Garden Journal

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Shepherds greet the holy family during a Nativity in the snow, Dec. 19, 2021.

A Winter Nativity and Solstice 

By Robin Buyers


A telling of the Christmas story while walking on snow and ice, costumes over winter coats and song sheets in mittened hands, could not equal the hardships of a journey forced by Imperial Decree on a heavily pregnant 14-year-old and her not-yet-husband. Yet the wind blew cold as a young “shepherd” invited “Mary” and “Joseph” to sit by their fire and share what little they had. We too wanted to draw into that circle of warmth.


But we stood in a garden built as a means to heal the relationship between those who welcomed strangers to this territory and the strangers, now settlers, who then displaced them. We remembered that many in the encampments cleared so violently by order of City Council last summer were Indigenous or racialized. We remembered, and yearned to do better.


With the “Shepherds,” we told the story of God’s love incarnate in a human child, in words passed down through generations of those with West Indian and African roots in our congregation. “He come from the glory,” we sang, hoping that, following this child and the man he would become, we would at last learn love of God and love of neighbour. We too would experience the glory.


Rabbi Bill Tepler arrived by the Fire not long after the Pageant drew to a close, Kalman Green and Sheila Smolkin from the Holy Blossom Temple Interfaith Committee not much after. Our MP and MPP arrived. We sipped hot tea until Elder Catherine opened a Circle made smaller by the cold. She lit Sage, teaching us that Sage is the Medicine of Caring and Sharing, a Medicine that prepares us to come together in a good way.


She then took Tobacco gifted her at Holy Blossom’s Gifts of Light Concert on the Second Night of Channukah, placing it in the Fire with our gratitude for what Kalman has called the “connection and growing partnership” between St. Matt’s and Holy Blossom. A large Tobacco Tie followed, filled with the unspoken prayers of all those in the Circle. This tie opened as the Fire took it, and Elder Catherine shared that a Healer once told her that when a tie opens, Creator has accepted the prayers it holds.

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Mary and Joseph fight the wind to seek shelter in a tent during Winter Nativity.

Photo by Marcelle

Every Child Matters

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215 undocumented graves in what is now British Columbia—children’s graves, found next to Kamloops Residential School on Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc territory. A sign of the times, of a reckoning with the history of this place we call home, a history of colonial and continuing genocide masquerading as good intentions.


What will manifest? In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called on churches “to ensure that their respective congregations learn about their church’s role in colonization, the history and legacy of residential schools, and why apologies to former residential school students, their families and communities were necessary.”  Ten percent of residential schools were run by the United Church. The General Council apologized for our role in 1986.


But, while necessary, apologies are not enough, educating settlers and newcomers in church on Sundays is not enough. In 1988, the All Native Circle Conference acknowledged their Church’s apology, but hoped and prayed that “the Apology is not symbolic, but that these are the words of action and sincerity.”


At such a time as this, we first open our hearts until they break.


In a time of reckoning with generations of violence in which our church was complicit, will it be possible to manifest our good intentions in good action? We can begin by following the Indigenous Ministries and Justice lead, who ask “all of the church to continue in this time of mourning and of support for each other as we grieve this loss, and others that we do not yet know about. “

In response, we call upon you to join the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Group in mourning by making the losses to Indigenous families and communities visible within the St. Clair West community. Led by the example of Tamara Bell, artist and 

daughter of a residential school survivor, we invite you to gather one or more pairs of children’s shoes and bring them as you are able to St. Matt’s.






Lay the shoes in Noojimo’iwewin Gitigaan under our streetside sign, with the intention to honour the victims and survivors of residential schools and show respect for Indigenous people, their spirituality, and the Land we share. Take up some of the soil damaged by the clearing of the land and construction of settler homes as Indigenous people were displaced. Partially bury the shoes among the others, remembering all of the lost children, past and present.

Then wait for Indigenous Elders and leaders from within the United Church and without to call us from acts of mourning to acts of justice. Be ready. For we must find our way through our unsettling history to right relations, before we can even speak of reconciliation.


