The Memorial Garden—Transforming Grief into Solace

Life, in many ways, consists of a series of transitions and transformations. We transition from the womb into the world, from childhood into adulthood, from work into retirement, and finally from life into death. What better place than a garden – a memorial garden – to help us commemorate this process of life’s ultimate transformation. At First Mennonite Church (FMC) Indianapolis we are fortunate to have such a garden space, one that is currently undergoing its own process of transformation – something we would like to tell you about in this article.

FMC’s memorial garden has a 27-year history. The current church building was constructed in 1985-86, with our first worship service occurring on Easter Sunday, March 30, 1986. Wow, 35 years ago! The move from Kessler Boulevard to our existing Knollton Road location was an all-consuming but energizing process for the congregation. At that time, we were a congregation with a much younger average age, and many new possibilities were on the horizon. With ample acreage available and limitless creativity, there were opportunities that did not exist at the previous location. So in the mid-90s, a memorial garden was established. It consisted of a mulch path, wooden bench, two trees and some wildflowers. Over the years, shrubs and memorials to individuals were added – a granite bench, a large stone, a lilac bush, and a redbud tree.

Our congregation’s average age is now older than what it was when the first garden was created. We as a community experience death. In addition to grieving the deaths of older adults among us, our congregation has not, and will not, be spared the grieving of premature deaths due to miscarriages, stillbirths, suicide, overdoses, accidents, violence, malignancies and other maladies. It is only logical to assume the memorial garden will become a more integral part of remembering our departed loved ones here at FMC. In fact, the ashes of at least one member have already been scattered in the garden. In the past, a straw vote one Sunday morning showed ten people had interest in having their ashes scattered in the garden. The garden is a tangible, cost-effective, and loving way to memorialize our loved ones who are no longer with us.

But, as many of you know from your personal gardening experience, a garden needs careful tending. Our memorial garden is no exception. In early 2021 a Memorial Garden Committee, consisting of volunteers with a passion for one or more aspects of the garden, began to meet regularly to further develop the current garden. This committee identified the purposes of the garden to be a designated and accessible space, a place to enjoy God’s awesome creation, a place for quiet, prayer and meditation, and a place, where, either alone or in small gatherings, we can name our grief, shed tears, scatter ashes, and celebrate memories. 

Over the past ten months, the Memorial Garden Committee, with renewed energy and commitment, developed a plan to update and revitalize the memorial garden and, with that, has set the transformation process in motion. 

A vision for transformation of FMC’s Memorial Garden

We are happy to report that some steps have already been completed, including installing a stone path from the church to the memorial garden, procuring a detailed landscape design, and creating well-water access for watering planted trees.  Other steps, such as the construction of additional benches, installing a stone path within the garden, and planting privacy producing shrubs, are in progress or pending.  The steps we look forward to tackling in 2022 include planting additional trees, building columns for attaching plaques with the names of loved ones, and creating a space focused on children.

Our committee is excited about the progress made to date and thanks those who have so generously donated to this project.  Already this year, over $13,000 has been donated.  This includes proceeds from the fall bulb fundraiser and individual monetary gifts.   Fundraising will continue.  Explore our holiday bulb sale, where you’ll have the opportunity to purchase amaryllis and paperwhite bulbs, which make awesome Christmas gifts.  Committee members will also personally solicit additional donations from the congregation.  Anyone can contribute by indicating the memorial garden on a check or by choosing the memorial garden fund on the Givelify App.

Any “seed” money, large or small, is greatly appreciated at any time!

Contact any of us to learn more about our plans for transforming the memorial garden.  We would love to talk with you about this place for quiet, prayer, meditation, and solace!

Memorial Garden Committee of First Mennonite Church

  • Donna Haines, facilitator
  • Gloria Hood
  • Lu Culp
  • Marty Miller
  • Nancy Fletcher Lichti
  • Rachel Friesen
  • Robin Helmuth
  • Sarah Burkholder

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About the author

Memorial Garden Committee of First Mennonite Church

Since early 2021, the members of the Memorial Garden Committee of First Mennonite Church have been meeting regularly to envision what the Memorial Garden at First Mennonite Church could become, while working diligently to make that vision a reality. In addition to collaborating on garden transformation, they worked together to write this article.

Pictured: (L-R) Gloria Hood, Donna Haines, Rachel Friesen, Lu Culp, Nancy Fletcher Lichti, Robin Helmuth and Not Pictured: Marty Miller, Sarah Burkholder

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