Ritual of Protest–A Palm Sunday Sermon

10294472_1770222679877099_6138238975058536742_nMarch 20th 2016, Palm Sunday
The Garden Church, San Pedro, CA
Rev. Anna Woofenden

Link to Audio

Today is Palm Sunday, the day where we engage the story of Jesus riding on a donkey, followed by his ragamuffin crew, riding into Jerusalem while a bunch of peasants welcomed them by waving palm branches and shouting praise. As Jesus enters the city, a “whole multitude of the disciples” throng around, and spread their cloaks on the road, wave palm branches and lift loud their praise, ”blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven.” And “Hosanna!” “God save us!”

Zoom out for a moment to see the context of this story…. Passover week was a big deal in Jerusalem—Jews from all over gathered to share in this feast day, this feast of liberation together. Likely there were two processions that day. From the west came Pilate draped in the gaudy glory of imperial power—horses, chariots, and gleaming armor. He moved in with the Roman army at the beginning of Passover week to make sure nothing got out of hand. Insurrection was in the air as Passover was being celebrated, and the memory of God’s deliverance of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt was in people’s minds.

Then from the east came another procession, a commoner’s procession—Jesus in an ordinary robe riding on a young donkey. The careful preparations suggest that Jesus had planned a highly ritualized symbolic prophetic act. Showing in this act the coming of a new kind of king, a king of peace who dismantles the weaponry of war, the leader who shows power through reaching out and touching those who are untouchable, and healing and calling for justice and love. Jesus comes around a bend in the road and sees the whole city spread out before him. It makes him weep and we hear him say, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem… If only today you knew the things that make for peace…” Calling for peace, peace for all people, for the earth, for all living beings.

735074_1770222439877123_7738148248014871312_nLuke’s Palm Sunday account echoes his Christmas story. When Jesus was born, the Gospel writer tells us that angels appeared to sing, “Peace on earth.” Now as Jesus rides his colt towards Jerusalem, the people look to the sky and sing, “Peace in heaven.” Peace on earth, peace in heaven, the cry echoing back and forth, echoing, reverberating to this day. Peace on earth, peace in heaven, peace on earth, peace in heaven….

Think back just a bit, to Christmas, to that story and promise of peace on earth, good will to all people. I’m remembering the darkness, physical darkness here in this space, and the darkness that I felt in the world around us, in my own journey, that deep longing for peace, for good will towards all people. Moving forward on our journey together, we have had these weeks of Lent… this season of repentance where we’ve been asking the question: What separates us from the immediate love of God and the reciprocal love with other people? As we look at what separates us, we’ve talked about the process of repentance, of changing our minds, of turning and doing and living life more open to love.

On this Palm Sunday, we have the opportunity to engage in some tangible reminders, ritual as we process into Palm Sunday, moving into Holy Week with our palm branches held high and the cries of “Hosanna! God save us!” echoing in our ears. As we call out “Hosanna! God save us!”, we claim the truth that we will not be saved by a particular political figure, or the one more thing we need, or if our spouse would just do this, or if we got a new boss, or if we lost some weight, or if we accomplish one more thing. It’s not a better insurance policy that saves us, or having the right home or car.

It’s God who saves us. God who saves us from our self-doubt, saves us from our over-inflated egos, saves us from brushing by and ignoring another human being, and from diminishing our own possibility for being loved in the world. While I certainly believe things need to change and be attended to in the world around us, ultimately, happiness, contentment, peace on earth and good will to all people, must be felt and experienced inside each one of us—God with us. And from that place, we can be vessels of peace and love in the world.

1474547_1770222449877122_5848041661451775731_nAnd so on this day of celebration, but also on this day of statement, of claim, Jesus is showing us another way of how love comes into the world, how love drives out all fear, how the way of peace overcomes the way of power, how reaching out across the boundaries and seeing the light in other people is always.

The entrance on Palm Sunday was a protest. It was a statement that the ways of the Roman Empire were not the way of peace. The procession on Palm Sunday was both protest of what was happening around them and example of the way forward, “Hosanna! God save us!” It was appealing to the Divine Love, Jesus entering into the city and going to the heart of where the people were, and even in their response shows us the way. As Jesus rode into the city, they took off their outer garments and laid them down, they took palm branches and waved them, they engaged in this ritual of protest, this proclamation of there being another way.

We gather together here at the Garden Church, we make church together, we grow our own food and welcome all to the table each week because we’re moved by the same call—engaging in a ritual of protest against the forces of consumerism and fear, isolation and division, apathy and hate. As we commit each week to cultivating our plot of earth, our place of more peace and justice, love and reconciliation, in the middle of our city, we’re engaging in a ritual of protest, a protest for the way of love and removing—repenting—of the things that keep us from actively engaging that love.

And so as we move into our own procession, our protest around the garden, we’re invited to think about this question we’ve been working with… “What separates you from the immediate love of God and the reciprocal love of other people?” What do I need to let go of, change, and engage to walk forward in the way of love?