Starting the Every Child Matters Memoria

By Robin Buyers, with gratitude to Elder-in-Residence Peduhbun Migizi Kwe/Catherine Brooks and Noojimo’iwewin Gitigaan Community Development Worker, Bert Whitecrow, for their reflections

Service Berries: Ozigwaakomin

by Robin Buyers

July 2020

On Wednesday morning, The Stop’s Wychwood Open Door Volunteer Program Assistant Eveen
Mohammad came round to the Right Relations Garden, inquiring about ingredients for an ice tea. We
began with mint, then daylily, then serviceberries: a first harvest shared with our Community Hub

The serviceberry bushes were already fruiting when the IPSG Garden Crew transplanted them in early
June, gradually ripening over the last month, at first only a taste to share among the gardeners and
curious passersby, now handfuls at a time in this July heat. Deep purple and slightly larger than a wild
blueberry, these are one of the first fruits of summer where what remains of the Carolinian ecosystem
meets mixed forest.

Amelanchier canadensis is a Carolinian forest understory species. As our three establish themselves in
the Right Relations Garden, they will become a hedge at the south end,


The portrait of Elder Mary Lou Smoke, together with her husband Dan, is one of 28 honouring Elders
painted by Tannis Nielsen and young Indigenous artists and community members along the Lower
Simcoe Street underpass.


Dan & Mary Lou Smoke from Simcoe Mural 2
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blooming early next spring, one of the first sources of nectar for pollinators. When Europeans arrived, settlers mistook these blossoms for those of a European relative, Amelanchier ovalis, and so they called them by the same name, sardisberry. But to the Anishinaabe people native to this place, they are ozigwaakomin.


Elder Mary Lou Smoke, Anishinaabekwe, advised us as we built the Garden that “acknowledging the plants by their Indigenous names would be educational as well as respectful.”

The Elders who have gifted their voices to the online Ojibwe People’s Dictionary can help us learn the proper pronunciation in this International Year of Indigenous Languages.

Ozigwaakomin. Boozhoo
 “Greetings serviceberry,” since “serviceberry” is the most common name for
this species in our area now. And perhaps apt for a church built as Methodist, as one of the stories about
serviceberry is that it bloomed at the time the circuit riders would once more find their way to European
settlements to conduct services that had had to wait until the thaw.

Yes, the St. Matt’s of 2020 cares about our weekly worship services, even when we must meet online.
But this week’s gifting of mint, daylily, and serviceberries to refresh others means that we have yet another small way to turn our worship into witness, to be a congregation that serves.

Water is Life

by Robin Buyers

Elders say that the First Teaching is Gratitude for Life. When Elder Jimmy Dick holds a Sunrise Ceremony, he shares this Teaching, and counsels greeting each day with a drink of water. Kairos Blanket Exercise facilitator, trainer, and Grandmother, Mim Harder agrees, saying that we might pause even to acknowledge the Water that is part of our morning cup of coffee or tea.


Gardeners come to understand that Water is Life in the tending of what has been planted. July began hot and dry, 10 days without a drop of rain. Robin and Michael Buyers, Nelly Kimunguyi, and Betsy Anderson worked out a schedule for ensuring that the gardens got the water they needed every morning, before the sun hit the leaves.


One morning, Lorraine Cowley came by to commiserate about the time and effort it takes to water at St. Matt’s, given the placement of the outdoor taps in our aging building. It seems the Cowley family had taken on garden care in the past, and discovered that the tap in the east narthex window well required considerable athleticism, even for the tall and long-limbed, to use. After one attempt, we’d settled on using only the tap under the Rushton Road stairs, still not easy to reach, but doable.


And then the rain came. First a Wednesday storm that tested the trellising of our tomatoes and beans. Then a full day Saturday of the gentle rain that allows our Relations, the Plants, to drink deep and thrive. Many of us in the congregation were able to taste and see the lushness of the gardens when we met at a distance last Sunday afternoon to wish Lauren and Ruby well on her parental leave.

By this week, the serviceberries were juicier, the vines of beans and squash longer, the tomatoes taller. Once the sun came out, we were back to daily watering, but with the task made


easier by our beloved solver-of-all-problems-with-the-church-building, John Shipman. There’s now a tap at the top of the west narthex window well. We are so grateful.


Catherine Brooks closed our Summer Solstice Circle to bless the Right Relations Garden with the Anishinaabe Water Song, a song Elder Mary Lou Smoke says people learn so fast its as if they’ve known it all their lives:


Wichita do ya do ya do ya

Wichita do ya do ya do ya

Wichita do ya do ya do ya

Wichita do ya do ya heh


Wacha tonaya hey ya hey ya

Wacha tonaya hey ya hey


The sound of Water flowing, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, that Life that gave us birth, lives in our bodies, and quenches the thirst for Life of All Our Relations, all living things.


Anishinaabe Language text from

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Art by Shawna Brooks