Two weeks ago we celebrated Apple Day. That is the I invite the congregation out to the farm. Some folks have made a tradition of coming a day or two early to help get things ready. We pull weeds and pick apples and clean up the old apple press that George and Mary Jo gave me many years ago, after they were no longer using it.
Then on Apple Day, everyone arrives. We pick more apples, wash them, and load them in the press. Children love that part, when we open a little door on the top of the grinder chute. Little pieces of apple fly out as new apples are tossed in. There are apple bits in our hair, on our clothes, and everywhere. Once the apples are all chopped up, we move the bucket to the press and children line to get a chance To turn the press handle. We hand out little “tasting cups” so we can catch the fresh juice as it pours into the catch bucket. It is wonderful.
In years past, when Apple Day has come the weekend after Halloween, we have supplemented this activity with some pumpkin flinging, using old jack-o-lantern pieces and the trebuchet that Ed brings to the farm and puts with other “engineeering-minded” folks. It is pretty fun flinging pumpkin pieces into the sheep pasture.
We always include a hike through my woods on the trail that has been built by folks from our church over the years. Many hands have had a part in its clearing and maintenance. For more than a decade now folks have walked that trail, so often that the older kids lead the younger kids on it, easily finding their way
Because the apples on the farm have gotten ripe earlier and earlier, we moved Apple Day earlier too this year. It was before Halloween. So instead of a trebuchet, this year Apple Day featured a pumpkin labyrinth. We made the labyrinth out of straw and placed pumpkins about 5 feet apart along the way. The earliest families to arrive at Apple Day helped finish laying the straw. The kids got more and more excited as they saw the path circle itself farther and farther from the center. Finally, it was complete, and it was time to see if we had constructed it correctly.
As my helpers lined up at the entrance, I explained to them that a labyrinth is not a maze. A labyrinth has no dead ends. If you stay on the path, you will get to the center, even though there will be times when you will take a turn and suddenly feel like you are walking farther away from it. You just have to trust the path.
They began, like almost all kids I have ever seen in a labyrinth, by running. They rushed to the center, turned around, and rushed out. Along the way, they commented about the journey. “I thought I was almost there.” “Wait, the path goes this way?”
As new families arrived on the farm, they would head out to the labyrinth. By then, the kids who had helped build it were no longer running. They had slowed down. They were walking, sometimes very slowly. Then, they picked up rakes and began tending it, keeping the straw together in rows so the path remained clear. The labyrinth was working its magic on them.
At the end of the day, children lined up for one last walk through the labyrinth. This time, each child got to choose a pumpkin to take home with them. Before they made their choices, I explained to them that the pumpkins were made possible because of the Swanson Endowment, established by Ralph Swanson to honor his wife Phylis, to support the children and youth of our church.
Phylis and Ralph are gone now, as is Mary Jo. George is living in the health unit at Horizon House. They were all active members of our church, saints who shaped our community in their time. And, of course, they continue to shape this congregation. Just like the saints who helped build a trail over a decade ago, that new comers who never met them walked for the first time on this Apple Day. The older kids, saints who lead the younger kids on that trail. Just like the children, saints who not only helped build the straw labyrinth, but then carefully tended it for those who arrived after them.
In the church calendar, the day after Halloween (Hallow’s Eve) is “All Saints’ Day.” In the Western Church tradition, it is the day we remember “saints,” known and unknown. In my church, that Sunday is our “Service of Memory and Hope,” when we light a candle for those in our congregation who have died in the year since the last All Saints Day. This year that service will be on November 4th.
But for me, this year, Apple Day was also All Saints Day. I was remembering Mary Jo and Ralph and Phylis. I was also remembering the saints still with us who have helped me year after year prepare the farm for congregational visits. And I was watching the youth and the older children who were tending to things right then, in that moment, so that others could enjoy what they were enjoying.
Some think of saints as special people, folks who were “extra holy” and lived a long time ago. But I think of saints as those who see a bigger picture than their own self-interests and their own life spans. And on All Saints’Day, I celebrate all the saints.