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Rivalry spreads like weeds when two churches try to out-garden each other

By Muriel Duncan

Fellowship and fund-raising go hand-in-hand at St. Angus-by-the-Video-Mart. Rev. Jonathan Stokes usually smiles when he says that but it's a weary and resigned smile. He'd sooner see the money go directly on the offering plate.

The gardening project might have contributed to that view.

Millie admits to getting it started. She'd moved to a condo but the seed catalogues just kept coming. By spring, all that church property started looking awfully good.

She sold the idea of a church garden on ecology and fellowship grounds but competition surfaced at the very first meeting. St. Angus would be a more welcoming church with flowerbeds fanning out to the street, Sylvia Jasper said. It might attract some of the young families heading down the street to Buildmore Baptist Church.

Millie and the gardening committee started simply enough, with seedlings in styrofoam cups. The Sunday schoolers soon had zinnias shooting up in the minister's sunny study window. The AOTS men's group had a geranium drive going on and the local garden centre had agreed to deep discounts for weigela, spiraea and hydrangea.

The trouble started at the garden centre when George MacInnis of St. Angus pulled his cart of red geraniums in behind his old friend Stan Olsen from Buildmore Baptist. Stan who played centre to his left wing in the old-timers hockey league had two carts crammed with day lilies, hollyhocks, yarrow, and delphiniums. George didn't even know their names but he was impressed. "Oh it's not for the house, it's for the church," Stan told him. "We're putting in gardens over at Buildmore, all along the street. It should be something to see."

Of course, George had to tell him about the huge garden going in at St. Angus. And soon there was a challenge, a contest for best church garden, with Anglicans as judges. To the winner, a big donation to the mission fund -- and of course the losing minister would have to do a week's watering, wearing an embarrassing T-shirt.

George barely waited until Stan pulled out, then he got on his cellphone to his hockey-playing AOTS buddies. They all showed up in their vans ready for action.

So yes, there were red geraniums and plenty of them that Saturday afternoon at the St. Angus planting event but there were also three determined men on roto-tiller duty and five more unloading potted plants in a sort of human chain from the parking lot.

Millie looked at her little landscape design and sighed.

Of course, the stakes grew as quickly as the sunflowers. Side bets were laid. Dirty tricks were suspected. The Baptists put in a water garden at the back of their property, complete with lotus and lilies. St. Angus women responded with a labyrinth edged with aloe and sedum.

Millie spent all her time discouraging talk of gazebos and potting sheds. Both congregations' parking lots were in danger by the time the two ministers met over a coffee to talk peace. A sum was agreed on for the respective mission funds.

"The gardens are beautiful," they told their congregations next Sunday. "But enough is enough." Then they went out and watered all the gardens together.

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