We’re going to go on this journey together around the garden, in our own act of ritual protest, of sacred movement. We’ll stop at three stations around the space and have a time of ritual and prayer at each one of them—we’ll raise our palm branches and ribbons, lay down garments, compost old ideas, tie ribbons of new hope, and give it all over to the One who saves us.156222_1770222456543788_8081206631244357152_n

Baptized and Beloved Sermon 2.22.16

Picture0221162158_1Baptized and Beloved
Rev. Anna Woofenden
The Garden Church
Scripture: Genesis 1:1-8, Matthew 3:13-17

I shared with you last week some of the stories about taking the ashes of Ash Wednesday out into the streets and into our neighborhood, and some of the interactions that we had with our neighbors. How this ritual of the ashes reminds us of our connection with all of humanity, with the earth, with each other and with God our creator, as we take the ashes and say over and over again, from dust you have come and to dust you will return. Divisions were dissolved as I bent down to touch the forehead of the old man slumped on the sidewalk, or lifted the foils on the woman in the hair salon, or smoothed the curls of the little boy at the gate, and taking my thumb, dipping it in the ashes and placing it on their forehead, said, from dust you have come and to dust you will return.

As the ashes—the dust—pressed into the skin of the humanity around us, as I traced that sign of the cross, it dissolved the barriers between us, looking into the eyes of another human being and remembering our shared humanity. It a reminder of how we are all interconnected with each other, with the earth, created out of the expansive love and creativity of our shared Creator, who formed humanity out of the dust, shared even as the God of the universe, when incarnate, come and mixed with the ash and the dust of human flesh, came and walked among us as the Christ, the anointed one.

Baptized by water, reaching out and touching and healing, gathering people around the table, welcoming little children, blessing bread and wine, and inviting us to take and eat, remembering God’s love for us, remembering how we belong to God and to each other. Remembering how this child, prepared to be baptized here today, belongs to God, and we belong to her.

As the prophet Kahlil Gibran writes:

“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

Today Leia is getting baptized, and in her baptism we remember how she belongs to God, to life greater than us, how out of the Love of God she was created and to the love of God she will return, baptized to name and claim this belovedness.

This baptism is for Leia, and for her parents, Sarah and Ed, and for their family. But this baptism is also for all of us, as a church belonging to each other.

While baptism is an invitation into something so much larger than any one community, as it connects us with the church universal, the communion of saints, all people who are loving God and serving neighbor in a myriad of ways, baptism, also connects us and binds us to the people right here with us. There is a beauty in the expansiveness of the church universal, and there is power in the particularities, of the specifics. This child, this family, this community, this church naming and claiming God’s love and promise, here, today. Naming how this child belongs to God, and how we belong to each other.

Baptism is a sign of that belonging.

Signs of belonging are tricky, because it’s so easy to see and point to how signs of belonging can quickly be used to say how people don’t belong. We need to watch that and be aware of that tendency in ourselves as human beings.

Yet, this is not a reason not to engage this sacrament, in fact, I believe it’s all the more the reason to deeply engage the particularities of a path of faith, and to choose to live and embody our faith in the world in a way that claims this belonging, as a commitment to being people who value all of humanity, living lives that enact the compassion and justice and reconciliation and hope that comes when we remember how we belong to God and to each other.

When we talk about belonging here at the Garden Church, I often compare the images of the fence or the magnet. So often the way that we belong to things is by having to cross over a fence—to believe the same thing, to look the same way, to follow certain rules, in order to be accepted.

But here at the Garden Church, and in a growing number of gathering communities, we’re working to engage a different model. A reimagined model. One of a magnet rather than a fence. And the magnet is the table—God’s table where all are welcomed, to feed and be fed. We belong here, however we choose to engage, because we’re drawn to it, and in being drawn together, we encounter each other. However we engage, as we put our hands in the dirt, as we pray, as we serve together, as we welcome the next face through our gates, we all belong because we choose to move towards love, and in love, belong to each other, and to our creator.

So this act of baptism today, this choice to engage this sign of belonging, is a choice to belong to a community centered around a magnet, not one that is a sign of making it over a fence.

It’s the choice to name and claim what is true and available for all of us, regardless of our path. That the loving God of the Universe, the Source of all things, created us and claims us as beloved, and that we, choose to live and see and claim that belovedness, that care for each other as human family, with each other.

When Jesus was baptized in the river by his cousin John, it was an unexpected choice, not going to the religious leaders, in the temples, behind the fences and strict codes to ask for ritual purification through proper channels. No, he went to the edge of the Jordan river, the local basic water source, where all the people were, and asked his cousin John, the roving prophet dressed in camel hair, who was living on a diet of wild honey, this roving prophet who’d been calling for repentance, for a change of minds, preparing the way for the anointed one, the Messiah to come. And then, there’s Jesus, going to John, right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of it all, amongst the people who were on the outskirts—curious, wondering, seeking—and asks to be baptized.

