By Cliff and Nancy Hill
Early this spring a single redbud tree, with heart-shaped leaves, was planted on a hillside overlooking the City of Rockford. Planted in the grassy acreage fronting the West side of Rockford Reformed Church (RRC), located on the southeast corner of Wolverine Blvd. and Eleven Mile Road, the tree was meant to commemorate and memorialize the life of Audra Brownell.
Cedar Springs Post readers will recall the tragic death of the 17-year old Algoma Township teen in June of 2010 while on a backpacking adventure in Colorado with the Senior-High Youth group of RRC. While in a parking area at the base of a cliff, Audra was struck by a large falling rock that had been recklessly dislodged from above.
At the time, Cedar Springs High School Principal Ron Behrenwald remarked, “Audra was a fabulous young lady who was in the top 10 of her class and very academically-oriented. Recently she had just been inducted into the National Honor Society and was looking forward to her 2011 graduation from Cedar Springs High School and attending Michigan State University.”
Understandably, the Brownell family and the entire church family at RRC were devastated by the seemingly senseless loss of life to “a fabulous Christian young lady,” said Lead Pastor Rick Tigchon at the time. He noted that she and her family were very involved in the ministry at the church, and that Audra was especially involved in kid’s ministry.
The grieving, the reconciliation, and acceptance of the passing of a loved one is a many stepped process that knows no defined time frame. For the Brownell family, simply planting a single tree was part of the process.
Shortly thereafter the tree germinated an idea that blossomed in the minds of Audra’s parents, Scott and Diane Brownell, along with best friends and church members Scott and Julie Kruizenga and the entire RRC family. Why not create a prayer memorial garden? RRC had an expansive sloping lawn fronting the west side of the church, a site it seemed the good Lord had waiting for just such an undertaking.
And so it began. The design of the garden would be based on the bible verse found in 1 Corinthians 13:13 that tells us, “There are three things that remain—faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.”
Angie Rummler, of Cedar Springs’ River Ridge Landscaping, embraced the message in the bible verse and designed a breath-taking memorial garden to be completed in three separate and distinctly unique phases. Phase I would be designated “Love”; Phase II designated “Faith”; and Phase III “Hope.”
Phase I of the Memorial Prayer Garden was undertaken this past summer and dedicated in a ceremony attended by RRC members on Sunday morning, October 9. The prayer garden is composed of hard packed stone pathways, floral plantings, shrubs, hardwood trees, evergreens, and boulder-edged terraces surrounding a heart-shaped brick-paver patio, a waterfall, and a soon-to-be installed gazebo on the highest point of the site overlooking the City of Rockford.
Church members will have an opportunity to have the names of loved ones engraved in individual bricks within the heart-shaped patio. Other than that, the entire Memorial Prayer Garden is open to everyone.
Meant for prayer, meditation, and reflection, the Garden is designed to be a place away from the cares of life—a refuge dedicated to the glory of God. It is a place to sit quietly to pray and reflect on a lost loved one, or just sit and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the surroundings.
This undertaking would not have been possible without the selfless dedication of everyone involved. Throughout the summer, in a labor of love, volunteers and contractors (many supplying their services and materials strictly at cost) created this remarkable hillside sanctuary.
Scott Kruizenga, organizer of the memorial landscape project, tells us, “With the Lord’s blessing, thus far we have only spent 1/6 of what would otherwise be the actual cost for this phase of the Garden’s construction. There was never a lack for volunteer support and labor. On many occasions so many people showed up to lend a hand, that they oftentimes got in each others way.”
Keep a watchful eye out for the placement of the gazebo and, in the future, the construction of the final two terraced phases, Faith and Hope. Faith will be comprised of raised planting beds of flowering annuals in the shape of the cross. Hope will be an extensive open gathering space to be use as a possible outside worship area along with picnic grounds complete with tables.
Out of tragedy comes Faith, Hope, and Love. And the greatest of these is Love.