Have you ever escaped to a prayer garden for a quiet respite from your busy life to be alone with God? Amid the pandemic, Melissa Wilson, morning news anchor at Fox 26 in Houston struggled to find a place of peace where she could be alone to pray. Her father was dying of a terminal illness, her son was receiving chemotherapy, and every day she had to report on the stressful news of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike most of us, she could not turn off the news when it became overwhelming. It was her job. When not at work she was stuck at home due to pandemic closures. She needed a place to pray. She needed a place outside her house.
With churches and parks closed, she decided to make a prayer garden in her own yard! It was no botanical garden, but it was exactly the peaceful setting she needed to be alone to pray and receive God’s peace.[i]
Why does every church not have a prayer garden? Perhaps they should. Many churches are closed five or six days a week. A prayer garden would provide a space for church members to pray 24/7. Many people go to local parks or other green spaces to pray. But these are often crowded and loud. It can be hard to find real privacy in parks if you feel the urge to pray aloud or cry. Horticulturist Adele R. says, "The Prayer Garden was created and maintained to be a reverent, holy place."[ii]
We serve a God who can hear our prayers no matter where we are, as both Jonah and Joseph discovered. Jesus reminded us that we can pray in a closet and God will hear us. But sometimes even the closet doesn’t seem the most peaceful place. I grew up with five siblings. There was hardly a quiet moment in our house. Home may not always be the place a person wants to pray. Introverts may desire a place with more solitude than their home offers. Nature lovers may desire to be surrounded by flowers and sky.
Many large churches and Christian schools already have prayer gardens. It is small churches that often overlook this crucial religious space. Prayer gardens can be designed for hardly any cost. A simple bench under a tree surrounded by flowers is enough. They can be as small or elaborate as your church desires.
Here are a few tips to keep costs low.
1. Use plants and trees native to your local area. Many gardeners are unfamiliar with native varieties. Yet these plants have adapted to grow in the conditions of your local environment. Once established they don’t need to be watered or fertilized. They will attract more butterflies and birds than standard exotic flowering varieties. They won’t have to be replaced every season because they are adapted to survive the weather extremes where you live. They require no maintenance! To learn more about planting natives visit your local native plant nursery or a chapter of Wild Ones.
2. Avoid colored wood mulch as a ground cover. Its color fades quickly and needs to be replaced annually. Instead opt for something lower maintenance like ornamental rock or recycled rubber. Alternatively, plant a live blooming ground cover like Green-and-Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum). You can also choose a natural look and use fallen leaves or pine needles.
3. Acquire used benches for seating and paver stones. Garden benches and paver stones can be quite expensive. Check online marketplaces or newspaper classifieds to find some of your needed items used. Ask your church members for donations. They may have some of these items lying around unused.
A prayer garden does not need to require much maintenance at all. If you plant with natives as mentioned above, it requires almost no attention. If you use tree species that do not grow tall, pruning will be minimal. Magdalene House, a battered women's shelter in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, installed a prayer garden in the alley next to their building. It is the only nearby greenery in that concrete jungle and provides a bit of privacy and reprieve where the women can enjoy some flowers and commune with God as they rebuild their lives. By careful thought and use of low maintenance plants, it costs them no money regularly and only a small amount of weeding in the spring. Every church needs such as space!
If your church already has a prayer garden, how many of your church members know about it? Try to promote the prayer garden. Post a sign at the entrance. Print a reminder announcement in the bulletin especially in spring and summer. Hold a prayer vigil in the garden rather than inside. Your church members may even enjoy holding prayer meeting there occasionally. My local church created such a space, and it is used for Sabbath School meetings and other gatherings.
The prayer garden can also be a community outreach. And it need not be limited to your church grounds. You could create a prayer garden space in your own yard as news anchor Melissa did. What if you created a neighborhood prayer garden? Place it at the corner of your property nearest the street on the edge of the sidewalk. Provide a bench surrounded by appealing flowers. Perhaps post a sign inviting passersby to “sit and pray awhile.”
You could add a prayer request box too. One woman named Kaisa took the concept of the Little Free Library community book exchange and created her own Little Free Prayer Library. She posted a small box on a pole at the corner of her property with paper and pencil inside. It provides a spot to leave a prayer request hanging in the box. As a person leaves one, they can pray over another. Kaisa takes time to pray over all the requests each day. It has become her ministry and a way to get to know her neighbors.[iii] If you would like to learn more visit her website or download plans to build your own Little Free Prayer Library.
Prayer is a ministry desperately needed in our society now with record-breaking levels of anxiety and depression. We need to rally our churches to pray more than ever, and a prayer garden is a great rallying point. What will you do to help improve your church’s prayer ministry?
Notes & References:
[i] Sonia Ramirez, "Prayer gardens are the latest pandemic project trend. Here's how you can make your own,” Chron (July 27, 2020), https://www.chron.com/life/amp/How-prayer-gardens-are-inspiring-hope-during-a-15429613.php.
[ii] DB, “Interview with a Horticulturist: Calvary Prayer Garden,” Integrated Plantscapes (November 6, 2020), https://www.integratedplantscapes.com/journal/interview-with-a-horticulturist.
[iii] Kaisa Stenberg-Lee, “Little Free Prayer Library,” Kutsu Companians (n.d.) http://www.kutsucompanions.com/little-free-prayer-library.
David F. Garner is from Tennessee and has been a writer and youth ministry worker for over ten years. You can find youth ministry resources at his blog Outdoorlessons.org.
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