And when we was baptized, by a humble and reluctant John, the heavens opened, the Spirit descended like a dove, and a voice from heaven said, This is my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

This is my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

This is the message of the God of all things. This is the promise to each of us. This is the promise that we claim in baptism today.

God loves you. God loves us. God created us and created us beloved. And because of this, God is always drawing us closer, cleansing us, changing us, freeing us, creating us anew, drawing us around this table and reminding us that each and every day is a new day, and we are beloved and we belong to each other.


Beloved Sermon from 1/24/2016



The Garden Church
Rev. Anna Woofenden
Psalm 19
Luke 4:14-21

Link to Audio

When I was 11 years old I spent a week, seven whole days, away from home at Camp Firwood. Camp Firwood was one of those church camps in the area, for elementary and middle school campers, complete with packed schedules of boating and ropes course and bonfires, and cabin bonding and drama, and worship and a whole lot of pressure from staff to “get saved.” On one of the last afternoons of camp, my cabin counselor sat me down on the big front lawn overlooking the lake, and with her bible open on the blanket and her gentle, but insistent voice giving me the words, I shyly prayed that “sinner’s prayer” as she gave me the words, line-by-line.

Everyone back in my cabin was teary and excited when we gathered for nighttime cabin meeting that night. I’d been saved. Wasn’t that wonderful? I guessed it must be, though some part of me wondered if repeating those words had really changed me so profoundly or could really have such a drastic impact on my life and even on my eternal life? But they all seemed so into it, so I went with it and accepted the affirmation and then quietly wondered and pondered it all in my own head and heart.

And then I went home. And no one got it. I tried telling my mom, and I think she tried to listen and be supportive, but this was not within her religious comfort or sensibilities. I tried telling some close friends, but it didn’t connect. And so I quietly retreated, kept reading my Bible that I’d been reading since my parents had given it to me a few years prior, and wondered if anything had changed. It had seemed to mean so much to that camp community, in that religious context, but back in my normal life, back in my hometown, it didn’t seem to have changed anything.

In our gospel today, Jesus returns to his hometown after an intense and transformative set of experiences. As a young adult, he’s just been baptized by John in the Jordan River, and heard the words from above saying, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” And then, directly after the baptism, he spent 40 days in the desert wrestling with himself, the devil, and what he is supposed to do and believe and who he is. And now, after all that, he comes back to his hometown, back to where he is from, and claims and proclaims who he is and what he’s called to do.

The first thing I notice about this story is that he went to the temple, as was his custom. This was part of his regular ritual. Scholars tell us it was pretty normal for men in the Jewish temple system to read, and even request a specific text. It’s likely this was not the first time he read, as he picked these powerful words from the book of Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

It’s after the reading that things get dicey. When he said: “Now the scriptures have been fulfilled in your hearing.” It’s at this moment in time that Jesus tells his hometown, these people he’s grown up with and have known him for years—“here’s who I am.” I’m Joseph and Mary’s son, yes, I’m that kid next door, but something else is going on here too. I’m claiming these words to describe what I’m called to do, defining my identity, proclaiming the work to be done in the world, of releasing captives, recovering sight, bringing good news to the poor, bringing freedom to the oppressed. Jesus saying: “this is what I’m here to do, this is who I am.” The people of his hometown knew the prophecies of the Messiah, the anointed one that they were waiting for. And here’s Jesus saying, “This scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” “I am the one who is here to do these things.”

Who did Jesus think he was? Wasn’t he just the carpenter’s son? Jesus stands up and takes this text from an abstract concept in scripture, something that generations had been waiting for and longing for, to the embodiment of it, “the scripture today is fulfilled….” “I’m going to do this…this is who I am.”

And this is where the people start to get ruffled. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they ask? And then when Jesus goes on to give some stark examples of who God has used unexpected prophets in the past and who God’s favor often rests on (foreigners, the marginalized, the unexpected) the people begin to get more upset, and the texts tells us that the people in Jesus’ hometown are “filled with rage” and “led him to the brow of the hill…so that they might hurl him off the cliff.”

So, we might ask, “Why?” Maybe the friction comes in who we look to for our self-definition, who gets to tell us who we are and what our work is in the world. Where do we draw our worth, our sense of self, our understanding of our purpose for existence and being in the world? From the people’s opinions around us? Or from some Love greater than ourselves?

I had the honor of baptizing a little baby girl yesterday morning, and as I said the words of preparation, I thought about this text. I shared the reminder with her parents that these early years are formative and that the way that they speak to her, treat her, and model love in the home, will have a lasting imprint on who she believes she is and how she interacts with others, with the world, with God. The sacrament of baptism is this profound reminder of who we are, created and beloved by a loving God. And that this belovedness, this knowing of who we are and our worth is at the core of our creation, foundational in the weaving of the universe, true now, true tomorrow, true forever, no matter what. We are loveable and loved and God’s own, no matter what the people around us think or say or try to convince us of otherwise.

