Click on the above image for more information about Rebecca's Garden
THESE ARE THE REMARKS GIVEN AT THE GRAND OPENING OF REBECCA'S GARDEN
my name is Gianluigi Gugliermetto and I am the rector of Christ Church, the Episcopal congregation in the city of Ontario on whose campus you are now. It's a great pleasure for me to welcome so many friendly faces to the Grand Opening of our new garden, Rebecca's Garden. Many well-known faces and many new faces, which is just as exciting. Thanks for being here today. This place is dedicated to the memory of Rebecca Rollins, an extraordinary musician and a dear friend to many of us, who first envisioned a garden here in this space. Her attempt was not successful then, but the idea kept growing in our minds and hearts until... what you see today.
When we started to plan this garden, in January 2019, we did not know that we were going to call it “Rebecca's Garden”, although in the end we realized that this was the easiest and more natural choice for a name, precisely because of her having been the ground-breaker of the whole enterprise. So, in January 2019, a group of about 20 people gathered here in our library to share our visions about a garden in this space. Was it going to be a vegetable garden, or a meditative garden? Was it going to be accessible to everybody, and for what purpose? And why did we want a garden? Because it is fashionable and every progressive church has one? Because we want children and adults to learn and appreciate the contact with the earth? Because we want to have chickens and fresh eggs for our church breakfasts? All these and many other ideas were discussed at that first meeting and at the following meetings. At that time, we had just invited Maria Alonso and Arthur Levine of Huerta del Valle, the organic garden founded by Maria in this city of Ontario, to speak about their project. So it was natural to me to ask Arthur if he could lead the first brainstorming session. From that initial moment, many more meetings followed. The process was frustrating to some. Well, to all of us at different times. I had no idea how many technical issues are involved in creating a space like this. And we had no money. Anyway, we moved forward by comparing our different ideas and trying to find a middle way that would satisfy, if not all, the greatest part of the desires of those involved. Several leaders naturally emerged. We tasked Ashanti Smalls with designing the garden by taking into consideration the different visions and offering a synthesis of them. We would meet, discuss the issues that had emerged since our last meeting, and he would modify the design accordingly. As a landscape architect, he has a vision of details and a special care for the overall consistency of a project like this, qualities that have been essential for producing this balanced result. Ashanti choose most of the trees and the plants, a blend of Mediterranean species that are named in the Bible and Southwest native plants. He also designed the labyrinth, a piece of the overall plan that made some of us especially anxious in the last few months, and that turned out beautiful. Thank you, Ashanti! Patricia Bezhold also is an architect, with lots of experience in building facilities for Kaiser Permanente. She was essential since the beginning both as a coordinator of the whole project and for a variety of technical details. She designed the irrigation plan, for example, and several other portion of the project that are yet to be realized, such as a wide wooden deck where I am standing now, around these beautiful ash trees. She and her husband James also dug trenches, dealt with contractors, and so on and so forth. But, more than anything, she brought to the project her no-nonsense vision and expertise, keeping us mentally healthy. Thank you, Patricia! When Patricia and James moved to Arizona, a great blow to us to tell the truth, we were in need of a new coordinator. Not so much for the technical aspects, which at that point, about eight months ago, were pretty established, but for the organization of all that Rebecca's Garden was going to be and do for this parish and for our visitors. It is then that Mary Roberts, a naturalist and a gardener, came to the fore. At the beginning, I prohibited her to participate in this project because I did not want her to be spread too thin. I think she still resents that a bit! But once she released some other obligations and she started working on this project, she proved to be a force of nature, and a very competent one. She is the main person behind this event, and the coordinator of the “docents” who staff the Rebecca's Garden during opening hours. Without her spending so much time and energy in the last few weeks, we simply would not be here today. Thank you, Mary! Many other people should be thanked. Giovanni Esti, who planted the olive trees with Ashanti one year ago. Griff Roberts, and Martin and Paul Roberts, for their labor in planting all the other trees. Several people from the congregation as well as friends who spent many hours weeding the Bermuda grass that covered the whole area and that, as I learned by experience, it is rightly called also “the Devil's grass”. Believe me, the roots of that thing reach hell! Thanks go also to our gardener for the whole of our property, Mike Manville. To our maintenance person, José Sanmartin. To our sexton, Bobby Bolar, whose help has been invaluable in the last few weeks. To Betty Randall, Mary Wise, Cyndee Paulus, and Debbie Kent, who at this time comprise the group of the docents. To Suzanne Braswell, who wrote the Docent's Handbook. To the whole Vestry of Christ Church, who supported the project through all these years, and to our new Senior Warden, Robin Sanders. Also, to the professionals we hired for some very important portions of the work: Mike, the Curb Guy; Garrison Foothill Nursery; Geordie and his crew at Natural Earth Landscaping.
We started the project with no money whatsoever. The first person who wrote a check to support this vision was Sharon Matsusige Crandall, before we even asked. She came to visit us once with Br.Dennis Gibbs, she heard us talking about the Garden, and she wanted to encourage us. That encouragement went a long way! Then we started the campaign “Adopt a Tree”, that I believe it still active. You can adopt one of the olive trees or the fig trees by donating $300 in the name of someone who you want to remember. In the end, we started referring to each tree with the names of the people they are dedicated to... “Where it the shovel? There, close to Kathy Morsgerber!” We also did the bench campaign, for the same amount. Parishioners started to donate spontaneously for the Garden project. But that was not enough. It is only through the contribution of Arel Bucalo, and then with a grant from the Diocese of Los Angeles for the same amount, that we were able to complete the project.
