Since the 1860, the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas has been the steward of an initial gift of 20 acres of land in the very center of Topeka, given by the city’s founders as the site of a proposed girls school.
From 1870 until it closed in 1928, it was home to the College of the Sisters of Bethany, and after that, the two remaining buildings, built in 1875, became the diocesan offices and bishop’s home turned conference center, now known as Upton Hall. What remains of that initial land gift is three acres that sits between what is now Topeka High School and Grace Cathedral.
Recently, the bishop’s offices moved into new space adjacent to the cathedral, leaving the grounds and former office building ready for a new vision. As the bishop’s curate for mission, I have been working to clarify that vision.
How could the diocese use the property to bring about a vision of the kingdom of heaven? Several things felt important: care for creation, building relationships with our neighbors and celebrating the historic connection the land holds with the education of women. h
It has become my hope to transform the land at Bethany Place so it is a true benefit to the people of Topeka and part of the revitalization occurring in the city’s core.
So that we could understand the needs of our neighbors, Bishop Cathleen Bascom and I have spent the last year meeting with a broad variety of stakeholders and civic leaders: the Vestry, staff and volunteers of Grace Cathedral; the neighbors living across the street; community leaders; experts in environmental sciences and native plants; and educators around Topeka.
During those conversations, three themes have emerged as possible benefits for the community at large:
- a space for rest in nature, and
- a gathering space.
During this idea-generating period several specific ideas have been suggested: herb gardens, raised beds, native grasses, an outdoor classroom, a labyrinth, a prayer walk, outdoor worship space and food gardens.
We are continuing to listen to the community as we prepare for a design charrette this winter. We plan to invite small focus groups to discuss their hopes and dreams for the space with a landscape architect, who will present three proposals for use of the land to those who attended the charrette.
After that, we will have a clear vision of the work ahead and the projects we will implement.
In the kingdom at Bethany House and Garden, we hope to help others find their way to God through care of creation. The kingdom of heaven is held in the grounds surrounding Bethany House, and as we work in creation we find that treasure. By finding our way to God in creation and connecting with our neighbors, we find ways to love our neighbor as ourselves.