Arranging flowers in churches

In most churches flowers are used as a means of decoration throughout the greater part of the year. To ensure that there are flowers at all times when it is appropriate to have them, it is wise to form a flower guild, that is to say, a team of people who are prepared to take turns in arranging the flowers week by week and, which is just as important, to maintain them. There is nothing sadder than to visit a church midweek and to be greeted with dead flowers.

In a church which has no existing flower rota the first step in organizing a guild is to elect a chairman, whose task it will be to start up the guild and ensure that it works in an orderly way. The ideal person to have is one who knows the building well, understands the kind of flower arrangements best suited to its style, and is knowledgeable about the conditioning of flower material. It is even more important that she should have the ability and patience to inspire and encourage new flower arrangers to join her team, as well as more experienced flower decorators.

The method used to choose a chairman varies slightly from church to church. In a cathedral the dean is responsible for looking after the building and the arrangement of the services. Generally he likes to decide where there are to be flowers and will seek as chairman someone from the congregation upon whom he can rely to run the guild in a sympathetic and efficient way. In parish churches of the Church of England the chairman will be chosen by the incumbent, but, particularly if he is new to the parish, he may ask the advice of the Parochial Church Council. In the Roman Catholic Church the choice will usually lie with the parish priest, and in non-conformist churches with the minister or the governing body of the local congregation. I speak of ‘guild’ as this is a convenient term; but in many churches ‘flower rota’ is used to signify the same sort of organization.

Once the guild is working well a retiring chairman is generally replaced by another guild member who seems to be the natural successor. In most big churches the chairman usually takes the job for three years. When the chairman has been chosen it is up to her to recruit her team.

The guild must always aim for very high standards — but must at the same time be compassionate if a new and inexperienced member is slow in reaching the goal. Encouragement and practical help will soon produce confidence and ability. I am not happy about churches where one person alone undertakes all the flower arrangements and allows no-one else to take an active part. If she leaves the district or is away ill, a substitute taking over for the first time may well be too frightened to enjoy her new job! It must be remembered too that most parishes have people who would like to take part in arranging the flowers but are too nervous to offer their help. These need to be drawn into the guild. If the guild is looking for new members, a cry for help on a special occasion is likely to bring volunteers and the opportunity is provided to recruit those with talent on a permanent basis. It is also worthwhile asking individuals who are not very regular church attenders but like arranging flowers. In this way they may become interested in the church, especially if the guild is friendly and welcoming. Many people are shy of offering help but will gladly help if specifically asked.

The size of the guild depends upon the number of flower arrangements which the church has each week. A factor to take into account is whether the building is open all day during the week, because in that case more care will have to be given to the flowers. (Alas! Due to vandalism many churches are now only open for Sunday services.) Cathedrals are likely to have 10-14 arrangements at all times, including some big pedestal arrangements, and will therefore require about 70 members in the guild. A large parish church will need 30-40 members, and small churches 10-20, depending to some extent on how often they are open.

In Anglican and Roman Catholic churches it is customary not to have flowers during Advent — which extends over the four Sundays before Christmas — and Lent, the period from Ash Wednesday to Easter Eve of which the 40 weekdays are traditionally devoted to fasting and penitence in commemoration of Christ in the wilderness. On the other hand there are other denominations which have flowers every Sunday throughout the year. In those churches which do not have flowers during Advent and Lent, these periods are available to the members of the flower guild for cleaning their vases and flower cupboards, laundering the dust-sheets, and generally doing the chores which a busy flower year makes otherwise impossible! These are times, too, which provide a chance to check up on the equipment. It is astonishing how vases disappear, pedestals get loaned out and not always returned, and cones are totally lost without trace! It is, I feel, the chairman’s responsibility to see that missing equipment is replaced, if necessary by drawing on the flower guild fund.

If the church is a large one, I suggest that the chairman ought to move the members of the guild about, for if one person always does one particular arrangement a situation may be reached in which it almost ‘belongs’ to her and umbrage is taken if anyone else dares to do it! I remember an occasion when I was directing a flower festival and I wanted a garland in a particular area. I was told very firmly, ‘No, Mrs Smith wouldn’t like that. She always arranges her pedestal there!’ If the flower arrangers are moved about, sometimes doing pedestals and sometimes small vases, the chairman is given a chance to assess her really skilled people, and they can then be used to advantage for special occasions. Some churches have small niches or little tables, and these provide a good way of keeping older and perhaps frail members active in the work of the guild.

Once the chairman has collected a team it is a friendly idea if all meet together for coffee — perhaps in the church itself — to learn who their fellow arrangers are. The chairman can then explain exactly what their duties are and show them the lay-out of the church — where the flower cupboard is, etc, and she can also tell them exactly what conditioning of flowers entails. A verbal explanation of duties is not, however, enough. They must be clearly set down in writing, and there must also be a rota so that each member of the guild knows exactly when she is required. A copy of the rota and the list of duties must be displayed in a prominent place, e.g. on the flower arrangers’ cupboard or the church notice board.

Mrs Freeman of St Alban’s Abbey Flower Guild has a splendid form in which the Guild’s organization is explained and the duties of the members are set out. It was compiled many years ago and because it is so clear I have with her permission modelled upon it the following form of instructions to be given to flower guild members. It is intended that it should be signed by the chairman.

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