It all started with a garden. When God decided to create a world, wouldn’t you know it, the first thing he created was the most beautiful garden imaginable. Trees, streams, birds in the air singing away. It contained all the food the living creatures could eat, and the first two humans had it made—everything they could want, right there at hand. Of course there was a tricky tree or two—one called the tree of life, and the other the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the dangerous one. “Stay away from that one,” God said to those first two parents, “because if you eat its fruit you’ll be sorry.”
And of course a serpent convinced them to take a bite, and here we are today. But my point is, when God wanted to create something perfect, something that embodied all that was ideal, what he made was a garden.
Today we gather to celebrate an addition to a particular garden that fills nearly 59 acres. Ever since that visionary powerhouse Florence Bratenahl launched the All Hallows Guild nearly a century ago, it has been caring lovingly for the particular garden we call the Cathedral Close. That’s nearly a century of devotion to cultivating the beauty of the earth in this place as one more way to offer praise to the glory of God.
Of course this amphitheater had been a fixture here on the Close from before Cathedral construction had even begun. Sixteen thousand people, including President and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, a 300-boy choir, and hundreds of clergy, gathered here on October of 1903, four years before the laying of the foundation stone. In 1904, 36,000 gathered for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, and as many again for the laying of the foundation stone in 1907.
I’ll never forget the very moving reenactment of the laying of the Foundation Stone this time a year ago, replete with the presence of “Old Rough and Ready” President Roosevelt himself, the living, breathing Marine Corps Band, and a packed in crowd gathered to remember the very beginning. As we went through the service, and watched the stone being lowered, it seemed as if a time machine had swept us back a hundred years, and we were with those pioneering builders who launched it all.
I like the fact that the amphitheater was often used for outdoor preaching, for Shakespeare productions, and Lower School Field Days. Just last year the Back to School parents gathering filled every seat here to launch their son’s year.
For some ten years, from 1997 to 2007, All Hallows Guild undertook a project to restore the Olmsted Woods, including the design and restoration of the amphitheater. Dede Petri and Anne Elsbree spearheaded the three phases of the restoration project and led the remarkable fundraising efforts. They managed to raise more than 2.5 million dollars from more than five hundred people. Thanks to Dede and Anne, and to all of you gathered here, we now have this glorious space in which to come together.
This All Hallows Guild Amphitheater stands as a gracious and loving gift from All Hallows to the Close.
God was onto something when the world first came into being. We humans need green spaces, places of beauty and peace. And gardens need gardeners, even if they are Adam and Eve and they get into trouble every now and then.
Today, on behalf of all who will visit, study, pray, and seek solace on this Close, I want to thank the All Hallows Guild for its years of dedicated care for the Close, the Olmsted Woods, and now of this amphitheater.
You have given us a beautiful place to gather that will enrich our lives for decades and centuries to come. Thanks be to God for your dedication, your devotion to this Close, and your generous service to the glory of God.