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Orange azaleaHallo again to all.

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies;—
Hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and Man is.

          --Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1869

Alfred, Lord Tennyson had been Poet Laureate of Britain for nearly two decades when he wrote that famous little poem. Its publication was contemporaneous with the opening of the Suez Canal and the decision by the British government to stop shipping convicts to Australia as punishment. Our thoughts glaze over when we try to imagine the number of hours spent by poetry teachers discussing that poem with their students, and the number of paintings and drawings whose title is 'Flower in the crannied wall'. The metaphor of pretty flowers opportunistically growing in the cracks and crannies of an aging stone wall is not subtle.

In the northern hemisphere where we live, this month of May is a peak time for flowers, and everywhere we look, from residential gardens to the altar at our church, there are flowers in abundance. We spent some time looking into the history and tradition of the liturgical use of flowers, and discovered that the use of flowers in worship seems to predate written language. We can't recall ever having been in a Christian church in decent weather without flowers, and note that in our experience, most churches manage to find flowers even in the dead of winter.

Our Bible concordance lists very few mention of flowers, and even those few mentions are to flowers as a symbol of the mortal and evanescent rather than the glory of God. Yet the use of flowers and plants to decorate churches seems to be one of the few absolutes in Anglican churches around the world. Whether it be preposterously large displays of poinsettias at Christmas, lilies at Easter, hawthorn at Epiphany, forsythia on Maundy Thursday, or pink roses at a funeral mass, flowers are so much a part of our liturgical tradition that many of us sometimes forget the amount of work and care that goes into finding and arranging flowers for our liturgies.

In recent months as we've read about congregations splitting, forcing one of the factions to find somewhere to worship that is not their own church building, we've thought about what might constitute (for us) a minimal worship space. Military chaplains have simple and portable setups to hold a worship service under combat conditions. Startup congregations and groups recovering from schism have temporary worship spaces that are made ready each Sunday morning. There are probably rules and traditions for the minimum amount of gear that you need—perhaps a cloth, a chalice, a book, and a small supply of bread and wine—but we confess that for us, especially in May up here and November down under, it doesn't feel like a worship space unless it has flowers or plants lovingly arranged.


We are grateful to the flower guilds, altar guilds, and liturgical flower arrangers of the world for making our worship feel more connected to God, and we would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you, everywhere, for the work that you do in beautifying our churches.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 20 May 2007

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