“Growing a garden church from food scraps and compost”–Article in the Christian Century

When I moved to Los Angeles in 2014 to start a church that connected people with food, the earth, each other, and God, I envisioned a sanctuary created around the table. It would not be built out of stones and stained glass and wood but would be circled by vegetable beds and fruit trees, with sky for ceiling and earth for floor. The vision was to create an urban farm and outdoor sanctuary feeding people in body, mind, and spirit.

Before we had a plot of land to cultivate together, we asked our team: What do we have? What are the resources that are already here and how can we use them to nurture this dream?


Read the rest of the article on the Christian Century page.

90 for 90 | In honor of Grandma Gladish’s 90th Birthday

 

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  1. There was a beaver dam near the Beaver Island house, we walked up there as many times as it took to get a glimpse of this creature who’s teeth made such interesting marks on the wood chips scattered by the felled saplings.
  2. Grandma came out when most of the babies were born. She understood the important role of the big sister and would help me as I helped to hold and diaper and care for the newest addition.
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  3. Years of family dinner, rotating around, at Grandma’s house you could always count on a cake for dessert. Applesauce walnut and the various fruit upside-down cakes were favorites. WoofFamilyScanned0659
  4. The winter Grandma and Grandpa lived in the little yellow cabin down the road from us and Grandma gave me homeschool lessons once a week or so. I don’t remember the lessons, but I remember how she made hot lemonade with honey when we both had colds.
  5. Making sand cakes on the shores of Lake Michigan, complete with sumac berry decorations and tiny twig candles.
  6. Growing up surrounded by Libertarians, Grandma gently showed me that it was okay to be a liberal democrat and to have a different view on things.
  7. The Atlantic magazine was often on the coffee table and NPR playing. As a young adult I was delighted to find that Grandma was always up on current events and had something wise and interesting to say in response to them, offering me a unique perspective on whatever was going on in the world.
  8. When Grandma was in the hospital last spring, after a stroke and heart attack, we wondered if that was the end.
  9. When she went back into hospital a few weeks later, I got on a plane. I’m so grateful for that week spent together.
  10. The time in the ICU was particularly precious, as I sat by her bedside and she napped, then would wake up and tell stories and keep telling us how much her family means to her. 11222707_10153008282079094_5756466038578411108_n
  11. Her time in rehab was difficult, for her primarily of course, and for all of those of us who love her. I felt a zeal for assuring she got the best care possible, while working through my own feelings of fear and annoyance and love.
  12. Every phone call with Grandma is a sweet gift these days.
  13. When we get on the phone, before I can even tell her about something that’s going on, she’ll ask about it. Because she’s already seen the post on Facebook and remembers to ask more.
  14. Grandma knows how to actively and appropriately engage social media better than most people half her age and even though her hands can’t type much anymore, she stays up to date with all of us.
  15. Mom told me recently that Grandma said, “I’m wishing and praying for a man to come along for Anna who just loves her and nurtures her and can be a real partner with her in her big life.”
  16. Grandma’s knowledge and wisdom of faith and life have been a consistent foundation.
  17. When I came to visit while I was in undergrad and later on seminary and in general, I could always count on a good theological conversation buddy and she would connect things and open my eyes in new ways.1932197_10152025516544094_709070871_n
  18. When it became clear that it was time for me to resign from the General Church, I called Grandma a bit teary, worried that she was going to be sad and disappointed. Instead I heard on the other end of the phone, “Of course you do, that’s alright dear, the Lord’s church is so much bigger than any one organization.”
  19. She went on to tell me how all four of my grandparents, as well as my great grandparents would be so proud of me and delighted that I’m committed to continuing and working for the new iteration of this tradition that they had dedicated their lives to.
