Rev. Alexandra's "Garden of Creation" at General Synod
Rev. Alexandra Childs reflects on her work designing the stage for the United Church of Christ’s General Synod, held in Indianapolis from June 30-July 4, 2023.
In August of 2022 I was interviewed by UCC’s national Worship Director, the Rev. Dr. Cheryl Lindsay & Production Supervisor for 34th General Synod, Terry Peterson, for the Synod Stage Designer position. Terry & I worked together in 2019 on the Synod Staff while he was training for this head-honcho position. 2023 Synod was to be his first Live, In-Person Synod where he was FULLY in-charge of Production. And Cheryl was even newer to her Synod job. New or not, she had already imagined her THEME for the Synod stage Sacred Space ~ it would be … The Garden of Creation !
While I had confidence I could pull-it-off ~ plus Terry was rooting for me ~ Ms Cheryl did not know me. Also, the new Synod Administrator, Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia Thompson, probably had ONLY HEARD of me as the one responsible for the 9 Cubic Yards of SAND I’d ordered for 2011 Tampa, FL Synod & had dumped directly on the Convention Center floor, with out a Clean-Up Plan. . . Since most Synod leaders have heard that story…. :-j
So I had a hard case to make during my interview. I pulled out 4 years of FCCA’s colorful Easter Garden pictures & 2009 Grand Rapids, MI Synod Stage. There I’d turned my charge to “make a babbling brook on stage” into a veritable mountain stream with a vivid waterfall off the front of the stage landing in a verdant pool created by 1.5 tons of rustic granite stones. Truly an Oasis of Creation. The interview seemed like it went well.
Then, months went by, and 2023 was upon us. “Certainly” I mused, “I did not get the job”. So I wrote a gentle completion letter, clearly assuming that I did NOT make the cut for various reasons. I let them know that was totally fine with that & was grateful Terry reached out for the preliminary conversations. Encouraging them it was probably time for others to be tapped ~ perhaps folks with different styles, who’d add new refreshing, supportive perspectives !
When Terry swiftly replied, I nearly fell off my chair. He said “I DO have YOU factored into the Production Design/Set Decoration. Thank you for your patience…”
It now seemed likely I might have the job. Only problem was, if I did get the job, that we were ONLY 6 months away from showtime. I’d be coming on to a green team with less than SIX months to plan the details for a 104‘ x 32‘ stage. Then I find out there’s a whole month’s worth of work to do on a stage budget, a contract AND a detailed scope-of-work document. Well, I guess the UCC HR department has grown ! We never did this before !
I certainly knew I had the job after all that. But now it was down to FIVE months, to put together a viable plan for the Garden of Creation, the FLOOR PLAN, PROCUREMENT LIST & build local Indianapolis relationships. I asked Ms. Cheryl if she had a sketch of what she was thinking. She said “YES !” & sent me a classic “Napkin Sketch”. But it was perfect and I FINALLY was off & running. It was the beginning of March !! I was really lucky that I had 5 Synods of experience and 2 additional national gathering stages, to inform my process.
After a 4 day site-visit in May, I was just prepared enough to pull into town on Thursday, June 22, with 8 days before showtime, to gather 201 plants, and 2 tons of weathered-limestone, Royal Gorge Granite with embedded gold mica veins. Plus 2 pallets of round river rocks & ONLY 2 cubic yards of mulch. Then once I got the 7.5 foot Black Walnut 4” thick slab, rough-cut, live-edge with BARK ON & oak tree trunks, I was off & running ! My 1 full-time assistant, lived in Indiana so she arrived on Monday 6.26.
LOAD-In to Indiana Convention Center was Tuesday 6.27 & Wednesday 6.28. We received wonderful Local Church Arrangements support. Then finally, it’s a miracle what you can accomplish with TWO forklifts and FIVE Union Guys !!
The rest you can see in the photographs !!
We did it ! Ms Cheryl‘s response was “I dream BIG ! But YOU have EXCEEDED my EXPECTATIONS !” Then, with a big hug I knew we reach the goal of an immersive Garden of Creation ~ My gratitude for the TRUST & SUPPORT I was offered, and for the collaborative Spirit of all the plants & rocks & trees that came together to create this magic.
Stories about the Garden Animals, including the FOX, I’ll leave for Synod Sunday & my sermon on Sunday, July 30th !