Why You Want to Know Mary Charlton: Since moving to Fort Smith and joining Christ the King Parish 31 years ago, Charlton has served as a sacristan, lector, eucharistic minister and parish council member. She designs, delivers and sets up the floral arrangements and live plants on the church altars, creates and installs displays at Easter and Christmas and helps tend the gardens at Mary’s Grotto.
Parish: Christ the King, Fort Smith
Family: Husband Mike, three sons, three daughters (one deceased) and 11 grandchildren
Career: Owner of Collections Floral
What feeds you spiritually?
I feel fed by my Bible study, our priests and their homilies and daily readings like “The Word Among Us.” Lectoring makes me feel very connected to faith and my religion. I meet with a spiritual director each month.
How did you get started as a liturgical florist?
My duty in the Altar Society was taking care of the plants and flowers and the grotto garden. Before we renamed it Mary’s Grotto, the garden was designed to be a biblical garden with biblical plants. We had fig trees and Rose of Sharon bushes. It was a big area that needed a lot of love, and eventually it needed a makeover. Now we have 10 volunteer gardeners who weed. We added some rocks and lots of flowers.
One day a parishioner suggested that Christ the King set up a program encouraging people to make donations for weekly Mass flowers in memory or in honor of loved ones and asked me if I could provide that service. We supplemented the floral arrangements with green plants, which last most of the year if I water them and trim the dead leaves. We buy new plants every Lent to prepare for Easter.
We try to recycle as many plants as we can. After Easter we planted all the azaleas and all the trees that donors didn’t pick up. Father Juan (Guido, pastor) wanted to buy six Japanese maples, and we planted two in Mary’s Grotto and four on the grounds.
I love doing the flowers at church because I feel as if God gave me this gift and I can give back by bringing the flowers. I can provide arrangements very reasonably by using the flowers that I have on hand.
You often use greenery in funeral arrangements.
I love live plants, and people have started using them for funeral Masses. I like them because people can bring them home and plant them in memory of their loved ones.
What do you like best about your parish?
When we first moved here from Kansas 31 years ago, I thought about all the people we’d left behind and missed them so much, but it didn’t take long for Christ the King to feel like home. It’s so wonderful to go into church and know everybody around you. When my daughter died, my Bible study group didn’t leave my side for a week and provided so much food. The parish is like my extended family, and I have loved every priest who has been here. I’ve enjoyed working with and getting to know each of them. Father Juan loves to decorate for Easter and Christmas as much as I do. He says, “Mary, you spoil me.” It’s fun because he likes what I do and it’s fun to do interesting things.
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