  20. When Grandpa died suddenly in 1996 I remember wondering at Grandma’s seeming calm. I have seen that calm last over the last 20 years, not because she didn’t grieve, but because of her active deep knowing of their ongoing spiritual connection and plans to be together for eternity.
  21. In the kitchen of all of Grandma and Grandpa’s winter homes on Guemes, there was always the set of poetry magnets for the fridge. It appeared to be an ongoing silent play between them, moving and shifting words to make witty bizarre statements, clever observations, and pithy poetry.
  22. Once, when I was about eight years old and Grandma was visiting, my parents were deep in an argument. Grandma took me on a walk and as we were walking she said, “Anna, it’s not your fault that they’re fighting.” I didn’t quite believe her at the time, but I never forgot her powerful words.
  23. After we outgrew the beautifully crafted dolls, knit penguins and corduroy bears, you could always count on Grandma for a gift that helped the world. Heifer project goats or a piece of an Amazon rainforest saved, expanding our ideas of what it means to give and receive in the world.
  24. Grandma has always been a painter, or since well before I knew her. Her nature watercolors bring alive the shell, the ocean, the single flower, the burst of life.
  25. Classical music. Often playing.
  26. Gardens, she always had a garden. From the big vegetable garden on Beaver Island, to the pots on the front porch wherever she’s lived. Growing things surround her. 11263924_10153105277928823_5538681355577963317_n
  27. For years Grandma had regular tea with a few other women of a similar age on the island. Because community is important.
  28. A staunch feminist, she taught me to value all people, including myself.
  29. On a long conversation as I was walking along the cliffs recently we mutually shared our questions and wonderings about who to vote for in the primary elections coming up.
  30. When I was a teen I don’t think I really appreciated Grandma. I’m grateful she stuck it out and kept loving me until I could again.
  31. Grandma’s delight in my ministry keeps me going.
  32. I don’t have to explain why we are re-imagining church to Grandma; she gets it and has been in this mindset for years.
  33. When we have tea, there are always beautiful china teacups available.
  34. Grandma has spent hours and months, days and years getting all the family photos scanned and organizing and writing notes to pass the history on to the family.
  35. Grandma tells stories about going to elementary school in the basement of the Bryn Athyn Cathedral when the school building had burnt down and exploring around the stone pillars and stained glass.
  36. She tells how she was in college during WWII and with all the young men off to the war; there was a powerhouse team of brilliant woman who were given space to shine. This cohort is powerful and strong to this day, even as they send each other off to the afterlife one-by-one. 1554394_10152098268301866_854643722_n
  37. Paint brushes.
  38. Earl Gray tea bags.
  39. Spider plants.
  40. I always loved that my two sets of grandparents knew and appreciated each other.
  41. Grandma often confidently gives affirmation on behalf of the three grandparents who have died, as well as herself. “We’re all proud of you.”
  42. Until recently, Grandma was competently driving her old red car wherever she needed to go.1525131_10152098267026866_849819718_n
  43. I found out when she went into the hospital that she was totally organized, all her paper in place and even passwords and such written down in one place.
  44. Watching Grandma surrender to being in charge of it all and lean on her children and grandchildren and professionals was powerful, painful, beautiful and profound.
  45. On our big Opening Planting Day at the Garden Church, my sister Rose set it up so I could Facetime with Grandma from the ICU and she could see a bit of the celebration.
  46. She always has a good read on all of us, her children and grandchildren, and knows what’s going on in each of our lives.
  47. When she was a little grumpy at me at the end of a long hard day after moving into the rehab facility, she realized what she had done and lovingly apologized in the morning.
  48. Columbines on the front porch.
  49. She’s said for a while now that she’s ready to die when it’s time, but it seems God wants her to stick around a bit longer.
  50. Last spring I prepared myself to be ready to let go, for her sake, if it was time for her to go, but I’m so glad for each day she’s still with us and I cherish the connections.
  51. I secretly hope she’ll live long enough to meet the man I’m going to spend my life with. But if not she’s committed that one of her first tasks as an angel will be to nudge along that process.
