Why the Bible's going to the Chelsea Flower Show
The Psalm 23 Garden is the product of deep thinking about the text, and offers the chance to stop, reflect, and feel refreshed. Mark Woods explains more
The Royal Horticultural Society's Chelsea Flower Show is the high point of the gardening year. If your garden is a few plant pots, like mine, you might not get too excited about it – but in the scheme of things, Chelsea is huge. It's not just the fact that more than 188,00 people visit the show. It's a major cultural event. News about it is carried by print and broadcast media far and wide, not just nationally but internationally. In fact it's been estimated that 1.9 billion people – about a quarter of the population of the planet – are exposed to some Chelsea coverage.
That being so, it's too good a chance to talk about the Bible to miss – and that's why Bible Society is sponsoring a garden in next year's show.
The Psalm 23 Garden has been created by multi award-winning designer Sarah Eberle, and it's the product of deep thinking about the text. It reflects the idea of a journey through life, with its green pastures and dark valleys, with God as our guide. We're blessed to have been given a prime position on the show site, meaning visitors will naturally gravitate towards it.
The RHS Chelsea Flower Show, though, is only part of what we're doing with the garden. After the Show, it will be re-created in the grounds of Winchester Hospice to provide a haven for patients and their families.
But we also want to encourage churches, schools and community centres to use their open spaces to make their own Psalm 23 gardens, to be places of peace and encounter with God and with others. In that way, people can be drawn in to creating something together and reflecting for themselves on the meaning of this beautiful passage from God's word.
We've created a Psalm 23 Garden website that gives more information about the project, with videos and other material about how to pray for it and how to begin thinking about your own community garden. From January, we'll be adding more content – including prayers, reflections and worship material – as the date of the RHS Show (19-23 May) draws nearer. You'll be able to follow all the news and developments on social media – psalm23garden (Facebook and Twitter) and psalm23_garden (Instagram).
But what's the deeper thinking behind it?
The truth is that most people in the UK are disengaged from the Bible. And that's not just an assumption – we've backed it up with hard evidence. Bible Society conducted research – you can read about it on our Lumino website – into what people really think about the Bible, and while it's not all gloom and doom, it's clear that for most people it doesn't figure in their mental or spiritual landscape. So when we're thinking about how to engage them with Scripture, we have to start a long way back.
That's why Psalm 23 is a good place to begin. Many people still know it, even if only vaguely. It's a beautiful piece of writing. It speaks into our everyday experience, whether we're people of faith or not. And it lends itself to being translated not just into painting or music – as it often has been – but into a masterpiece of horticulture, too. Like many other parts of the Bible, it can jump the fence of the Church and escape into the world.
We're really excited about this project. Please pray for us – and if you can, join in.
The Revd Mark Woods is Editor for Bible Society and a Baptist minister