nourish the soul
By: Bethany Jenkins
Esther Larson is a part-time, self-employed florist (www.essiesflowers.com) and senior manager of affiliate development for Hope for New York. She is also a former Gotham Fellow through the Center for Faith & Work.
How did you become interested in arranging flowers?
I’ve been working with nonprofit, anti-poverty organizations for almost eight years—the Coalition Against Hunger and Hope for New York. About five years ago, though, I started looking for a hobby because thinking about homelessness and hunger on a daily basis can be emotionally exhausting. So I took a four-hour class with Matthew Robbins at FlowerSchool New York and was hooked. It was an artistic outlet, a way to express myself. Since then, I’ve taken more classes, volunteered at flower shops, and made arrangements for friends. Recently, I’ve started getting clients and turned it into a part-time job.
What makes a flower arrangement “good” in your opinion?
Flower arranging has two sides—art and service. On the art side, three things are important. First, the colors. An arrangement should have monochromatic or complementary tones. Second, the texture. It should have three different textures. Finally, the number. Full arrangements are usually in multiples of three flowers. On the service side, an arrangement is “good” if it pleases the client. One client, who asked me to do an arrangement for her sister’s bridal shower, gave me the freedom to create, and her sister ended up loving it so much that she based the color scheme of her wedding on it.
How does your faith inform your work?
I’m still figuring this out. It’s interesting to me that God didn’t have to make flowers or incorporate beauty in the earth. But he did. When I arrange flowers, my raw materials are his creation, and I get to bear his image as cultivator. I love this quote by Edith Schaeffer: ”If you have been afraid that your love of beautiful flowers . . . is somehow less spiritual than living in starkness or ugliness, remember that he who created you to be creative gave you the things with which to make beauty and the sensitivity to appreciate and respond to his creation.”
What would you say to someone who might think that flower arranging is a waste of time because “the flower fades”?
As a practical matter, living in New York, I have no garden or yard. So flowers help me to incorporate nature into my daily life, enjoying their physical beauty and pleasing aromas. As a theological matter, I think there may be a false assumption in that objection. Flowers, to me, are akin to cooking. You may spend hours creating a meal, but it may be gone in less than an hour. That doesn’t mean, though, it was a waste of time. The raw materials may have faded, but they were consumed as a means to nourish us.
Has your creative work with flower arranging affected your anti-poverty work?
My first flower-arranging workshop was with 15 women in a Salvation Army addiction recovery program my mom connected me with. When the women arrived, they assumed we’d be making one arrangement, using silk flowers. But we showed up with loads of fresh flowers for each woman to make an arrangement. They felt such a sense of dignity and worth. In the four hours we spent together, I felt the spirit of the group lift, as we talked about how God cares for them as for the lilies of the field. Since then, I’ve been talking and praying with people in my community about how to expand this program in meaningful ways.
Bethany L. Jenkins is the director of TGC’s Every Square Inch and the founder of The Park Forum. She previously worked on Wall Street and on Capitol Hill. She received her JD from Columbia Law School and attends Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, where she was a Gotham Fellow through the Center for Faith & Work.
This piece was originally published by The Gospel Coalition.