  52. When we all gathered around her last summer it felt so right. Honoring this woman who has given so much.11753287_10153105278363823_7253375031402606448_n
  53. It’s strange not to be all together for her 90th birthday, but it’s also a reminder of how we all want to love her and appreciate her everyday.
  54. When I was 8 or so Grandma was visiting and somehow the idea of an Autograph Album came up. Oh, it was straight out of Laura Ingles Wilder I do believe. Grandma totally got into it with me and we made a special Autograph Album which I proceeded to carry with me for a number of years after that, getting autographs from baseball players, famous ballet dancers, family, friends, musicians and even a special drawing autograph from the children’s author Peter Spier’s.
  55. Grandma wrote: “December 1990 I like talking with you and finding out what is going on in your life. You are very dear and special! Lots of love, Grandma G.”
  56. Grandma saw me, and sees me.
  57. Grandma saw each of us grandchildren as individuals with our own lives and interests and stories.11709456_10153102994559094_5788501064396681270_n
  58. For years she and Grandpa, and then after Grandpa died with other helpers, she worked on editing the New Century Edition of the theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg.
  59. She was one of the most well read Swedenborgians I know, a lifetime of study and devotion.
  60. Grandma never seemed afraid of the future and progress, always putting it in the context of history with a hopeful look to the future.
  61. Knit sweaters gave way to fleece pullovers.
  62. Watching the frustration and patience as she has become less able to use her hands and feet in recent years.
  63. Always inquisitive.
  64. Continually learning.
  65. Always.
  66. Committed to her religious tradition, while living and moving and being expansively outside it for much of her life.
  67. People still tell me how she was one of their favorite elementary school teachers.
  68. Years and years of scrabble.
  69. We can talk for hours.
  70. When we visited on Beaver Island when I was six and Louis was two there was a giant torrential rainstorm, novel for us Pacific North West kids who were used to constant drizzle. We were freed to go run outside, dig streams in the driveway and get completely and joyfully soaked.
  71. Wherever she lived, even when it was just winters on Guemes Island, Grandma always made it home.
  72. She always had cool photo calendars.
  73. The Coo-coo Clock! We can’t forget the Coo-coo clock!
  74. She was/is very careful with money and somehow makes it last.
  75. When I was in my second year at Bryn Athyn College she visited and it was amazing to see the town through her eyes.
  76. She showed me the house she grew up in, with one set of grandparents next door and the other behind and kitty-corner.
  77. She described the building that was now student housing where I was living as the stable and carriage house for the large estate that was still active when she was a child.
  78. We went to lunch with her old friend Miss Mary Lou and I realized Grandma had been young too once.WoofFamilyScanned0760
  79. When I talked to her this morning for her birthday, she said, “It wasn’t my aspiration to be 90, but here we are.”
  80. We talked about all sorts of things, including tips on the lemon meringue pie I plan to make this afternoon. “I don’t know that I’ve ever made one, but I know they talk about how it’s important to spread the meringue all the way to the edge” she helpfully shared.
  81. I shared the real things going on in my life and she was as present and interested and hopeful and engaged as I am.
  82. She gave me her regular reminder that I “can’t do everything, for everyone, all the time” and reiterated her Lenten challenge for me, “to rest.”
  83. When I asked her what she’s learned in her 90 years she said, “I’m still learning. I’ve learned a lot of stuff, but I’m looking forward to learning more.”
  84. She went on to share her wisdom about how life has seasons or stages, “not always exactly what you want them to be, but they are there for good reasons.”
  85. She then gave her wisdom on life: “Learn patience, and not to try to do the whole world yourself, and try not to hurt people.
  86. Give expressions of love and tell people how grateful you are for them.
  87. And step back, it’s all in the Lord’s hands.”
  88. Grandma, we are the luckiest to have you in our lives. Thank you for all 90 of your years and being a role model, an inspiration, a constant support, a cheerleader, a wise sage, a friend and my grandma.
  89. I love you.
  90. Happy 90th Birthday!
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Ordination Service Video

