peachtree road storybook

Write down for the coming generation what the Lord has done, so that people not yet born will praise him. – Psalms 102:18

The Flower Guild

By Martha Tate with Contributions by Gayle Cummings

It was the first Sunday in November 2001, All Saints’ Day. Out in front of the church, the ginkgo trees were a bright yellow against the blue sky.  Brilliant fall color was at its glorious peak around the city.

Inside, on the altar of our sanctuary (now the chapel altar) was a single flower arrangement of pink carnations and gladioli in the shape of the Greek letter “delta,” looking not very fresh and in stark contrast to the autumn hues outside. In previous years, the arrangements had been very similar – mostly pastels (even on Harvest Sunday) and mostly consisting of the same two flower types and that same triangular shape.

After church, a friend asked me to go to a flower festival with her at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Midtown. As we stepped into the circa 1906 sanctuary, with its dark wood and limestone trim against ivory stucco walls, our mouths dropped open.

Suspended from the ceiling above the main aisle were giant balls made of bittersweet vines. Along the walls hung garlands of glossy green camellia leaves, studded with rust-colored roses and fall fruits. On the altar were arrangements of gold and orange roses, red sumac, goldenrod, bundles of wheat, and pears, apples, and grapes. There was even a floral “rug” with flowers depicting the All Saints’ Episcopal crest.

Outside in the church garden, giant arrangements of colorful fall tree branches, autumn-hued roses, and tufts of blue ageratum (the latter obviously from someone’s yard) had been fastened to the stone walls. All the decorations had been created by the All Saints’ Flower Guild.

My heart was racing as I tried to snag the attention of David Lowe, a professional floral designer and head of the All Saints’ Episcopal Church Flower Guild. I followed him around, trying to get information about how their guild worked.

The next day, I called Don Harp, our minister. We were just months away from moving into the new sanctuary. Don said he had tried to start a flower guild when he first came to our church, but he had not been successful. He was all in on the idea and said he would sponsor an informational luncheon.

Gayle Cummings and I had served back-to-back terms as liturgical chairman – a job that was way too overwhelming for one person. It seemed obvious that the Easter and Christmas seasons needed to be a separate entity to take the burden off the liturgical chair, and, having seen how it was done at All Saints’, a flower guild could also be responsible for Sunday arrangements.

Gayle immediately went to work after we received Don’s blessing. She organized the luncheon and created sign-up sheets. We had over 80 people attend on a Sunday after church in February 2002. Gayle, who is supremely organized, made packets to hand out at a follow-up meeting, where she divided volunteers into teams. 

Our grand debut was Easter 2002, the first Sunday in the new sanctuary. David Lowe from All Saints’ ordered multitudes of flowers and branches, and, with his and Gayle’s supervision (my father was gravely ill, so I was not there to help her), the new Flower Guild members put together arrangements for the columns, created a flower “rug” with the Methodist symbol, and festooned the white marble altar with masses of flowers and flowering branches. Flowers also cascaded down the steps leading to the chancel. It was over the top, and certainly drew the eye away from the scaffolding and the fact that there was only one side of organ pipes yet installed.

There was much to coordinate. Brides for the year 2002 had already hired their florists. Gayle called all 29 brides to offer our services, but their plans were set in place. For the Sundays without weddings, the new guild would fill in.

Gayle and I solicited professionals who volunteered their time to come and teach us flower-arranging techniques. This “teaching” arrangement would go on the altar for the upcoming Sunday. We quickly learned from observing the wedding florists’ arrangements that we would need to have flowers at least six- to eight or nine- feet tall to be in scale with the giant marble altar. Their expensive three- or four- foot arrangements were lost in the huge space. The next year we made a policy that the Flower Guild would be responsible for wedding flowers and would accommodate the bride’s chosen color schemes. The flowers would remain for the Sunday services.

We also realized we needed paraments for the lowest layer of marble to soften the expanse of white. The late Betty Schwarzschild stepped up and donated the expensive cloths for the various seasons (still hoping for a green one, like at St. Philip’s, St. Luke’s, Northside Methodist, etc.).

When plans were made for the new sanctuary, the Altar Guild had asked for a large sacristy which should have been reserved only for them. But we hadn’t existed during the planning stages and desperately needed space to arrange. We barged on in on the sacristy to the chagrin of some of the Altar Guild members. Many were eventually won over, however, and joined the Flower Guild, too. The two guilds now work together beautifully.

Gayle procured funds for an expensive large cooler to preserve the flowers. Founding member Donna Lutdke designed and commissioned iron topiary frames and pedestals. Linda and Hugh Schutte, also founding members, took over the responsibility for the Easter cross of flowers. Linda continued to solicit altar memorials, a job she does to this very day. In addition, she is still captain of Team #1. Another founding member, Alleen Bratton, volunteered to be treasurer and to contribute greenery from her garden. We purchased flowers from two wholesale florists, but most of the greenery came from members’ gardens and sometimes from roadsides (i.e., bittersweet vine).

An arrangement by The Flower Guild of Peachtree Road United Methodist Church Atlanta, GA.

The Flower Guild has been a great source of camaraderie and lasting friendships. One does not need experience to participate. Gayle is still instrumental in finding members to head up the guild and once again has taken on the behind-the-scenes organizing of the teams and assignments. Some chairmen have served multiple terms, heading up the guild for years on end.

Deepest thanks to all who have chaired the PRUMC Flower Guild, to the team captains, and to the faithful who spend a few Saturdays each year working with the beautiful flowers that contribute so much to our Sunday services. In addition, we all pitch in to decorate for Palm Sunday, Easter, and the Advent season.

Out of our need for greenery for the arrangements, a large vacant lot alongside Mathieson Drive next to the Don and Mary Ellen Harp Youth Center has been transformed into a cutting garden. This developing space consists of several iron arches, a magnolia alleé, gravel paths, boxwood parterres, flower borders, plus steps and a wall made of antique Belgian block cobblestones. Neighbors walking by often comment on the beauty of this oasis.

We regard All Saints’ Day 2001 as the date of the founding of the Flower Guild and are grateful to the congregation and to the staff for their continued support. We look forward to 2025, celebrating our church’s Centennial and our 24 years of service.

An arrangement by The Flower Guild of Peachtree Road United Methodist Church Atlanta, GA.