St Mark's Mansfield

Leave a comment

A breath of new life

Bird feeders

When I was a child, some of my favourite stories were about gardens.   At the top of the list, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde are both about opening up hidden and overgrown garden spaces for new life to flourish, creating places of healing and happiness.

On Tuesday afternoon this week, the Community Garden came alive with young children as the Under Fives and their parents and grandparents played with sand and water, planted runner bean seeds and made bird feeders.   What a joy to see youngsters and grown-ups discovering this open space, sowing seeds, watering and nurturing them and being spiritually nurtured in the process.   We may lose a few plants along the way as a two-year-old enjoys walking along straight rows of strawberries, but give him a watering can and he’ll soon learn what fun it is to water them!

Today, Friday, the birds (and the rain) have arrived.   Blue tits, robins and a chaffinch were flocking round the bird feeder when I dropped in this morning.   It reminded me of the moment in The Selfish Giant where the children, having been banished by the giant, return to the garden and melt his heart into love and kindness.

So we may get toddlers trampling our crops and pigeons eating our fruit, but at the same time smaller birds will feast on aphids and other pests and we’ll be inspiring gardeners of the future.

Isn’t this a healthy balance to strike?   There has to be a future in working with wildlife and children!

Leave a comment

Water of Life

Spring has really got going in the garden, although a very dry April has meant that the earth is crying out for water.   I really object to the way weather forecasters herald rain as a bad thing.   It may be inconvenient for a nice day out, but it’s so vital to life and growth.   Rain will never come at the ‘right’ time for us humans, but in these days of rapidly changing weather patterns, let’s welcome and conserve it when it does.   In the Community Garden at St Mark’s we have quite a number of water butts in place to catch the next downpour.

A barrel will be installed to save rainwater from the big greenhouse which, in its new situation behind the vicarage garage gives a heart to the garden, somewhere to grow tomatoes, nurture seeds and maybe shelter from the rain!   Many thanks to John Irons for moving and glazing it and to John O’Leary for making the base.

Our Community Garden (ie. the area around the vicarage car park) is a valuable resource for involving young people at St Mark’s.   We are very grateful to David Boot and Tristan Jones for spending May Day morning turning the compost and seeing how we recycle our vegetable waste.   A healthy compost heap is a mix of wet and dry ingredients, including garden clippings, grass cuttings, vegetable peelings, crushed egg shells, egg boxes, cardboard, sawdust, along with activators such as manure and comfrey leaves.   If you don’t have a compost heap at home, please bring your veggie kitchen waste to church.   The worms at St Mark’s will love it!

The Under Fives group has a regular garden activity on a Tuesday afternoon and last week they were decorating sticks for their flower bed.   We have erected a plastic greenhouse so that the children can safely plant and water their seeds …… and take shelter from the rain!

A passage of Scripture that first really struck me with divine meaning comes at the end of the book of Revelation (I was selling Bibles for Scripture Union at the time and simply looking for the reference number of a particular binding inside the back cover!):

Revelation Ch.22 begins “Then he showed me the river of the water of life, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”.

Next time it rains, I’ll treasure God’s gift of water, feel it on my face and cup it in my hands, rejoicing as it refreshes and revives the earth.

Leave a comment

Growing gardeners

If you’ve walked round to the front of the Henley Hall or passed by on the street you can’t fail to have smiled at the sight of the colourful wellies spilling over with bright primulas!   They’ve certainly attracted some attention and comment.

The flowers were planted by the under-fives group one Tuesday afternoon and this is just the start of what we hope will be a regular visit by the youngsters to the community garden.   As one of the mums commented, ” they love getting dirty!”.  Sowing the seeds of future gardeners is one of the most important things we can do with our garden space.   We learn together that the earth is so generous and forgiving if we treat it with respect and care.

Before the Easter break, the children will plant up troughs with strawberries so they can watch them flower and fruit over the next couple of months on the wall outside the hall.   A tasty treat for snack time!

Leave a comment

From the garden seat

wp_20161204_10_52_28_proLast autumn, John O’Leary, one of our community gardeners, renovated an old seat that had been donated to us.   It now has pride of place in the memorial garden and on a sunny day it’s a comfortable spot to curl up and take some time out.   Thank you John!

Jackie (pictured here), writes, “Please could I give a little praise to our wonderful gardeners who keep everything nice, especially the piece I call my oasis on a sunny day.

