A Garden of Generosity

Another in the Creating a Giving Culture, One Story at a Time series….

ANN’S GARDEN:    A Story of Generosity by Frankie Price-Stern*

My husband and I moved to Chapel Hill in 1994 and immediately started attending Community Church.  It was not long before I met Ann.

My early time in Chapel Hill was very difficult and Ann became a wonderful and supportive friend in so many ways.  Along the way she introduced me to the church financial work she did, then pushed me into church financial leadership, and finally five years later nominated me for Board Chair.  This was my start in the stewardship ministry that has become a large part of my life today.

I have discovered at least one Ann in most of my client congregations. Many of them are older like Ann with an abundance of white hair.  Whatever their age their eyes have stayed young – eyes that almost always sparkle with the optimism, acceptance and hope that are so much a part of our faith.  When I met her Ann may have been sixty-five years old on the outside but it seemed through her eyes you could still see her as she was at seventeen.

Ann had a garden.  She and her husband had moved into their house thirty years earlier and they had raised their family there.  When she first moved to Chapel Hill Ann had set one rule for her garden.  She would never buy a plant.  Instead she decided to ask each of the new friends as she got to know them for a gift of a plant from their garden for her garden. As she accepted gifts from friends she would plant them where she thought best, and  continued to move them around until she found just the spot where a plant would flourish, thrive and make its best contribution to the beauty of the garden.  Rule two came soon after her garden started filling in – if you gave her gift of a plant from your garden, she would insist that you accept a gift from hers.

As you can imagine after thirty years Ann’s garden was wonderful – full of all sorts of unique wonders to discover.  For her friends had most often shared their favorite and special plants with her.

Ann became ill in 2001.  On a beautiful spring afternoon my husband and I decided to go over to Ann’s house and give a little back for all that her friendship had given us.  We started to weed her garden.  After a while Ann came out and we together slowly walked around for forty-five minutes.  She told us about each plant.  She told us the story of many friends who were still here, friends that had moved and friends that had passed.  She told us of some plants’ journeys around her garden until they arrived at their final spot.  And sometimes she told us how she had selected just the right plant to give to a new friend when they gave her their plant.  On a beautiful spring day Ann told us the story of her life through her garden, her friends, the gifts they had given each other, and the care she had taken with every plant she received.  Once again as often happened, we had tried to give Ann a gift, and had received so much more from her.                 

Maybe Ann suspected that day would be one of our last visits, but less than a week later she died unexpectedly.  There were 350 people at her memorial service – our church membership was only 275 at that time.  A year later we held a memorial ceremony after church.  Everyone was asked to bring a plant from their garden.  We went back to Memorial Rock where Ann’s ashes were scattered and planted them. And I am absolutely sure, liked mine, at least a few of the plants that today flourish in our memorial garden have grown from cuttings from plants that had grown from cuttings from Ann’s garden.

*Frankie Price Stern (http://www.linkedin.com/pub/frankie-price-stern/2a/203/b17) has been an active UUA Congregational Stewardship Consultant, UUA Compensation Consultant, and lay leader at the Community Church Unitarian Universalist in Chapel Hill, NC for many years.  Frankie also serves as a board member for the North Carolina Therapeutic Riding Center (http://nctrcriders.org/id13.html), an organization near and dear to her heart.                                                            Frankie adds this note to her story:  “I am hoping people get from the story that stewardship is a lifelong strategy full of joy, not a dreaded once a year response to being asked to give.”

For more information about the UUA’s Congregational Stewardship Services program: http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/index.shtml

Resources for Congregational Memorial Gardens

Many congregations design and create beautiful memorial gardens as part of their planned giving programs:                                              http://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/articles/memorial.html

Memorial Gardens for Unitarian Universalists are found at many congregations and conference sites:

Google Search “Memorial Gardens Unitarian Universalist” (or any other faith organization or denomination) and you will find myriad links.

Amherst, NY:   http://www.uuamherst.org/newsletter-part-2?start=2

Star Island:  http://starisland.org/donating/memorial-courtyard/  (contact Angela Matthews, Director of Development, amatthews@starisland.org)

Ferry Beach Association:  http://ferrybeach.org/giving/endowment.html

Virtual Memorial Garden at Davies Memorial UU Church:  http://www.dmuuc.org/virtual_memorials/#axzz23j7XRRda

Sample Memorial Garden Policies:

http://www.uutc.org/PolicyManual/memGardenPolicy.pdf

Resources for Memorial Services and Life Celebration Rituals:

Searl, Edward.  In Memoriam, 2nd Edition.  Skinner House Books.  2000.

York, Sarah.  Remembering Well.  Jossey-Bass. 2000.

Worship Web   http://www.uua.org/worship/