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…what she has called her vocational tapestry of pastoral care and counseling, spiritual directorship and, of course, teaching.
Her new expertise is bound to profoundly enhance Ascension’s garden — today and as it will be when the lovingly and carefully planned new garden is completed.
Her journey into this arena began when she was reading a story about someone struggling with grief who had found relief by working with a horticultural therapist.
“I didn’t even know there was such a thing,” she admits.
But she was fascinated. At Ascension Lutheran School, planting bulbs after the tragic accident that took the lives of students Mark and Jacob Iskander in 2020 — and seeing their beautiful flowers blossom in the spring — seemed like a natural answer to their peers’ and teachers’ collective grief.
“We didn’t even know,” she says, “we had done some horticulture therapy right there.”
Then Pastor Chamie was in a Barnes & Noble store, and saw the book The Well Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature by British psychiatrist and gardener Sue Stuart-Smith. The book was featured in a display, impossible to miss. She ended up making it the focal point of a study at Ascension.
“I think God just puts things together and says, ‘I’m going to lead you this way,’” observes Pastor Chamie.
She sits in the quiet space near Ascension’s Memorial Wall after morning chapel. The scents of sage and citrus blossoms waft around in a light breeze. Pastor Chamie’s excitement over the Ascension Garden as a place of healing, worship and learning lights up the imagination like the sunshine lights up the patio in the wake of a passing cloud.
On the school side, she envisions three aspects of Garden use: Nature Explore, Academic Excellence and Therapeutic.
Ascension, as you likely are aware, is a Nature Explore certified school. This hard-earned designation means that the school meets a high standard of providing outdoor learning — in art, music and other disciplines — and free play opportunities.
Toward Academic Excellence, “We are focused on the best possible learning…My hope is we can raise up kids who come up with brilliant solutions to climate change and learn for the future.”
She describes the enterprise and academic learning greenhouses of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where students learn about plant growth and business, and sell their crops such as poinsettia plants at Christmas. Our planned garden greenhouse will afford Ascension such opportunities.
And toward therapeutic ends, there are the previously-mentioned health benefits, the calming impact of the outdoors — and the fact the environment can be safe and mask free at the same time.
For the church, the possibilities for great things from the Ascension Garden are seemingly endless:
- The planned outdoor worship space;
- A water feature with nooks nearby for prayer;
- Food and cooking events, from-garden-to-outdoor kitchen-to-table;
- Greenhouse gatherings for prayer, classes, support and creation care groups;
- Potentially, farmer’s market events we can open up to the community, sharing the light and love of the church with those who don’t know the church
…and so much more in this space of flowers and beauty all around.
“I think of Pastor Steve and Senior Adult Ministries,” enthuses Pastor Chamie. “I didn’t realize there are so many adaptive garden tools for people who have arthritis, for people who use walkers, for people with vision challenges….
“I learned about how we do gardening for people who have dementia, and it was amazing. They’ll remember, ‘I was in the garden,’ or ‘I used to live on a farm.’ Food in itself brings back memories; flower scents bring back memories.”
Pastor Chamie’s coursework has also covered how caring for plants and growing food has been shown to help some people struggling with addiction, or eating disorders.
The next phase of the Ascension Garden build isn’t pretty — unless you’re one of the souls who appreciates the loveliness of dirt in vast quantities, and drainage and sewerage.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Pastor Chamie is one of those souls.
She is highly enthused about the work of the garden’s brilliant design and engineering planners including Ascension members Blanca Hoffmeier, Wes Meyers, and Jeff Hengst.
Also aboard the team is Jack Koenig, a great garden booster, supporter and team member, who views the garden as key to Ascension’s healthy future. Among other things, he has contributed numerous nature books and items, from puzzles to a birdhouse.
“We have Debra Kusnierek on the garden team,” adds Pastor Chamie. “She has studied environmental science and occupational therapy. She is going to be doing a project with us for her graduate work this spring. Debra was looking at all our plans and what we’re doing and says the space and design are so forward-thinking.”
Another Ascension alumna, Emily Bean, is on the team as well. Her class, the class of 2019, had donated a $2,000 gift to the garden fund. Emily reached out to her fellow alums and asked what they would like to do with it. It was decided that they wanted a bench and a tree placed in memory of their late classmate Braden Wilson, who died of Covid in early 2021.
A tree will be planted in the name of our late sister in Christ, Ascension member and teacher Susanne Maliski as well. We can sit under it and tend it, and think about how she would have loved it because she loved the students and loved this place.
It will be a garden for all our days in so many ways, sharing the love and light.