It’s the bench in the remembrance garden where, armed with coffee and biscuits, I can sit and watch the world go by lost in thought and reverie and after a while one doesn’t notice the traffic going by.   You just see the different colours and think of kingfishers flashing past.

There’s a quote that says,” We have no time to stand and stare”.   NO  but we can sit and have a coffee!”

Thank you Jackie.   If you sit there on a warm day you might smell the wonderful scent from the winter honeysuckle blooming along the wall.   The flowers are small and insignificant to look at but the fragrance is quite overwhelming.

Leave a comment

Life cycle

wp_20170119_12_54_11_pro-2As the days start to lengthen, there is a feeling of something stirring in the garden.   Green fingers are getting twitchy and we want to clear the litter of last year’s growth to discover the green shoots of snowdrops and daffodils poking up out of the damp soil.

There are certainly signs of life in the community garden at St Mark’s.   See if you can spot the beautiful ‘turkeytail’ fungus (pictured below) growing on a dead laurel stump near the shed, or the shy primroses blooming in the wild meadow.   This area will generously reveal its secrets throughout the year until it is finally mowed in the late summer, enabling regeneration the following spring.   To find out what you might expect to see, have a look in the lovely Green and Wild folder at the back of church.   Feel free to borrow it for a week.

Just as the garden renews itself each year, our church community is a living body, subject to a similar cycle of apparent death and resurrection.   Beloved friends worship and work with us, enriching our lives.   Pam and Phil’s departure is painful but they leave us a fecundity ripe for metamorphosis and new growth.   We are grateful for the time they have spent with us and pray for them as they put roots down in another place.wp_20170110_14_07_00_pro-2

Creator God, we pray that you will help us to welcome change and to see your hand at work in every situation.   Thank you for the diversity of our church community and for the variety of gifts we share.   Although our shape may change and evolve we continue to work and worship together as part of Christ’s body in the world.

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” Teresa of Avila                                                                                                                 


Leave a comment

Dutch Gold

Here’s a ray of sunshine to brighten the gloom of approaching winter.   It’s rose Dutch Gold blooming in the memorial garden on a late November day – a wonderful plant with dark green leathery foliage apparently bred in Wisbech, Lincolnshire and named Dutch Gold because it won a gold medal in the Hague.

Dutch connections …….  Antoinette Lucassen, one of our St Mark’s choir members has roots in the Netherlands and has shown a keen interest in the development of the community garden.   Peter Bounford, past member of our Boys’ Brigade and serving team, currently lives in the Hague and is still in touch with his group of ex-BB friends, Joe Gallagher, James Elliot, Martin Jackson and Richard Turner .   He has been transporting large bags of compost by bicycle to the small paved backyard of his flat in order to fill raised beds in which to grow vegetables and flowers!

Our church family is much more than the group of people who meet on a Sunday morning.   We all have links and influences beyond the church walls and our extended family is rich and organic in its transformations.   Each week we pray “We thank you that when we were still far off, you met us in your Son and brought us home”…….. “May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life, we who drink his cup bring life to others, we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world”

This rose may seem small and insignificant but it’s a real gem shining out like a beacon in our church garden.



Leave a comment

Medlar harvest


Who’s this man meddling at St Mark’s on a Monday morning?!

Picking the medlarsThis morning, 6th November, the air feels distinctly chilly despite bright sunshine.  Sheila, John and I decide it’s time to harvest the medlars before the weather gets too frosty.   The medlar tree, variety Nottingham, was one of the first planted by Keith when we started the Community Garden.   Closely related to apples, medlars are unusual in that they have to be stored for many weeks to ripen or ‘blet’ before they can be eaten raw or used to make a perfumed amber jelly for game and other meats.   A bit of a speciality!

Autumn is a magical time in the garden.   The fruit has fallen, the flowers are fading and all appears to be death and dying.  But wait!   Dig in the compost heap and you’ll find hundreds of worms are busy converting this year’s green waste into rich, friable compost to mulch next year’s crops.   Look for the buds already forming on the bare branches of spring-flowering shrubs and listen out for the plans that are being hatched in preparation for another year in the garden.   At the end of Gillian Clarke’s poem Burning Nettles she says,   “Fire, Buried in flower-heads, makes Bright ritual of decay, Transubstantiates the green leaf to fertility.”

We tipped the ashes from Sunday’s bonfire onto the compost heap.   The cycle of Death and Resurrection is at the heart of our gardening.   At dawn on Easter Day each year we meet in the garden to kindle the new fire and carry the Light of Christ into the dark Church.   For me this is the most symbolic and moving moment of the Christian year.