Trinity Lutheran Church brings Biblical Garden to Lansing community

by Melanie Jongsma

LANSING, Ill. (June 28, 2019) – The seeds of the idea were planted over two years ago. The closing of Trinity Lutheran School gave members and leaders of Trinity Lutheran Church an opportunity to reflect on their calling and role in the community. “We had to sit down and decide what our mission, what our ethos as a church was going to be moving forward,” remembers Rev. John Holyer.

“We had to decide what our ethos was moving forward,” says Rev. John Holyer of Trinity Lutheran Church. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Through intentional surveys of the congregation and participation in a variety of meetings in the community, Trinity reached a realization that they wanted to be even more involved in the Lansing community. They wanted to be a resource and a positive influence. They wanted to make a difference in this life as well as the next life, on earth as well as in heaven.

So in addition to the monthly Community Dinners they had already been offering, they began considering other opportunities to be a presence in Lansing. They met with Mayor Eidam and offered to house the Lansing Loan Closet. They met with fellow churches and helped organize the Good Friday Prayer Walk. They met with Cindy Tortolano and became the new location for Tiny Town. Each new idea was tested against the question, “Will this bless the community?”

Even the landscaping

Trinity Lutheran Church also has a Beautification Committee, and they also took the church’s renewed vision to heart. They accepted the assignment of re-doing the landscaping around the building, and they transformed it into an outreach of peace, education, and growth.

Diane Lund, of honeybee and pollinator garden fame, is a member of Trinity Lutheran Church and a member of the church’s Beautification Committee. When planning the new landscaping, she thought it might be fun to use plants that are specifically mentioned in the Bible. As she began researching the idea, she learned that the concept of a Biblical Garden already exists. Wikipedia has an entry that says, “Biblical gardens are cultivated collections of plants that are named in the Bible. They are a type of theme garden that botanical gardens, public parks, and private gardeners maintain. They are grown in many parts of the world with examples in diverse places, including Japan’s Seinan Gakuin University Biblical Botanical Garden and the Missouri Botanical Garden in the United States.”

Lund realized that Trinity’s property could be a perfect location for a Biblical Garden in Lansing, Illinois.

Uprooting and replanting

The project began last year when volunteers uprooted the neglected bushes around the perimeter of the church building and planted varieties of lavender instead. Lavender, which is referenced in the Bible by its Greek name—spikenard, or nard—is the herb Mary used to anoint Jesus before his crucifixion (Mark 14:3). It is known for its medicinal and calming qualities, so Lund likes the idea of having it planted under the windows of the church’s meeting room. The windows are often open during meetings, so the lavender-scented breezes could have a beneficial effect on potentially tense discussions.

Varieties of lavender under the meeting room windows could have a healing, calming effect. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Rebuilding and replanting

As Phase 2 of the landscaping renewal, volunteers focused on the planter under the cross that faces Indiana Avenue. The need became obvious after two overgrown trees were removed from the lawn, making the church building much more visible from the street. Not only did the previously hidden plantings lack focus and care—”It was a hodgepodge,” says Lund—but the planter itself needed attention. The mortar had disintegrated, and the brickwork and capstones were loose. So last fall the team rebuilt the planter, retaining the original capstones and using a mortarless wall design.

The cross, the planter, and the plantings were much more noticeable from the street after two overgrown trees were removed from the lawn, so the need for rebuilding and replanting became obvious. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
The original planter needed attention as well as the plantings. (Photo: Diane Lund)

The new planter withstood Lansing’s brutal 2019 winter, so it was confirmed ready for Biblical plantings this spring. Lund had already compiled a list of the plants she wanted, and she worked with Alsip Nursery to find even the ones that were nearing the end of their typical installation season. “I was pretty specific in what I wanted,” she says, “and Alsip does a fabulous job. They did great.”

Wandering the garden

In order to bring the garden to life for people, Lund created an instructional guide, which Church Secretary Megan Roe formatted, printed, and laminated. The guide uses a lettered grid to indicate the location of each Biblical plant, and it provides the plant’s common name, the botanical name, a sample Bible reference, and the verse in either the King James Version, the Modern King James Version, or the International Standard Version. The name of the plant appears in red in the printout of the Bible verse.

Garden guides are available to help people identify the different plants and learn their Biblical references. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
The garden guides are available in a weather-resistant box near the center of the Biblical Garden. They are laminated so they can be re-used when visitors return them to the box. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Currently there are 32 varieties of Biblical perennials in the planter and around the church grounds. The Biblical references for plants like hyssop, lilies of the field, and burning bushes might be commonly recognized, but visitors to the garden have been surprised to learn that daffodils, irises, and crocuses are also mentioned in the Bible, though sometimes by other names. Both Lund and Rev. Holyer are hoping that people will feel free to wander onto the grounds, grab a garden guide, and conduct their own tour of the landscaping. However, if people would prefer a guided tour, that can be arranged as well. In fact, Lund is bringing Lansing’s Garden Club to the Biblical Garden on July 18 for a formal tour. She hopes once those 28 people learn about it they will encourage others to come experience the garden. “It’s meant for the community,” she says.

Diane Lund (left) and Rev. John Holyer are hoping people will wander onto the grounds, grab a garden guide, and tour the landscaping. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

“It helps you visualize what you read in the Bible,” says Holyer. “It helps enliven God’s Word.” He is looking forward to seeing the new growth and the variety of blooms as the different species flower throughout the seasons.

Biblical Garden gallery

Diane Lund (left) returns a garden guide to the holder. The central focus of the Biblical Garden are the plantings under the cross, which is the central focus of the Church. The center sections will bloom first each spring, and, symbolically, the blooms spread outward from there. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Thistle, Rue, Blue flax, Coreopsis, Larkspur, and more fill the planter. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Lady’s Mantle may be the plant referred to in Ezekiel 47:12, the leaves of which are used for medicine. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Two Judas Trees (Eastern Redbuds) are part of the Biblical Garden. The tree is named after the disciple who betrayed Jesus and then hanged himself out of guilt (Matthew 27:5). (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Artemisia absinthium is known by the name Wormwood in the Bible, as in Jeremiah 9:15. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Certain varieties of Mallow (Malva) plant are edible, as mentioned in Job 30:4. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Bearing fruit

“It was a lot of work planning it,” says Lund, so she is delighted that several people have already stopped by the garden to visit and learn about the plants. “It’s already doing what it’s supposed to do! And that makes me really happy.”

Trinity Lutheran Church is located at 2505 Indiana Avenue in Lansing, Illinois. The next closest Biblical Garden is in Warsaw, Indiana.

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