For the Gospel Grapevine (May 2010) the parish newsletter of St. Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Washington.
There is an Australian phrase, "beyond the black stump", meaning "far away". I learned it from Christine Sine: she and her husband Tom were presenters at the Black Stump Festival last October in the Sydney area. The festival is part of the 'emerging church' movement. They were able to give their global-view insights into what is moving and changing in the church and Christian community throughout the world. Here in the parish we've invited everyone in the congregation to imagine what lies "beyond the black stump". Imagine coming back to this spot at Easter 2022. Who do you see? What are they doing? Where is the church in all this?
And we have begun to see people sketch their visions. Surprisingly enough among the common themes that are emerging - a gathering, a eucharist, a table of sharing - there is the image of the garden, both real and metaphorical, physical and spiritual. Appropriately enough: for the garden may be a 'thin place' where the membrane between this world (material) and the next (spiritual) may be especially permeable - or where the truth of the barrier's non-existence might become real to us.
In his classes as well as perhaps in his books, Donald Nicholl used to say that he would build his ideal community of friends seeking truth around three common elements: a pilgrimage to the site where they would work together, a bell which would draw them together by its sound, and a garden in which they could get in touch with the earth.
As we began envisioning 'the future of social anticipation' at St Albans, Christine Sine encouraged us to think of more than just another community garden - for the church the garden should have a spiritual element, as sometimes a monastic garden has a tree at its center, an apple tree, as a focal point.
(The apples here are just beginning budding, following a late frost.)
What I would like to do now is invite you to look at the church as a sacred garden.
In the garden are many people digging, loitering, enjoying the sun, awaiting the fruits of their common labors.
In the garden are people praying, as well as people spreading manure, double-digging raised beds, spreading seeds, tending crops, pulling (or hoeing) weeds, ...
And in the garden in the cool of the day walks our Lord, as he walked of old, seeking out the new (renewed) humankind he has brought into being, called by his Word.