Diocese of Portsmouth

    Quiet space in churchyard dedicated for Queen’s Jubilee

    8 June 2022

    IT’S an inspirational project that has transformed an area of an overgrown Isle of Wight churchyard into a place of beauty and reflection.

    Volunteers cleared 12ft high shrubs and brambles from graves outside St Mary’s Church, Brighstone, and created a new ‘Olive Garden’ that can be used for prayer and worship.

    They’ve also created a circular mosaic piece of art, which will hang in the garden and help visitors to reflect. Both the Olive Garden and the Tree of Life mosaic will be dedicated to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee by the team rector, the Rev Jackie Maw, at 2.30pm on June 11.

    It’s the latest step on the church’s journey to become more ecologically friendly. St Mary’s has recently been given a bronze Eco-church Award by the charity A Rocha.

    The Brighstone churchyard project was started by former NHS dietician, Ali Mascarenhas from St Mary’s. She has worked for the National Trust and runs a gardening business with her husband. She moved to Brighstone in 2016 and is a glass artist. Sadly, her mother died from Covid in 2020.

    “When lockdown happened, it was good to have a pause from the routine of rotas and church life, and an opportunity to consider life, seek God and rethink what I was doing,” she said. “I thought there must be more that could be done to connect and reach those outside the church in the village, and that God may be wishing me to do something.”

    When she heard discussion about the overgrown churchyard, with brambles and shrubs concealing gravestones, she suggested that the church invite local people to help clear it. They ended up having several work parties, with up to a dozen helping each time – a few with chainsaws.

    Ali realised that the path across the churchyard was actually a village thoroughfare, connecting people to the GP surgery and Brighstone C of E Primary School. She wondered about creating a noticeboard with some spiritual input and environmental information on the path. A volunteer skilled in woodwork created one.

    Because the church was considering becoming an Eco-church, she thought it could organise some events. In November 2021, it hosted a talk on lichens, and 25 people came to look at lichens on the church’s gravestones and the medieval church with magnifying glasses. There were also talks on wild flowers, butterflies and moths, and some wildlife recordings. There was even an Easter photography competition centred on the churchyard with its spring bulb display.

    Meanwhile, one of her gardening clients had a table top made from toughened glass that was spare. Ali was inspired to use it as a base to create a ‘tree of life’ mosaic, put together by members of the local community and based on the passage in Revelation 22. Around 40 people took part, learning glass cutting and mosaic skills. A volunteer has created a wooden frame in which it will be hung.

    “I came and set up all my glass cutting equipment in the church, so people could be creating this mosaic in a spiritual context, and also the church family could see it develop week by week,” she said. “They really enjoyed creating leaves, animals and fruit in glass and adding them to the overall image. The sky is created with transparent paint, so that the sun will shine through it.”

    Ali also thought about creating space in the churchyard to feature plants from the Bible. There was a small area towards the south-east of the churchyard that had been cleared, but had no graves in it – but a great view of Blackgang cliffs was now visible. She thought it would work as a quiet area, and that the mosaic could be placed there. The garden could perhaps be used for prayer or Celtic worship or other small outdoor events.

    That area has now become the Olive Garden, featuring plants named in the Bible, stone benches and a box that includes an audio recording describing the area to you. A strip of mown grass leads you to it.

    Clearing the churchyard of the overgrown shrubs
    People looking at lichens on the walls of St Mary's Church, Brighstone
    The Tree of Life mosaic taking shape inside St Mary's Church
    Helping to create the Tree of Life mosaic, using small pieces of glass

    Ali said: “It has been a huge learning experience in all ways! I feel in awe of what God has done and how the many volunteers have come together to work on different aspects of the project. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to do this and to develop things as the Spirit has led me and a greater dependence on God.

    “At the start of this, Jackie Maw suggested that I might be a pioneer. I didn’t know what this was, but she encouraged me to attend a webinar on ‘pioneering parishes’. It was inspirational and reassuring to meet others who seemed to think similarly.

    “I’ve gradually come to understand that it means taking one step forward in trying something and then one thing leads to another. God sends you encouragement and pointers along the way for the next step and you need to watch for them, and it’s a bit of an adventure wondering what is next!

    “Some people ask me what is the future of the project? I don’t know. I have a few ideas, but I will keep stepping out and see where it leads with God’s help and direction.”

    For more information, contact Ali on Brighstonechurchyard@gmail.com.

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