The Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens, Councillor Richard Holmes, officially opened the Quiet Garden in the grounds of St Patrick’s Church, Ballymoney, on Saturday September 11.
Many people from the local community turned out to take part in the opening of this beautiful, quiet space within the original rectory walled garden. (Please scroll down for photo gallery).
Those who attended included Father Damian McCaughan from Our Lady and St Patrick’s, Ballymoney; professional counsellors and social workers; those who engage with local teenagers and the elderly; representatives from Christians Against Poverty; and others who are invested in the wellbeing of people in the community of Ballymoney.
Guests were welcomed by the rector, the Rev Andrew Sweeney, after a minute’s silence was observed for all those who died or were impacted by the 9/11 attacks 20 years earlier.
Andrew spoke of the vision for the project. “Archbishop William Temple (1881-1944) said, ‘the church is the only organisation that exists solely for the benefit of non-members.’ If only it were true!”
He said Jesus had walked away from the Church of His day because of the walls it had put up. “In fact, these walls within which you stand were put up so the rectors of previous generations could carve out a living,” Andrew said. “I suspect quite a number of folk here today clambered over these walls to pilfer apples!”
Andrew explained that the first task in the development of the Quiet Garden was to cut a hole in the wall. “We saw it as a symbolic act, a way of saying to the community – you are welcome. This is our gift to you – we will develop it into a beautiful space and give it away.
“Has there ever been such a need for community engagement?” he asked. “We hope that the Quiet Garden will engender a sense of connection and belonging for the anxious, the isolated, the marginalised, the hopeless and the distressed.
“We hope it will become a space that facilitates recovery and offers renewed hope for a better future.”
Andrew paid tribute to those whose expertise and hard work had turned the vision into reality, and thanked the Church of Ireland Priorities Fund for financially backing the project.
“As the garden opens its doors to the community during the autumn we welcome all to come and enjoy this tranquil space,” he added.
Cutting the ribbon to officially open the garden, Mayor Holmes said: “I hope this space will be used by the community as a space for reflection. It is amazing what can be achieved when people come together.”
Parishioner David Goodman has been appointed Warden of the Quiet Garden.
“It is a gift to the community, a place to reflect and appreciate God’s gift to all of us. It provides the opportunity for people to meet others and be at one with God,” David said.
A semi-retired engineer, David is fairly new to Ballymoney Parish. “I am looking forward to getting to know people and to taking forward Andrew’s vision for the garden,” he added.
Many of the benches in the garden are memorials to loved ones. Lesley Atkinson and Daphne Slater were chatting on a bench dedicated to Agnes and Billy Slater, Daphne’s parents and Lesley’s grandparents.
“They met in the Church choir here,” Daphne said. “Dad has been dead 37 years and mum died seven years ago, and we felt this was a good way to remember them. I feel a bit emotional.” She looked around the garden. “We grew up in these gardens, climbing over the wall to get conkers. Our first memories are of church and Sunday School, and trips on the bus to Portrush.”
Lesley said her grandad had been a great gardener. “It is lovely to have this place to come and sit and remember him,” she said.
A plaque on another bench reads Harry’s seat… He loved his flowers. The bench is in memory of Harry Shields, who died just over two years ago. “When I heard they were creating the garden, it just seemed the obvious thing to offer to put a bench in,” said Harry’s wife Audrey, who attended the opening of the garden with her family. “It is good that the whole town can use the garden,” she added.
For some, the safe open space, green grass and colourful flowers were a sheer delight – including two year old Norah, whose great grandad is remembered by another of the benches in this beautiful garden.