Church Garden Serves to Reflect and Remember

by Geeta Schrayter, RiverEast Bulletin, Summer of 2012
Heading toward Colchester on Route 85 in Hebron, it’s easy to miss the elegant brick structure that is St. Peter’s Church if you’re not familiar with it. Nestled a little ways back from the road and partially hidden behind trees, a driver could easily pass without noticing the pretty 1826 building. And if someone isn’t familiar with the church, it’s even around back.

But there a Memorial Garden sits, waiting for anyone – no matter their religious belief –
to come for a moment of respite and reflection, to inter the ashes of a loved one, or, as Reverend Everett “Perry” Perine said Wednesday, to “just be.”

The garden, which is the result of about five years of work, lies on the edge of St. Peter’s
Cemetery.  A stone path curves around plots of shrubs, trees and flowers such as roses, azaleas and lilacs and leads to a granite altar made from an original step of the church and two old gate posts that sits beneath a pergola. Three stone benches wait to be used by visitors and three burial areas for the interment of ashes are marked with granite stones.

Late Wednesday morning, the sun was shining as butterflies flew from one flower to another while a cool breeze hinted at the changing season. Despite the nearby road and the occasional whoosh of a passing car, the garden had an unmistakable serenity about it, thereby achieving one of the goals Perine said the parish had in its creation.

“When we conceived of the garden we had three things in mind that we really wanted –three things – that’s very Christian, right?” laughed Perine.

One of them was to create a peaceful place where community members could sit and reflect.

“We’re hoping that the community would know about this and would feel welcome to come and sit on the bench and enjoy the quiet,” said Kathy Kniep, co-chair of the Memorial Garden Committee. “It’s a very beautiful place – Ilove coming out here.”

“We wanted to open it up to the community, so anyone could come and have a quiet place on the edge of Hebron and just be,” said Perine. “It’s a beautiful area. You can kind of forget the traffic even if it does go by, just sit and be present.”

Another goal was to create a space to hold various services. Perine explained not only funeral services but the Blessing of the Animals and weekday services, when weather permits, are all held in the garden.

“We wanted a place where we could hold services,” he said. “That’s really important, to
have a functional space, not just a place for burials.”
But the other goal was in relation to burials: to make a place where ashes could be interred as an alternative to purchasing a cemetery plot. Although St. Peter’s is an Episcopal church, Perine explained the parish is open to individuals of any denomination who want to use the garden for burial of a loved one. A memorial service may also be held under the supervision of Perine, but he said that doesn’t mean the service has to be Episcopal.

“We are open to having people have other ceremonies,” he said. “We can talk about what
services are appropriate.”

In the Memorial Garden, the ashes are placed directly into the ground as opposed to kept in a container, as they would be in a burial plot. Perine explained this is symbolic of the parish’s view on life and death. By placing the ashes directly into the ground, they seep into the soil and help create plant nutrients.

“The plants in the burial areas then grow, and it’s symbolic, for us at least, of the whole cycle of death and resurrection: out of death comes new life,” he said.

There is no fee for the interment, but for $115 a bronze memorial plaque can be purchased and placed in the garden. Apart from that, the names of the people interred are inscribed in a Memorial Book. A donation may also be made to St. Peter’s by the friends and family of the deceased to be placed in a fund used for the maintenance and development of the garden.

“If anyone is interested in pursuing this, they should contact me and I’ll give them the information on how we can make that happen – not if it can happen, but how we can make it happen,” said Perine.

“We really hope the community will be made aware of the garden and feel comfortable about visiting,” said Kniep. “The only problem is that it’s at the back of the church. If people know that it’s there and they just stop in sometime, they’ll find a really beautiful place. I think anybody driving by would not have a clue that we have such a beautiful spot.”

Kniep said the garden is the first place she goes when she comes to the parish and Perine
added he enjoys going out to sit there during the week.

“It’s just a wonderful space,” he said. “It’s a nice worship space and I’m thrilled with it.”

Going forward, Perine said the challenge was upkeep and keeping it “fresh.” He said Kniep and the Memorial Garden Committee are good at replacing plants when needed and adding new ones where appropriate. The committee also coordinates “Weekly Weeders” to help with maintenance and Perine said the involvement of parish members helps them feel like they’re a part of the garden.

“That makes the parish feel that this is their garden, not just a garden that’s been made for

Perine said the more people who enjoy the garden and want to be a part of its care, the

“We didn’t want something that was going to be done, then fall into disuse,” he said. “It
was important to us to create a space people wanted to take care of and be a part of.”

And now, that’s exactly what they’ve got. Through the work of the parish, Perine said the
garden has grown “into what I think is a really remarkable place.”

The Memorial Garden can be found beneath the shadow of the church bell tower at St. Peter’s church, 30 Church St. To see pictures of the garden orfFor more information, visit .