One of my sabbatical destinations was the Quiet Garden at the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul Presbyterian Church in Montreal. Last weekend, Pat and I included that in what was a spectacular horticultural weekend.
The Quiet Garden Movement began with Philip Roderick, an Anglican priest working in the Diocese of Oxford, England. After a three month sabbatical and the generous loan of some property, the very first Quiet Garden at Stoke Poges in Buckinghamshire, England was created in 1992. Since then, similar gardens have been created all over the world in homes, hospitals, schools and prisons–including the one we went to see in Montreal.
Pat and I travelled by train on our excursion, a new experience for me, and stayed at a hotel near the church. On Friday afternoon we dropped our bags at the hotel (our room wasn’t ready yet) and headed straight there. What we found was exactly what I expected, only better.
The church is a huge stone building and sits surrounded by offices and shops on a busy downtown street. Just to its right there is a small, unassuming entrance into a green space and as we went in, it was like entering another world. The bright sun and harsh noise of the city faded away under a soft, green canopy. A path invited us along past the lovely stands of Soloman’s seal to a small bubbling fountain built from a large grey stone. A side path led to a sundial. Wood benches offered places to sit. Planters of pink impatiens provided gentle bits of colour. A few small signs told the story of how such an oasis was made possible.
At first there was almost nowhere to sit, which I found quite delightful. All three benches were occupied with people who had obviously come on their lunch hour or with the plan of resting awhile. I loved the fact that one man made himself comfortable by taking off his shoes. Or perhaps it was holy ground…
Pat and I stayed at the garden for a long time. We wandered. We talked. We were silent. We went back again on Sunday, too, arriving early enough for church that we had ample time to sit again and soak up the beauty and reverence in that place.
The Quiet Garden movement hopes to encourage people to seek peace in a busy world. The Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul has taken up this ministry, and are doing it well. In an era when so many churches are stressed out about finding ways to connect with their communities, this garden is even more fantastic. Such an inviting, well-kept space obviously provides refuge for many people and brings to life the church’s desire to offer rest to the weary. I hope it nourishes many more souls the ways it did ours.