My informant grew up in the small, rural town of Hanford, California. Her family owns a mill and is quite comfortably wealthy; she is very close with her parents and younger brother, and drives home from USC (where she attends school) frequently.
My informant has a strong faith in god though when she is at school she does not attend church services. When in Hanford however she attends the Lakeside Community Church, which conducts non-denominational Christian services. She was very close with her pastor there for many years, until his recent death.
Lakeside Community Church (slogan: “Come as you are”) is a small congregation with very relaxed services. The church-goers all know each other, and everyone helps out with the church’s potluck dinners and car washes, which are held to raise money for charity. These charity events are the largest events that the modest church holds.
The church does not require baptism, but does like to be involved in events like births of members’ children. So to commemorate the birth of a child, a rose is placed on the pulpit. I asked my informant if any announcement would be made during services, and she said no. Perhaps something might be put in the community newsletter at the request of the parents, but otherwise the only sign is the rose. The rose remains on the pulpit for about a week.
My informant told me that there was only one time that the rose commemorated something other than a birth, and that occurred this year. A rose quietly appeared on the pulpit on the birthday of the beloved pastor who had died the year before.
The adoption of the rose tradition to honor the loss of a loved one in the community touches me. Though I am not religious myself and I cannot know who decided or why it was decided to use the rose in this way, on some level I like to think that the gesture was an encouragement not to think of the pastor as gone, but reborn to a new form of life. It’s a comforting image in any case.