To know who we are, and to live authentically, to claim that, to proclaim prophetic words before your own relatives in your hometown requires courage. Maybe it’s to choose a different political party than your parents and be able to have a conversation with them about it. Perhaps it was the day when you told your family you were gay, or when you first shared with your conservative friends that you’re going to be a minister—as a female. Maybe it’s that moment at the holiday dinner table where you take an active stand against racism in your predominantly white hometown, or when you voice an opinion that is not held by the rest of your family. These are acts that require courage.

The courage to know who we are, and keep choosing that, keep speaking and acting authentically, even when the reception isn’t friendly, or when we feel like we’re going to be pushed of a cliff.

Sometimes these voices and pressures are outside us, the hometown voices questioning who we are and how we’re living our lives. And then, so often, these voices and pressures are within us. The difference between our ideal self in our own eyes and our actual self that we experience day in and day out, wreaks havoc on our lives as we strive to be better, thinner, neater, more patient, more accepting, more loving, more loveable, and as hard as we work at it and try, we struggle to bridge between the idea of who we want to be and who we are. We wonder how we can be come “acceptable” to ourselves, to others, to God.

The quote from the Psalms today, is one that I’ve quoted over the years, but it hit me a little differently this week. Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

That word “acceptable” I’ve spent so much of my life trying to figure out how to be “acceptable in God’s sight” and approved of by others. From that sunny summer day at Camp Firwood where I said the “right words” to be now be “accepted by God” to the endless years of working on my spiritual growth, trying to be spiritually good enough, to piles of moral opinions that if I followed properly, could lead me to love and acceptance, that I’d be okay.

But here’s the thing, dear ones. Here’s the thing. Yes, words and intentions have power, yes there is good in working on our spiritual lives, yes the actions we take and values we espouse have an effect on our lives and the lives of those around us.

But none of these have any power over this simple fact. You are beloved by God. The God who created the heavens and the earth, the God who’s creative love emanates through and animates the universe, the God who has loved you before you were born, and will love you endlessly in her warm embrace, this love, this is where our truest identity is held, in God’s expansive and immediate love.

And I know that this is not necessarily the message we’ve always gotten, from church, from parents and community, from the world around us. There are so many voices to quiet—the ones telling us we need to work harder, be better, believe a certain way, act a certain way, and then we’ll earn God’s love. Then we’ll be acceptable in God’s sight. I know many of us have had voices of religion and people speaking on behalf of religion, using the God stamp, with words that condemn and separate, and systems of belief and salvation that set us up in ways that we feel we can never measure up to this love. And I’m sorry, I’m so sorry that we live in a world where fear and scarcity and condemnation so easily co-opts and corrupts our experiences.

I can’t change that in the past for any of us, but I, and we, can continue to name and claim the transformative, formative, deep knowing that I long for and believe to be true.

God loves us. The source of Life and Wisdom and Love, the Higher Power, the Spirit that moves in all things, the God of the heavens and the earth, loves us for who we are. We are acceptable in God’s sight as our birthright, as beloved humanity, as creations of God. Not because of what we do, but because of who we are. And if this becomes our touchstone, the ultimate reality that we continue to be drawn back to, that we reach for as we stumble (because we will) that we are reminded of over and over, as we start to compare ourselves to others or go into a shame spiral about how we messed up again.

If this is the ultimate reality, if our ultimate self-definition is as beloved by God, then we may start walking back into our hometowns differently. Feeling a bit of the sting when someone we used to be close to can no longer connect because of who we have become, but not letting it take down our knowing of who we are.

If this is the ultimate reality, all humans being beloved by God, then we may find ourselves proclaiming things that we never imagined, like freedom and release for the parts of ourselves that have been held captive by old belief systems, and having our eyes opened to see ourselves and the world around us in new ways.

If this love of God is the ultimate reality, then we gather together in community, not to download the book of rules of how we can climb the ladder to God’s love and acceptance; we gather to remind each other, and to remember together, as we say in our words of confession and assurance each week, that we come together in the presence of a God who is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. God who loves us, each one of us, all of you, loves us as we are. Amen.

Celebrate Together!


Over the last year the Garden Church has…
·Launched in our public space and transformed an empty lot into a vibrant
urban garden and gathering space.
·Welcomed over 6,000 people through our gates.
·Grown and distributed pounds and pounds of fresh produce.
·Met weekly for worship as we work together, worship together, and eat together, re-imagining church.
·Collected a half-ton of compostable materials from vendors and the local
community, kept out of landfills and turned into soil.
·Partnered with numerous local faith groups and community organizations.
·Been featured in local and national press as well as in the book
Grounded by Diana Butler Bass.
·Fed over 700 people as we have eaten dinner together in community.
·Engaged hundreds of children in watering, planting, and harvesting while
being cherished and useful together in community.
·Been a voice and beacon for peace and justice, hope and healing in the world.
·Prayed and grown and changed together as we see how God is working to transform each of us and transform our community and world.

