Urban Farming: Creating An All Saints Day Memorial Garden

A pansy and a rock are now part of our garden at Pilgrims.
A pansy and a rock are now part of our garden at Pilgrims.

All Saints Day is the Sunday in the Christian calendar to remember, celebrate, and  honor those saints who have gone before us, who create the great "cloud of witnesses."

Saints are not the model of Christian and human perfection.

Saints are those flawed, broken people (everyone) who God used to do holy things (all the things).

All Saints is the liturgical reminder that nothing, neither life nor death, can separate us from each other and from God.

Church of the Pilgrims has an All Saint's Day service that includes the lighting of candles and sharing the names of those who have died, particularly in the last year.

This year at Pilgrims we set the invitation to invite folks to come forward and light a candle, possibly saying the same and something about the person they are lighting the candle for. This happens in replace of a sermon.

At the end of the service this year, we created a memorial garden in our urban garden. This was inspired by many things, including a ritual that took place outside of worship a few weeks prior for a woman whose lost a baby from a miscarriage. As part of the ritual, we planted an azalea in the garden as an act of remembrance.

Creating this memorial garden was surprising simple. I asked several folks who had experienced loss in the past year to help out----buying pansies (which thrive in the cold), rocks and helping with the liturgy. Andy, our young adult volunteer, prepped the garden by loosening up the soil.

After communion, as we were gathered around the table, these words were spoken:

We have remembered the communion of saints through song and prayer, Word and sacrament. Now we remember by creating beauty in our garden.


 Together, following the sound of Rachel’s drumming, we will gather up these pretty pansies, the rocks, and walk to the garden. There we will create a memorial garden for our cloud of witnesses by planting the flowers and writing on the rocks names of those who have died.


 In the planting and in the writing of names we will create a space where love and relationships and memories are planted. It will be a place where we can visit and remember.


 The plants and rocks won’t last forever. But neither do we. Hopefully those we remember with the rocks and the plants, in this creation of a memorial garden, will feel a bit closer to us.


 As Rachel starts to drum, follow her. Rachel’s drum will sound like heartbeat, reminding us those who have died are still close to us.


For those who need a shorter distance to walk with no steps to climb, follow Andy.

Help take the flowers and rocks and markers out to the garden.


Let us go, plant, and remember.

Then we walked back to the garden with the beat of a drum.

Once we gathered in the garden, these words were spoken:

From ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and soil to soil. As we plant our flowers and write names on the rocks, we honor the lives of the dead. We honor they are now our ancestors, our communion of saints, a community of deep time.


As we plant and name, their spirits become imprinted upon our garden and linked to this land and Church of the Pilgrims.


While the mystery of death remains hidden from us, the living, we can be aware of death in our lives and how death can drive the beauty of this garden. 


We can still be guided and cared for by our invisible community of the dead, made visible in these flowers and rocks.  It is they who can remind us of the sacred responsibility we have as the living to protect and care for all of Creation—the home of the living and the dead. We can remember, as we plant the flowers in the soil and place the rocks, that life doesn’t disappear; it just changes shape and form.


If you don’t have a plant to plant for someone or the name of anyone to write on a rock, help someone else plant their plant. Help them place the rock gently on the soil after they’ve written a name.


 Let us show each other we aren’t alone in our remembering.

Let us plant and name. Let us remember.  

Rocks and Pansies
Rocks and Pansies

And with those words, we planted and wrote names on rocks. It took about 10 minutes. Some were silent. Some talked. Some hugged. Some helped others plant. Some just witnessed.

You don't need an outdoor garden to create a memorial garden. You don't need an architect or a master design plan.

You could plant in pots or various containers. Plants could be for indoor or outdoors. You could just use rocks.

To create a memorial garden you will need: Your body. Your tenderness. Your intentionality. Your body as memory maker. Your love. The living. The dead.

Urban Farming: Garbage, Jesus, and Good Friday.

A Nicaraguan boy carries a large bag of trash for recycling while fighting with flying vultures in the garbage dump La Chureca, Managua, Nicaragua, 10 November 2004. La Chureca is the biggest garbage dump in Central America. Hundreds of trash recollectors search in tons of smouldering garbage mainly metals (copper, aluminium), others concentrate on glass which is cheap, but in bigger amount. The majority of the recyclers are families with children for whom recycling is a regular job. The children very often eat the food they find on the dump, none of them goes to school, they suffer from skin diseases, they have high levels of lead and DDT in blood. Photo by Jan Socher
A Nicaraguan boy carries a large bag of trash for recycling while fighting with flying vultures in the garbage dump La Chureca, Managua, Nicaragua, 10 November 2004. La Chureca is the biggest garbage dump in Central America. Hundreds of trash recollectors search in tons of smouldering garbage mainly metals (copper, aluminium), others concentrate on glass which is cheap, but in bigger amount. The majority of the recyclers are families with children for whom recycling is a regular job. The children very often eat the food they find on the dump, none of them goes to school, they suffer from skin diseases, they have high levels of lead and DDT in blood. Photo by Jan Socher

(This blog post appeared on Good Friday, April 3rd, 2015, as part of a Holy Week series for Presbyterians for Earth Care).

