I crouch down next to Sage, a little girl about four years old, who’s just come in through the gate with her parents and baby brother.
“Do you want to plant something?” I ask. Like the dozen or so kids I’ve asked the same question to in the last hour, her face lights up and she says, “Yes please!” “I know just what we should plant—your namesake plant” and I pulled a packet of Kitchen Sage seeds out of my back pocket and proceed to show her how to make a little hole, put the seed in, cover it up with dirt “like a cozy blanket” and then proceed with the favorite job of watering. This little girl, like many of the people who walk through our gates, had never planted a seed before, lives in an urban setting without access to dirt and gardens, and is amazed to see that those little baby green things on the plant are going to turn into tomatoes. You see the transformation in her face as she realizes that the little seed she has just planted is going to grow into something green and edible, and you see the pure joy on her face as she waters and waters in the warm sunshine.
On May 1st the Garden Church opened our gates to the empty lot we have leased and are transforming into an urban sanctuary, a pop-up garden and gathering space. In this short amount of time, we have a beautiful collection of stories started of individual and communal transformation. The vision of the Garden Church that you’ve been hearing about, and reading about, and supporting, and praying for is now embodied in people and garden beds, bread and wine, conversations and relationship, prayers—all tangible reminders of God’s love and presence.
When we opened the gates on May 1st, the first thing that we did was to place our altar, a beautiful tree stump, in the middle and consecrate it and the empty lot as a sacred space—as a church. We began with these words: “May the God of all creation, bless this space and its many parts, for the seeking of the peace of the city. This lot has been waiting for us, longing to be a life-giving element in our city and in the lives of the people who live here. It is our partner, our co-creator, our home for this season.”
We went on to bless the gates and the soil, giving thanks for God’s presence in the earth and the sky.
“We consecrate this table with the anointing of oil, the oil that runs over the head of those who are prophets and priests of God’s message in the world. We anoint our table with oil as it in itself, at the center of our worship space and of our life together as a community, bears God’s prophetic message to the world. All are welcome at this table. All people, in all expressions of humanity, welcome at this table to feed and be fed. This is God’s table, all are welcome here.”
And that, my friends, is exactly what has been happening. All kinds of people, from various walks of life, young and old, housed and unhoused, from different backgrounds and languages, race and gender, gay and straight, wealthy and living in poverty, from different faith traditions or none at all, varied ideologies, and so many stories, are meeting together in the garden—feeding each other and being fed.
Because something happens when we meet together, as two sets of hands meet to help each other plant a basil plant. Something happens when a prominent member of the community sees “that woman I see living on the streets” beautifully scripting the message on the chalkboard for the day and opens her eyes and heart to who she is as a valued human being.
Something happens when the eight-year-old boy who lives with an aunt nearby comes in and is immediately captivated by the garden, “can I come back and plant something?” he asks, and when receiving an affirmative reply comes back the next week with a handful of seeds and then dives right into the life of the community, helping to lead in our opening ritual, reading scripture, and jumping up when a new person joined the circle to show them where the name tags are. The next week I looked across the garden and saw that he had taken the three young men who’d wandered in to check out what was happening and was giving them a tour. Before I knew it, they were being invited to sit down and join us for worship. After which one of them said, “I didn’t realize we were going to do church, I hadn’t taken communion in a very long time and I’m so glad I did.” All three stayed through the meal, visiting with various members of the community, the stoneworker offering to come back and build something, another bringing a fourth friend the following Friday and helping build garden beds, and another coming back by on his way to work just the check on the plants.
Something happens when there’s a space to re-think Christianity, re-imagine what it means to be church without the confines of whatever baggage we may have. A woman and her spouse and young family have claimed this community as their church after being assured that “we’re not about
conversion, we’re about transformation—individual and communal.” She posted on her Facebook page after her first time at a gathering, “Looking forward to gardening and “transforming” with my new Garden Church family!” and invited all her friends to join us.
The stories go on and on. People are connecting with the earth, with their food, with each other, and with God. And this experiment of re-imagining church as we work and worship and eat together, of planting an urban sanctuary, of striving to be a place of more heaven, here on earth, is alive and real and growing.
We are meeting every Sunday afternoon to “make church together.” Everyone who walks through the gates has something to offer and contribute and something we’re hungry for, in body, mind, and spirit. And every week it is different and every week it is beautiful. We are opening our gates more and more throughout the week, as we build the capacity and community involvement. We strung lights and brought in a couple of local singer-songwriters and opened our gates for 1st Thursdays, a monthly art night downtown, complete with live music, open galleries, food trucks and people. More than 150 people came through over the course of the evening and toured the garden and took part in the community that is being built in this space—the responses from the local community continue to be marvelous. “I’ve always thought this space should be a garden” and “thank you for creating this sanctuary” and “this is so wonderful, I want to be part of it” and variations on such phrases are often heard.
And so, we will keep opening the gates, and we will keep meeting people and honoring them as precious humans and finding out what it is that they have to offer, and what it is that they are hungry for. We’ll keep working together and worshiping together and eating together. We’ll keep doing all the million and one things that it takes to keep a scrappy start-up moving forward. And we’ll keep praying and having faith and trust that the God who dreamed all this up will continue to lead and infill this work.
In service to the Holy One and Holy Humanity,
Rev. Anna Woofenden
Your generous giving keeps the Garden Church growing…
Give monthly: https://www.razoo.com/story/The-Garden-Church-Fund
Or one time: https://www.razoo.com/story/Pop-Up-The-Garden-Church
An invitation from our Board of Directors