So, what is this space? This space is first and foremost a gift. It is a gift that the congregation of Christ Church wants to give to the citizens of Ontario and all other visitors who will come here for a moment of refreshment and meditation, for a cup of coffee and a chat, for participating in planting herbs, or growing vegetables, or composting, or for an educational activity. In other words, for being community beyond and apart from our mental boxes, from our denominations, and from our religious or political persuasions. I am convinced more than ever that divisions and conflict based on religious convictions are a scourge that we can contribute to dissipate. The God who we worship here at Christ Church does not want to have anything to do with the segregationist ideas that are being supported, for example, by a church in Moscow, Idaho, that bears our same name. The God who we worship here at Christ Church especially does not want his Name to be invoked for legitimizing any kind of exclusion and oppression. We do not claim to know a lot about what God thinks. We rather emphasize that God is infinitely larger than our mental boxes. But we are sure that God, the one God of all people, is not a racist, is not a segregationist, and is not an oppressor. If anything, God is a liberator. So, this space is first and foremost a gift that we make to the larger community in the hope to foster understanding, communication, and peace among the different components of our city and our society at large. We are able to give this gift because we are supported by our faith and our Christian understanding of God, the Holy Mystery that supports us all in life and in death. We believe that the land is the Lord's, and we are receiving it in trust from God. It is when we become aware of receiving a gift, the gift of this land, the gift of our life on the land, that we are able to give a gift in return.
In practical terms, the design of this Garden is purposely open to several possibilities. Its general shape is that of a meditative garden, as you can see, with paths, benches, and a labyrinth at the center. A place to enjoy the beauty of nature. A place to meet as human beings, before dividing ourselves in Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindu and so on and so forth. But several areas of this Garden, now covered with mulch, are waiting to be discovered by you and become the site of specific projects.
We already have a compost pile, behind that white wall, which is a collaboration with the Composting for Green Spaces – Inland Empire. Through a grant from the State of California, this group of young people is able to provide expertise, labor, and tools to make rich soil out of food scraps. I think you all know that reducing the mass that goes into landfills is a priority for an ecological civilization, which is in turn the great challenge of this generation. You can bring your food scraps at any time here, at Christ Church, place them in the box that is outside, in the parking lot, and they will be turned into new life. You can also come and learn about composting, and you can also come and get free compost for your own garden, if you participate in the composting itself.
But all the other areas, now covered with mulch, can be turned into something specific. It will all depend on who might be interested to start another ecological project in this space. A healing herbs garden, for example. Or a vegetable garden, or “food forest” to address the issue of food insecurity.
We are few here at the church. But you are many. This place is yours as well. Think about this place, imagine something vital happening here. Again, a vegetable garden tended together by a group of people and producing organic vegetables for themselves and for others who otherwise eat very poor food. But also a poetry reading. Think about it. Learning how to process olives for consumption. A meditation group (we already have one, but we are open to more). Think about what you would like to happen here, and then come and share your ideas with us. We need both bread and roses.
Before closing my speech, I still need to spend a few words for the other major activity, besides Rebecca's Garden, that this church has started in recent times. It is integrally related to the Garden itself. We have been calling it The Center for Spirituality at Ontario. This Center has a board which is working to create educational opportunities at the intersection of ecology and spirituality. In fact, the Board has decided to rebrand the whole Center as “Spirit, Earth, Action”. Acronym: S.E.A. Its motto is: Together we experience Spirit. Together we honor mother Earth. Together we Act. We believe that there are many valid programs working on ecological action in all its urgency, and that there are many spiritual people out there, and most agree that ecology and spirituality are related... but seldom there are programs that teach both together. This is our direction. Some members of the board are present her today: … Ashanti.... Clint.... Karen....
I don't think then that I need to explain in detail how Spirit, Earth, Action is connected to Rebecca's Garden. Basically, the soil and the plants and the beauty of this Garden are the ground that grounds the Center, are the corner of this Earth where the Center has its roots. If the Board members get too airy and ungrounded in their imagination, they can come here to do some weeding and re-ground themselves. The Center already offers a variety of educational opportunities, mostly online at this time, that you can check on the dedicated website. Last year we had the pleasure to host a conversation between John Cobb and Matthew Fox. Those who know them will immediately understand where our intellectual preferences reside.
Recently, we have started a collaboration with the University of La Verne and their new program in Integrated Ecology. We are close to agree on an internship for one of their students who will help us in our efforts both at Rebecca's Garden and at S.E.A., with a special emphasis at observing our decision making process as a religious organization that works at the intersection of ecology and spirituality. Dr. Richard Rose, thank you for trusting us. We have made contacts with other local universities and institutions for collaborating in similar ways.
We also want to start a collaboration with the new garden in Munoz Park, called Seeds of Joy. We are already collaborating with OPARC, a non-profit that works with intellectually disabled individuals. And we want this network to grow. More than anything, we want to be open!
We want this to be your place, just as it is our place. This is a place to all to commune with mother Earth. While making the final decision for the name of this garden, discovered that one of the possible etymologies for the biblical name Rebecca is indeed “mother earth”. That, of course, is too beautiful a coincidence. Let's call it a coincidence. Or Somebody needed a laugh!!
I am very pleased about the timing for the realization of this project. Less than three years, with this level of detail, starting without any money, and during a world-wide pandemic. Allow me to be proud of my people and let me ask you to applaud them!!
This place will be open, starting tomorrow, from Monday through Friday, 8am to 1pm.
Please come and invite your friends to come to visit. No appointment needed. Please take with you our flyers to learn about us and our programs; come to sip a cup of coffee on one of our benches!!
And thank you for being here!