In 2012, the world generated 2.6 trillion pounds of garbage with over half of that amount going into landfills around the planet.

Those landfills are home to 1% of the global population. Children and their families who are the poorest of the poor live on the outskirts of landfills. Many use these landfills as a place of work—trading garbage for cash or consuming salvageable waste in order to survive. What was food for the dogs and flies becomes food for a family.

  • La Chureca is the largest garbage dump in Central America, located on the edge of Managua. One thousand people live and work on the “City of Trash” every day. There is even an elementary school located on the dump with six classrooms.
  • More than 2,000 families live on the Bantar Gebang landfill that lies outside Jakarta, Indonesia.
  • Thousands of families call the Tultitlan garbage dump in Mexico City home while spending 12 hours a day, in scorching hot sun, looking for recyclable materials to sell and make less than a dollar a day.
  • The Veolia landfill 100 miles south of Atlanta, Georgia, known to locals as “Trash Mountain,” received toxic coal ash from a massive spill that occurred in December 2008 at a Kingston, TN power plant. Taylor County, where Veolia landfill is located, is 41% African-American and more than 24% of its residents live in poverty.

In the time of Jesus, Gehenna was the landfill located just south of Jerusalem. This was the city dump of Jesus’ time. When Jesus would speak of hell, it is thought he was speaking of Gehenna which was filled with the household trash, Empire’s leftovers, and bodies of the dead. With no sanitation or plumbing systems in Jerusalem, people would toss their urine and feces into the streets. Imagine this: the streets of Jerusalem steaming with human shit and pee as Jesus was taken to the Imperial cross of execution. The Roman Empire closed in on Jesus and his followers, and Jesus’ final footsteps on the planet were pressing upon the garbage ridden streets of Jerusalem.

As a small child in La Chureca landfill picks through garbage, as birds and dogs and flies hover over the “what is left,” there, too, is Jesus’ body, naked, broken resting upon the planet’s garbage. It is with the poorest of the poor, the poor who make a home and eat dinner in garbage dumps, where Jesus rests his body each and every day, pushing us to see garbage as sacred.

It’s all sacred. All of it. The plastic water bottles. The rotting meat. The Styrofoam. Ripped Clothing. Banana peels. Broken bicycles. Flies. Rats. Dogs. The poop of the rats and dogs. Seagulls. Children of the garbage dumps. Their school. Every bit of the “what’s left” is sacred and holy.

There is no division of the sacred and the profane. In fact there is no profane. On this Good Friday, we sit at the foot of the cross, an Imperial cross that might have been possibly littered with trash and human feces from Gehenna and Jerusalem, a cross soaked with blood and dripping flesh. Without mercy, Jesus was nailed to a cross with those viewed as human garbage hanging next to him. It is in the nailing that Jesus nails us to each other.

From my garbage in Arlington, VA, to the sanitation workers of Arlington County who pick it up, to the garbage ridden waters of the Anacostia River which borders Washington D.C., to the the poor living near the Veolia landfill to the families of Bantar Gebang; to Gehenna and the human waste of Jerusalem, the nails on the cross today pierce together what is seen and treated as the waste of the planet.

Ecofeminism stretches us to embrace it all as sacred, to see how each and every bit of what’s treated as garbage, the human and the material, are nailed together.

On this Good Friday, we sit and wait. Together. Nailed together as the planet continues to be pierced, broken, torn, and rendered. As your hands and arms stretch out today to toss away a piece of garbage, as your hands and arms extend to pick-up garbage, we remember the ones who live, eat, live, learn and are family on a garbage dump. Today we remember Jesus and his outstretched arms, executed in a city that looked and smelled and was a garbage dump.

Prayer: Holy One. Holy One of garbage and landfills. We are nailed together. Garbage and all. May we never, ever forget it.

Farming: Tending to the Roots

Shooting Star Flower
Shooting Star Flower

Life is slowly starting to lift itself out of the soil of my home garden, reaching itself above the threshold of a cold-ass winter. Every morning I go out to my garden and check on the progress of growth. How many more leaves came up over night on my coneflowers? How expansive has my oregano become? What has broken through the soil that I had forgotten about over the long winter?

I've been paying particular attention to one of my Shooting Star plants.

