects of quality is the walkways. It intrigues me every time someone rakes the walks in our garden, removing the mulch that has spread onto the soft stone dust and removes the weeds and leaves that may have accumulated – each time this maintenance work is done, the garden suddenly looks far better. It is just like walking into a woman's kitchen to see litter on the floor – the sweeping of the floor helps immensely.

I truly hope that "The Garden of Grace" continues to develop and be maintained properly. It has a lot of potential: shade trees are needed, more flowers will help usher the sense of grace in the garden, and visual protection from the street will help give the garden a greater appearance of intimacy. Considering what was done in the first year, it is a great start. Our garden at Faith Chapel does not look at all like what it did in 2003 because that too is part of keeping the vision alive. I wish them well.

End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.