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Having served as a staff member in pastoral care and as a Eucharistic visitor and minister at the Cathedral, I was caught off guard when I joined the team as to how spiritual it is to serve on the Flower Guild. Whether decorating in our large nave or in one of our tiny chapels, it is a holy act to glorify the altar. We acknowledge that the flowers we use are gifts from God’s creation and through our offerings, we seek to enhance the worship experience for all who come to our services. 

Our goal is always to create designs that direct the worshippers’ eyes to the altar cross

Beginning with the routine task of conditioning flowers, fresh cutting the stems, removing the leaves and hydrating them, it is often quieting and meditative work. Have you ever really studied the extraordinary beauty of blossoms and foliage of God’s creation: their texture, patterns, and colors? Have you ever studied the symmetry of ranunculus? Or the shades in a Free Spirit rose? Awesome. 

After quietly saying, “I dedicate this work all to the glory of God,” several of us on the Floral Guild at the Washington National Cathedral then take our floral scissors to form the sign of the cross above our materials. Then we begin. 

Both planning (above) and disassembling (left) are done with a deep sense of humility and service.

As we position our flowers, our goal is always to create designs that direct the worshippers’ eyes to the altar cross. The cross is our central focus and therefore we do not let the flowers go above the arms of the cross. Arrangements should enhance but not dominate the altar. Some of our larger arrangements take hours to prepare. This can be meditative, creative, and filled with the fellowship of other members.

Often, in truth, it is also physically challenging and demanding. But, team members generally laugh at the end of a long day, “All to the Glory of God!” 

Many weeks, our teams arrange flowers specifically requested for a wedding or a funeral. This summer, a subdued young woman approached my flower guild buddy and me as we finished a lovely mixed hydrangea arrangement for a funeral the next day. We learned she was in town for the funeral. “My aunt loved hydrangeas” she told us. Instinctively, my friend reached into the bucket and gave her one. With tears in her eyes, she exclaimed “I can have this? You have no idea what this means to me.” Worshippers love the beauty of the flower arrangements, but for many, the flower arrangements are truly pastoral to them. They may be the realization of a bride’s lifelong dream, or they may pay tribute to the life of the person whose life will be celebrated. It can be especially comforting for the family when we use a loved one’s favorite colors or flowers. 

The Sandy Hook Children’s Chapel altar is adorned with 26 handmade angels 

Sometimes, our flowers are a pastoral offering to the entire congregation. Following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, a few weeks later at Christmas, our Children’s Chapel altar was adorned with 26 handmade angels to symbolize the children and teachers tragically killed.

There is a sense of humility and service as we take down our arrangements. As we gather our discarded flowers, recycle ones that can be used again (and again and again,) sweep and wipe down the floors, our hands and nails reflect the grungy, satisfying work of “cleanliness is next to Godliness.”

One of the creative yet very spiritual privileges of our work is to make arrangements that enhance the liturgical season. During Advent, simple greens help create a sense of waiting for the coming festive birth of Christ at Christmas. Lent is a somber season where we limit our displays to simple stark pedestal arrangements of bare branches, moss, or fungi as worshippers enter the nave. Otherwise, altars are bare and penitential. 

Thanksgiving (above) reflects our gratitude for the bounty of God’s creation while other holidays, such as this Easter altar (below) reflect the incandescent gifts of spring, resurrection, hope and life.

The major holidays are an “all hands-on deck” volunteer activity and many of our 100+ guild members are needed to deck every nook and cranny with color and exuberant joy. Easter, Pentecost, and other feast days are incandescent gifts of spring, resurrection, hope, and life. At our Cathedral, it is our tradition to decorate abundantly for Thanksgiving reflecting our gratitude for the bounty of God’s creation. We use a host of materials (including boxes and boxes of saved and stored dried straw flowers, grasses, branches, and leaves) that are complemented by fresh gourds, pumpkins, and autumnal flowers. Many of our holidays manifest contributions from team members’ gardens and strategic foraging in the woods and roadsides. 

And so, as members of the Altar Guild, we on the Flower Guild feel a great privilege and gratitude for the opportunity to enhance the beauty of our liturgy, music, and holy words. As we enter our flower room to start our work, we look at the bulletin board where the Flower Arrangers’ Prayer is posted: 

May God grant that our hearts, our eyes, and hands may receive divine inspiration, enabling us to glorify the house of the Lord with the beauty of leaves and blossoms that God has created.

Author: Mary Wright Baylor

Photos: Our gratitude to Danielle Thomas for her photos of the Easter altar and preparing the high altar for Christmas.

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