One of mine looks great and is on the verge of blooming. The second one is tiny, too tiny. I took a closer look the other day and noticed its roots are exposed, resting on top of the soil. Garden 101: roots need to be BELOW the soil.

I've gone back to this Shooting Star each day since, looking at the exposed roots, picturing the hard winter snow, wind, and cold slowing moving the soil off this plant, leaving it vulnerable to the chilly spring and die with roots exposed.

Exposed roots of my Shooting Star
Exposed roots of my Shooting Star

Then I caught myself this morning: Why do I just keep looking at this plant? Why don't I dig it up, transplant it and give it a chance at growth? Why am I just sitting here staring at it? Why am I acting all powerless with this plant?

I dug up the plant, created a hole in the soil, placed it down, covered the roots with soil, and watered.

Agency. Power.

Exposed roots leave plants vulnerable. Too vulnerable. The same with me.

Being a pastor is a public act. I work in community. Every Sunday I get up in front of 80 people and share interpretations of life and Biblical stories. I share parts of me, take risks in sharing parts of me in order to feel connected to the liturgical space and people of Pilgrims, and to also give others permission for others to express their own vulnerability.

Shooting Star with roots underneath the soil.
Shooting Star with roots underneath the soil.

There is a dance with sharing. If I share "this" will I be over-exposed? Will I share too much of my roots? What happens if I release too much of my essence? Can I get that back?

Soil contains plants. It covers up the roots in order for a plant to grow, flourish, give back to the planet, and release its beauty. The roots need to be covered up. If exposed I can be that plants agent, act on its behalf, and cover it up.

There is always a risk in transplanting. But there is a bigger risk in doing nothing at all.

My morning ritual is this: I get up, do legs up the wall for 5 minutes and count my inhales and exhales. I picture honeybees flowing gently in and out of my hive. I drink a homemade tea of lemon, honey, and raw apple cider vinegar.

This is my soil. This is what contains me each day. This ritual takes my roots and grounds them within me. I feel held. Contained. When I skip this ritual, especially several days in a row, I feel all ziggy-zaggy. As if my roots are exposed like the Shooting Star. Soil is a boundary against the elements. My morning ritual creates boundaries and builds boundary awareness--knowing when my roots are over exposed, when they are grounded within, and that each day I have the power to know the difference.

Urban Farming: On the Threshold....

winter garden

This one of my favorite quotes about a garden:

A garden in the winter, especially in places like D.C. where it snows, is quiet. It's gentle. It looks like it's at rest, as if nothing is happening.

But the roots are down there. Life underneath the soil is down there. The worms, centipedes and mico-life are hard at work keeping our soil alive and ready for the next planting. The winter makes me appreciate the subtleties of the garden.

I appreciate:

  • Watching a lone bird eat from one of our feeders.
  • Seeing ice on our little ceramic bowl that's out as a water source for birds and bees in the summer.
  • Dead lettuce still in the soil. The leaves may be dead but the roots underneath the soil are still providing structure--letting air and microbes find space to move and do their work.
  • How the light of winter creates shadows with the architecture of anything, but especially the trees.
  • Our fig trees covered with a blanket and wrapped tight to keep it from freezing. One of our members did this--took the time to wrap a tree to keep it alive.

A garden in the winter is a tender place with a neutral color palate that makes you want to keep on walking by, maybe claim "that looks kind of boring."

In some ways, a winter garden is kind of boring. It isn't a place of over-stimulation like a summer garden literally buzzing with life above the soil. In the summer the beauty is more apparent---lush greens, red tomatoes, and beautiful native plants fill the garden with color.

In the winter, a garden is a place you wait, your quiet, and your trusting that the soil is doing the work that needs to be done for what is to come next. It's a place where I can be bored and still and slow it way down.


Second hoop bed with mizuna and kale. Front bed with radishes and garlic.
Second hoop bed with mizuna and kale. Front bed with radishes and garlic.

We are on the threshold of spring and Pilgrims garden is covered with snow after our 5 inches on Monday. Sunday after church 5-6 Pilgrims (two of those being new-to-us folks! Woot!) planted seeds for a spring harvest: spinach, kale, arugula, and radish.

We planted garlic in November and it's still at work underneath the soil to be ready in July for a harvest. Folks were turning our winter soil. Dropping down seeds while calling out one of my favorite comments, "I don't really know what I'm doing and I'm doing it anyway!" I checked on the bees--all three hives are dead. Crap. That sucks.

Front bed with spinach, first hoop bed with arugula.
Front bed with spinach, first hoop bed with arugula.

By the end of the farming time, this is what folks had created:

We created community--humans, soil, wood, seeds, and bugs.