January 17, 2016 7:54 PM
Church flowers on display cast out winter doldrums at annual festivalPhotos by BEAU CABELL of the Macon Telegraph:
The smell of camellias, lilies, roses and other blooms wafted throughout the sanctuary of Macon's St. Joseph Catholic Church on Sunday.
Between services, visitors from different denominations browsed past about two dozen flower arrangements decorating the worship space.
Many folks chose a pew and took a few minutes to sit and gaze around before venturing back out into the cold.
Inside the church, it appeared as if spring had come early with the bright colors and delicate flowers of the fifth annual Old City Flower Festival.
Sixteen churches contributed arrangements to the event, which coincides with the week of prayer for Christian unity that's celebrated worldwide, festival co-chairman Elaine Schmitt said.
Schmitt and Steve Gonser founded the festival after attending an event in Savannah.
In presenting the idea of a Macon festival, Schmitt said they figured, "If there's anything that Macon loves, it's their churches and their flowers."
"It's something that we all love, God, and we all love flowers," she said.
While many of the flowers on display were purchased from wholesalers, some were plucked from local gardens, Schmitt said.
"It's neat for people to use things out of their yards because we can all see that it's possible to do this," she said. "It's not a dead time of year. There's a lot that's alive out there."
For the first time, this year's festival also featured a demonstration and church flowers workshop hosted by an Atlanta florist, Schmitt said.
The free event, which continues through Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, is becoming a tradition, she said.
"People really look forward to it every year," Schmitt said. "People tell me, 'it gets me out of my doldrums in January.'"
One of the first visitors to arrive Sunday was Becky Bowdre, a resident of Macon's Carlyle Place senior living community and a longtime garden club member.
She said she attended the first festival and enjoyed it so much she knew she'd come again.
A Baptist, Bowdre said she thinks St. Joseph is a beautiful church.
"I love to come in and see it," she said.
Bobbie Jo Carver of Lizella said, "it's always such a beautiful show and it's nice to see all the talents of all the churches in Macon and come together in unity."
Schmitt stood at the back of the church, answering visitors questions for a while Sunday.
She said visitors often ask if churches get together to coordinate their arrangements, like the orange spider lilies situated just a few feet in front of another arrangement of red, orange and gold flowers on the high altar donated by another church.
"God does that for us," she said.
MY ASTUTE COMMENTS:
Five years ago, two of my parishioners who are responsible for the flowers and decorations of our church each week, Elaine Schmitt and Steve Gonzer, approached me with an idea. They wanted to do an annual flower show and invite the Protestant churches in town to contribute to the decoration of the church and invite the entire city to come and see the beautiful floral arrangements.
I was skeptical. I declared to them: "you're telling me that the other denominations are going to come here and donate talent, work and money for flowers that will decorate our Catholic Church? Go ahead and try, but I don't know if you can pull it off!"
The next thing I know, my parishioners invited flower representatives from about 15 other churches to a meeting in our social hall to discuss the project. I was invited to welcome them and open with a prayer. I was stunned at the excitement and enthusiasm of this group. And the rest is history.
At the first "Old City Flower Festival" at St. Joseph Church that lasted several days, several thousand people came through to see the floral arrangements. I was stunned. The media covered the story.
For the next three years, the Old City Flower Festival traveled to other churches and successfully so. For the 5th Anniversary it returned to St. Joseph Church beginning on Saturday.
Yesterday, Sunday, the Macon Chapter of the American Guild of Organists had an ecumenical Hymn Sing at 3 PM in our Church. It was a great success and I hope we can make this an annual event too.
The Flower Festival is timed to coincide with the International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which actually begins today and lasts through January 25, the Solemnity of St. Paul the Apostle.
What I like so much about our Macon ecumenical event is that is truly a grassroots event and laity driven! It is the most successful ecumenical event that I have ever witnessed and miles apart from the silly tea and crumpet events of the academics who travel every year to exotic locations to discuss and share their silly academic qualifications and musings.