See glimpses of the community in action here

Your end-of-the-year gift is an integral part of us continuing, deepening, and expanding this work in 2016.

Give generously today!

Thank you for being part of cultivating more love, justice, peace and goodness in the world,
The Garden Church team

Gratitude as a Spiritual Practice


The Garden Church, San Pedro, CA
Rev. Anna Woofenden

Gratitude is a funny thing really. We likely can all get on board with the general idea; it’s good to be grateful. This time of Thanksgiving we get prompted all over the place to be “thankful” to “give thanks.” It gets us thinking about it, which is excellent, and then it can invite us in to looking at gratitude more deeply, and looking at what it actually mean in our lives, and how engaging a life of gratitude can actually change us.

I’ve noticed something in myself when it comes to words of gratitude—sometimes it’s authentic and genuine, and sometimes it’s totally a cover up. Cover up for something that’s really hard and painful and I don’t really want to deal with. “Yup, yup, that hard painful thing happened, but I shouldn’t complain, I know I should be grateful for.” Rather than feeling the pain or the sadness, I find myself using words like “I should be grateful” and some other cover up. Maybe you use it to smooth over conversations we need to have, or to brush off acknowledging vulnerability “I’m grateful I’m not that person, or group of people, or life situation.

This time of Thanksgiving gives us the opportunity to explore gratitude, and explore the words we use as we look at our own expressions of gratitude, and commit or recommit to a practice of gratitude.

Because when we actively practice gratitude, things change in us, and around us. Our orientation to the world, how we see people and situations changes, I’m told even our brain chemistry changes. As we actively practice a life of gratitude, we start to notice things differently; we connect with people and the world with more attentive eyes.

In my tradition we talk about how God is always drawing good out of any situation. That God is an expansive, loving, God, a God who values our freedom, a God who does not cause the pain, the broken places, the sadness, these come from our individual and collective actions and choices as a world, but God is always present in all of it, and as the source and force of love and goodness in the world. And that as the Source of this love and goodness, this force is always drawing us to bring healing and hope, reconciliation and goodness out of every situation and in the daily actions of life.

So what if we use Gratitude not as a Band-Aid or a Thanksgiving tag line, but actually a deep spiritual practice.

A deep spiritual practice that taps into God’s goodness ever moving and loving and showing up and surprising us in the world.

And when we are in this spiritual practice, and we all fall and get up again multiple times a day, we might notice that good is, being brought out of the difficult things. We might notice that we stopped long enough to engage another person and something beautiful came out of the connection. We might have a difficult situation come up in our lives and rather than being sure that it’s all helpless, we might open up to there being redemption in it, through the neighbor who shows up to help change the tire, to the emotional muscles that are stretched and exercised when we’re dealing with an illness or the illness of a loved one.

Having a practice of gratitude doesn’t mean that suddenly our lives are all peachy and we never have hard days. And having a practice of gratitude doesn’t mean we don’t pay attention to the pain and brokenness in the world.

No, I think having a practice of gratitude is having a practice of paying attention…paying attention to where love is breaking through, paying attention to where we are called to see differently, to be instruments of compassion, to be curious and to be the vessels by which God infuses more love into the world.

Edwin Arlington Robinson said, “There are two kinds of gratitude:  The sudden kind we feel for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give.” 

When we take on gratitude as a spiritual practice, we will see our own lives differently, we’ll see the gifts and how we’re being taken care of, in little ways and big. We’ll pause and notice the colors in the sky, the rich flavors of the food in our mouths and the light in each other’s eyes.

When we take on gratitude as a spiritual practice, we see the people around us differently, we see how we might have not noticed privilege and inequality that we’d been taking for granted, we’ll see the people in front of us, not as other or different, but as fellow-human-beings, all on the path together, hungry for some more love and compassion in the world.

When we take on gratitude as a spiritual practice, we see the world differently. We see the world not as a place to fear or shirk from, but as a precious human family, with it’s deeply broken and cracked places, and always with flowers urging and pushing to grow out of the cracks.

When we take on gratitude as a spiritual practice, we may just find that we are noticing more, noticing the goodness, and noticing where we can be bearers of that goodness, compassion and light.

When we take on gratitude as a spiritual practice, we see the face of God.



A Note from The Garden Church Board

Hello lovely Garden Church supporters!
Yes, the Garden Church has a board of directors! And we wanted to tell you from our perspective where we are and where we are going.

First off, as board members, we would be remiss if we did not ask you to June 17 7donate money to this amazing upstart church plant. We are not hiding the ball here—we will ask you for money! But first, we want to let you know how generous people have been, and how abundantly blessed we have felt, due to your past and present support. Then we will tell you what the gap is, and then we will ask you to help us fill that gap.

1. Abundant Blessings
We are going to throw some numbers at you. Ready? OK—go!

The Garden Church has raised 80% of its very ambitious Year 1 budget to date. 80%!

