Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24
Recently, we were at the walled gardens at Scampston Hall. It is a beautiful place and worthy of a visit. What is striking is the planting philosophy, particularly at this time of the year. Piet Oudolf the leading Dutch garden designer finished the walled gardens in 2005. His planting scheme deliberately allows the seed heads of plants like roses to remain, without dead-heading. While this looks quite startling to me, preferring things neat and tidy, the effect is to place the brown architectural seed heads of spent plants alongside the vibrant colour of plants still in flower and full colour. Take a look at this picture of Rudbeckia flowers set against what looks like the seed heads of a Verbena. There is a beauty in seeing a plant in full colourful bloom right next to another that is turning brown and producing seeds. This is a picture of every autumn season, but it is also a symbol for our times.
We all thought we were doing alright until coronavirus assailed our country. Even at church, things were going well. Then suddenly everything came to a crashing standstill. The church was forced to shut and the financial stability we had all worked so hard to secure was undermined. Our flowers turned to seed heads overnight. Yet, as we stood back and watched, prayed, read the scriptures and listened to the Lord speak, other perspectives started to bloom in front of our eyes. Those seed heads of our previous ‘success,’ in the way our church worshipped and conducted itself within the town, were being joined by new floral displays. We learned how to broadcast services on the internet and our community joined in. Even now, back in church people communicate using our Facebook page that became so important during the lockdown. Arleen started posted her reflections in display cabinets on Castle Road and in the old town. She has had many conversations with ordinary people trying to make sense of the times.
These have been times of sadness too. Recently, our church has lost a significant number of its valued members, and over many years they were such a gift to St. Mary’s with Holy Apostles. The Lord has been merciful to us, because while the seeds of their faithful lives have fallen to the ground, he has caused other plants to flower. In the services on a Sunday, there have been a steady stream of new faces joining us for the first time in worship. Perhaps as we reflect back on this time and the autumnal season that we are experiencing we can remain thankful that the Lord continues to provide the flowers, fruits and seeds for the forthcoming season that so often run together. The flowers and seed heads of life are striking precisely because they sit together in an awkward sort of tension, just like Piet Oudolf’s planting scheme shown so vividly at Scampston walled gardens.
In our time, let’s be a church that is conscious not just to look good and always expect to be in full bloom, rather to yield good seeds. Just like the grain of wheat that falls to the earth, which produces much more harvest than its single self, let’s yield ourselves and our gifts for God’s purposes. Things are changing so quickly in the mission and ministry of our church that new opportunities to serve God with the gifts he has given us are starting to emerge. Why not take time to explore what your gifts are and how you might offer them to God? May I commend the prayer of Habakkuk 3.2:
O Lord, I have heard of your renown, and I stand in awe, O Lord, of your work.
In our own time revive it; in our own time make it known; in wrath may you remember mercy.
With blessings from Richard