Tragedy results in Faith, Hope, and Love

by CLIFF AND NANCY HILL

This beautiful re-circulating waterfall feature plays a soothing role within the newly dedicated Rockford Reformed Church Memorial Prayer Garden. Photo by STEVE BROWNELL

Early this spring a single redbud tree, having 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.

Squire 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.

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.

Flanked by hard-packed stone pathways is the heart-shaped brick patio centerpiece of Phase I: “Love”. Photo by STEVE BROWNELL

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 biblical 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 biblical 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.

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.

Three terraced levels on the hillside of the Memorial Prayer Garden with the iconic blue Rockford water tower landmark in the distance. Photo by STEVE BROWNELL

Church members will be 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 any and everyone in the entire Rockford Community and beyond.

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 1/6th 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.”

Kruizenga singled out for special attention the generous support and expertise of the following companies and individuals without whom the project would not have been successful: River Ridge Landscaping, Newaygo’s Howarth Excavating, Rockford’s Splash Irrigation, Walker’s VenKempen Electric, and Brian Tacoma for his patio brick work.

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.

As residents of the Creek View Estates neighborhood, adjacent to RRC, your reporters recently received in our mailbox a simply worded open invitation. Pastor Rick Tigchon extends that invitation, with the church’s blessing, to the greater Rockford community.

We, your neighbors at Rockford Reformed Church, offer to you the full use of our newly landscaped Memorial Prayer Garden. Please feel free to walk around and enjoy the garden and/or use it as a place of prayer.

Out of tragedy comes Faith, Hope, and Love. And the greatest of these is Love.

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