We also have the following astounding numbers to report:

8… Ultra amazing board members on this start-up   team
4… Super duper angel donors jump-started our capacity
9… Cultivation team churches & sister churches cheer us on in solidarity

3… Denominational grants give us resources, validation, and credibility

OK, now for the really impressive numbers because these are about you all:

32… Cultivation team pledges give us faith and remind us of abundant possibility

97… Cultivation team donors make us feel loved, blessed, and abundantly grateful

2. The Gap

June 17 8Remember when I told you we had already raised 80% of our budget to date? Well, for those of you who are great at math, you already know that means we have not raised 20%, or 1/5 of our annual budget.

This is partly because we have not yet been able to hire someone to pursue support from foundations, which we had planned on doing. But it is also because we are ambitious and we set tough goals for ourselves because we want this Garden Church plant to succeed. And in order to succeed, we do need some money.

So, we still need to raise about $25,000 to make our budget. Will you help?

3. The Ask
Please consider upping your monthly donation, or giving another “one-time” donation, keeping in mind that we will ask you again until you tell us to stop!

June 18 1

If you or someone you know is a great, successful, experienced grant-writer and wants to dedicate 5-10 hours a week to helping us pursue grant opportunities, please let us know! We need you! This is a significant volunteer job, we realize. But we have to ask or we won’t know what we missed out on!

We love you all. And we couldn’t make this Garden Church happen without your help and God’s continued blessings. So please, be God’s shepherd and help us take it to the next level.

With love and gratitude,
The Garden Church Board of Directors

Jana Carter
Rebecca Esterson
Katherine Green
Jennifer Lindsay
Emma Ogley-Oliver
Amy Gall Ritchie
Nancy Richardson
Jane Siebert
Anna Woofenden 
Give monthly: https://www.razoo.com/story/The-Garden-Church-Fund
Or one time: https://www.razoo.com/story/Pop-Up-The-Garden-Church

Stories from The Garden Church, June 2015

Dear Friends,

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 June 17 12walk 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.FullSizeRender

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 then consecrated the table with these words:11262123_10153260798508363_2427397761498950005_n

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.

June 17 4

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

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Giants in the Land: A sermon on race, violence, gospel, and telling the truth

Planting rosemary for remembrance and sage for wisdom.
Planting rosemary for remembrance and sage for wisdom.

The Garden Church, June 21, 2015 6.21.
Rev. Anna Woofenden
1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49
Mark 4:35-41


There are a lot of things I could preach about today. Father’s Day. Summer Solstice. We go through what’s called the Revised Common Lectionary for our scripture texts, a series that walks through the Bible, along with churches all over the world. And today we have David and Goliath, the story of the young boy who faces and defeats the enormous giant; we have Jesus calming the storm. And some of these things would be more fun to preach about than what God has on my heart to preach about today.

A wise preacher is often quoted, “preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” We might say now, “Preach with the Bible in one hand and the Facebook feed and the newsfeed and the Twitter feed in the other hand.” So if I’m going to preach with these in my hands this week, we have to talk about racism and we have to talk about violence. And that’s not fun—I quake and pray, and others have been praying about how we can best have these conversations. Because it’s hard and messy and painful. But I believe that if we can’t have these conversations in church, with the infusion of God’s love and wisdom amongst us, well then I don’t know why we have church.

So friends, I invite you to enter into a hard topic today. And to try to find, where is the gospel in it? Because I do believe that God is present, and that Jesus shows us that there always is gospel—good news. Sometimes to find that gospel we have to be willing to engage the hard and the painful, and the things that we’d rather just gloss over.

Thursday morning, I woke up to a news feed filled with articles and shock and grief. The night before, a young white man who has since been identified as Dylan Storm Roof walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church where a Bible study was taking place. He sat around the tables with the community for over an hour and then, as they were wrapping up, pulled out a gun and shot nine people.

I read and I watched and I sat down and I wrote.

A person,
            Killed another person.
                        And my heart aches.

A white person,
           Killed another black person. 
                       And my lungs contract.

A young white man person,
            Killed nine black women and men, people.
                        And my back stiffens.
                        My heart pounds.
                        My fingers tighten.
                        My feet press into the ground.

All the words scroll by, “Enough is enough”…“Lord, have mercy”…“When will this end?”…“Stop racism”…“When will we have peace?

Scrolling, scrolling, images flush, other faces, Trayvon and Michael, Eric, young girls and old men, the marches, the media, this gaping wound of racism, violence, pain, and hate.

I keep scrolling. Someone urges us not to  “jump to conclusions” and then black clergy colleague asks, “Will you be silent when it’s me?”

My hands go to my forehead. Again.

To keep feeling, to keep being present, every time there is another giant public witness to racism and white supremacy in our nation. I want to ignore, to numb.

Not to be silent because I don’t care, but because it’s so much work to stay present with the suffering. And name that there are giants in our land. There are giant gaping wounds of racism and inequality, hunger and violence. There are systems and ideologies, structures and places within me that continue to benefit from the oppression of others. And I know, that I, as a white woman, am mostly on the benefiting end. And I worry about this beautiful big-hearted little boy that I know, who I’ve known since he was an itty-bitty infant, who has beautiful beautiful black skin and I know that he is in more and more risk with each inch that he grows. And that, my friends, is so painful to sit with. It’s too much. It’s giant.

We heard today the story of a giant—Goliath—a big, huge, intimidating enemy. When we hear this story, this story of a giant that is so gigantic, so overpowering, the giant who has all the armor and weapons and a reputation to go with it, a story of impossibility. Maybe we can relate. The stories we read in the Word can mix and layer with the stories of our lives. We see ourselves in these stories as we let them come alive, and we see ourselves and the world in the text.

There are giants that we face. Racism. Violence. The insurmountable. The very large that seems so dangerous and impossible to even begin to approach.

There were giants in the land. Send someone else. There are giants in our land. I want to run away, to hide, to make it be someone else’s problem, to explain away why this is none of my business or could never affect me.

But then there’s David, this young shepherd boy, innocent, strong, wise, dedicated and trusting in the Lord’s work in the world and in his life. And he steps forward. He says, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.”

David, and so many courageous people, before and after, who step up and say, “yes, there’s a giant, but there’s also the Lord, and step out in faith and trust and with the courage to face what we all want to hide from.”

Rather than hiding, avoiding, glossing over, I need to show up. Be present to it. I need to continue to listen. I need to particularly listen to my colleagues and friends of color and know and honor that they have wisdom from their lived experience, that I do not, and that I have privilege merely by the skin that I’m born in. I need to listen.

Because when I listen, I hear voices such as Rev. Emma Akapan, a black woman who wrote yesterday, “To my white Christian brethren, I don’t need for you to tell me how angry you are. I need you to tell your white family members, friends, and congregants. I need you to talk about your anger at racism and white supremacy from the pulpit. I need you to urge your congregants to address racism in their own family. White folks know who their racist family members and friends are—now is not the time sit idly by and ignore it. We must face those who we love, and challenge their prejudice. White folks must say, “no more” to racism, especially when it’s a system that they benefit from.”

And so here we are. I could have tried to get away with preaching a nice sermon on Father’s Day today, but I hope not, I hope that this community demands from each other and from your preacher that this is a place where we take our theology of the table, that all are welcome, we take our commitment to look into the eyes of each other and see the face of God, the humanity of all people, we take our charge seriously, to be a place that’s more like heaven, in and amongst the messiness of earth. Which means, to me, that we are willing to stop and wrestle deeply with what the gospel—the “good news”—is for our country still dealing with the festering wound of racism, violence, and division.

I believe hat the gospel calls us to have the courage to have these conversations, knowing that we’re not going to get it all right. I will say some things that offend some, and other things that offend others, I will likely make myself and others uncomfortable that I am preaching about racism from the pulpit, I may even say things that later I’ll have to go back and say, “I’ve learned more since then.” But I will not be silent. Because we need to speak our truth about these giants in the land.

The good news—the gospel—is in Jesus, as we watch him as he walked on earth, calling to repentance, a changing of our minds and heart, as he reached out across barriers and lines, calling us to pray for our enemies, to forgive the impossible, to knock over the tables of injustice, to stand with and walk with the oppressed and speak truth about oppressors.

Remember, Jesus came from a time when there were giants in the land, the Roman empire was crushing those who were not them, slavery and racism and classism were rampant. And Jesus called for a different way. Jesus didn’t put on the armor of Saul. He didn’t go to the palace and try to play with the power struggle of violence and aggression. He didn’t take up the sword and shield.

Like David before him, who when Saul offered him his bronze helmet and coat of mail and David tried to walk in them, and then said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. David took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

David didn’t use Saul’s armor. He went forward with what was more vulnerable, but true to him. He went out as his own vulnerable self. With the tools and skills he knew well.

Jesus, the all powerful God of Heaven and earth, didn’t come into the world protected by chain mail and with a sword. He came to earth as a vulnerable baby, grew and walked with the people. An itinerant preacher, sleeping here and there, going across the lake in boats, being with the people. Valuing, touching, feeding everyone he met. He didn’t hide behind the religious rule or the protection of Roman guards. He put on his own clothing,—vulnerable skin—and from that place engaged the giants.

Jesus wasn’t afraid of the hard conversations, of stirring things up, Or if he was afraid, he did it anyway, even when it resulted in his own death at the hands of Roman rulers.

And here’s where we reach out for and claim the gospel, where we repent and invite God to keep working to change our minds, to take off the ill-fitting armor of the stories we tell ourselves and put down our weapons of defense that come from fear and hate. Calling us to lament and repent. And then to tell the truth.

In the language of metaphor, stones remind us of truth, and if you think about stones as truth, these stones are smooth, and rounded from the water flowing over them, they’re well used, known, lived truths.

And its just one of these stones—one truth—that slays the giant in this story. Now I’m not suggesting that if we just land on just the right truth that we’ll end these major problems in our world. And I’m not suggesting that we use truth as a weapon. And though I’d really like to be able to wrap up our story as nicely as is the story of David and Goliath, I cannot. Because being human and living in the world today is just so much messier than than this story.

We can’t fix it all overnight. We can’t do one thing and make it all better. We can ignore it for so long, but then it will come back in our faces and in our hearts. Maybe we can start by telling the truth. By speaking the truth, we let the light in. We let God in. Tell the truth about the history of slavery that this country is built on. Tell the truth about the vastly un-equal incarceration rate of black men vs. white men who committed the same crime. Tell the truth about racially charged violence. Tell the truth about how economic and social systems benefit white people. Tell the truth about ourselves and how we are part of these systems. Be willing to engage and stand in hard conversations about race, and be honest and vulnerable and to cry out to God in and amongst it.

I wish I had some more uplifting gospel to give you. But maybe the gospel is just this: Embodying our liturgy and our faith. Speaking our prayers of confession and repentance. Being church side-by-side with people that are different than us. Coming around the table where all are welcome. And meaning it. Even when it’s messy. Even when we disagree. Even when we have to be honest and have hard conversations. That we come around God’s table and be the human family together.

Crying out—telling the truth in the midst of it all. Being willing to put on our own clothing, our vulnerability, voice our confusion and doubts, engage in the hard conversations and cry out to God and to each other.

The disciples out on the boat are in the great storm and afraid. And Jesus was asleep in the stern. The disciples are freaking out and say, “Jesus, Jesus, don’t you care that we are perishing?” And he woke up, and said, “Peace, be still” and the waves stopped. He then said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Let us keep crying out, “Jesus, don’t you care that we are perishing?” Crying out in lament for sisters and brothers, crying out as we repent, crying out for healing and reconciliation. And Jesus, just for that moment, calms the storm. Peace. Be still.


We come to You and to each other and we lament…


Excerpts from the prayer service at the Garden Church today for those who were killed Wednesday evening in the  Emanuel AME Church, in Charleston, South Carolina

O Holy One,
We gather to mourn and lament, to cry out, to shake in the wake of another act of violence, another slew of images of death and brutality, another story of black people and white people, hatred and violence, racism and the cries for a just world.

We gather to lament Lord,
Though part of us wants to move on, run away, brush it off,

We stop and lament.

We come to you and to each other and we lament the nine lives that were violently ended Wednesday evening as they gathered to worship and pray.

We come to you and to each other and we lament acts and systems that further racism and violence, valuing the lives of some more than others.

We come to you and to each other and we lament places where violence and division tear apart families, communities, relationships and places inside each one of us.

We come to you and to each other and we lament the ways we have turned from you and from each other and we confess our need for healing and compassion, renewal and peace.

We come together to remember.IMG_0842

And to plant in remembrance of those who died and for those who keep living.


As each plant is being planted, we sing together. O Lord hear our prayer, o Lord hear our prayer, as I call come to me, o Lord hear our prayer, o Lord hear our prayer, come and listen to me.

We remember and mourn for:

  • Cynthia Hurd, 54, a manager with the Charleston County Public Library system.IMG_0849• Ethel Lance, 70, a retiree who recently worked as a church janitor.IMG_0845 • Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41, a South Carolina state senator and pastor at the church.IMG_0851 • Susie Jackson, 87, a longtime member of the church.IMG_0853 • Depayne Middleton Doctor, 49, former Charleston County community development director.IMG_0854 • Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, age unknown, a church pastor, speech therapist and a high school girls’ track coach.IMG_0855 • Myra Thompson, 59, a pastor at the church.IMG_0847• Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr., 74, another pastor at the church.
    IMG_0857• Tywanza Sanders, 26, a 2014 graduate of Allen University.

IMG_0848And we plant sage for wisdom. For honesty. For the willingness to repent of the ways that we participate in violence and division.


We come before you and we offer our prayer of confession and receive your assurance.

Before God, with the people of God,
We confess to our brokenness;
To the ways we wound our lives,
The lives of others,
And the life of the world.

God who forgives us and urges us to forgive others,
We claim Your unending love,
Your continuing call to renewal and change,
And your constant presence with us on the journey.

You are loved.
You are forgiven.
You are never separated from the expansive love of God.

O Lord hear our prayer, O Lord hear our prayer, when I call, answer me, O Lord hear our prayer, O Lord hear our prayer, come and listen to me.

And now, may the One God of Heaven and earth, God of Compassion, God of Justice, God who created and loves all, the God who calls us to move forward in making a more just and compassionate world be with us all. Amen.

11651184_10155741290850711_494062978_n-1–Rev. Anna Woofenden, the Garden Church in San Pedro, CA 6/19/15