Ordination of Anna Woofenden and Elizabeth Blair

The 190th session of the General Convention of the New Jerusalem–The Swedenborgian Church of North America
Webster University, St. Louis, MO
July 4, 2014

God Loves Us and Wants Us to Be Happy

This morning as I lay in bed, still in that deep quiet from a good night’s sleep, I got a message. It’s a message that I’ve certainly heard before, spoken myself many times, and even believed it applies to me on occasion. This morning I felt it. I felt it into the core of my being and for a good few minuets I basked in the reality of it. God loves me and wants me to be happy.

Earlier this week I was on the phone with a friend and colleague and we were talking about this very thing. We were batting around our dreams and struggles, recognizing where we’re getting caught and naming the reality of acting out of a desire for approval and being “good enough” in others eyes. His voice choked up as he spoke, “The Lord loves us. Each one of us. He loves you, just as you are, Anna Woofenden, just because He loves you and He IS LOVE.” My well programmed tapes began to play, “yes, but only if I work enough, am kind enough, do enough spiritual growth, be like…” My friend continued, “The Lord loves you and wants you to be happy.”

Why is it so hard to really believe that? I come from a tradition that has beautiful teaching and theology on God being a loving God. How many times have I examined and looked at how one’s theology of God has profound impact on how we view ourselves and the world around us? Just the other day I posted this quote from my faith tradition to Twitter, “First of all it must be known who the God of heaven is, since upon that all the other things depend” (Emanuel Swedenborg). And I really believe this.

I believe it just as much as I believe that my dear friend that was having a “major failure” evening last week is so very and completely lovable. But as many different ways as I could chat, call, text and email my expressions of love and my absolute surety that the Lord adores her just the way she is, at the end of the day it’s between each of us and our God to work these things out.

This certainly isn’t the first time I’m going through the Divine wrestling match about my self-worth, abilities and worthiness to be loved. And I know it won’t be the last. I’m coming to know this as part of the journey, a journey that is spiraling generally forward (I pray!), sometimes sliding back, and often revisiting areas with extra muck in the corners or places that are stuck. No, I don’t think I’m over questioning whether I’m worthy, good-enough or love-able. But for three minutes this morning I really knew, experienced and basked in the Truth that God loves me and wants me to be happy. Thanks God. You’re a good One.

Definition

I’ve been asked to define myself, a number of times today. Who are you? What’s your story? Where are you from? What is your faith heritage? What will you do with your one wild and precious life? (Thank you Mary Oliver).

I’m sitting in DuPont Circle. Humanity everywhere. (Humidity everywhere). People, literally, circling around me. Each person with a story. How would they define themselves? By profession? Race? Gender? Family Role? Citizenship or hobby? Do we find our definitions by who we are or who we are not? Does it even cross my mind to define myself as a white American when they surround me? I bet it’s different for the woman of Iranian heritage, striving to raise her children as American citizens, still connected to their Iranian roots.

Who am I? I long to distill it simply, to land on something pithy like, “I am a child of God.” As the words mentally leave my lips, I see them colliding into an expanse of landmines. Who’s God? Which God? Is your God better than my God? Does your being a child of your God change how you’re going to relate to be? And so on. And aren’t we all God’s children? But which God?

This afternoon as nine of us, eight Beatitudes Society Fellows and a mentor, sat together for our first session, the following question was posed: What is your response to the term “progressive Christianity”? We wrestled; wanting to connect with some of it, distance ourselves from other parts. What to claim, what to reject? Wanting to be new and innovative and different, and yet, still drawn to the connection to our heritages, our history.

We played with naming progressive Christianity as a term in response to, and in opposition of, extremist, fundamentalist, conservative Christianity. A definition to tell what one isn’t, not necessary what one is.  One spoke a self-definition of being one who works to live the gospel and follow Jesus. Still riddled with baggage and potential assumptions, those words, but the humble, sincere tone in which they were spoken preached to me.

What if “a follower of Jesus Christ” meant being someone who is kind and loving, respectful and selfless? What if being a Christian, (let alone a “progressive” one) brought the assumptions of ultimate respect and honoring of each person on their paths of life and a movement of good and love in the world? What if when I said, “a child of God” I could look into the eyes of the one I’m speaking with and mutually connect knowing that we’re humbly standing in front of another human expression of the Divine love?
Quick! Define yourself.  Me? I say: “Namaste”*.

*In Sikh scripture Namaste, Namastung or Namastvung is referenced as salutation to the Primal being, the One God.The salutation is followed by an attribute respecting a quality of the creator of all religions, Akal. “The spirit in me respects the spirit in you,” “the divinity in me bows to the divinity in you,” and others, are relatively modern interpretations, based on literal translations of the Sanskrit root of namaste.

For You Have Little Strength

“’For you have little strength.’ This symbolically means, because they know they have no power of themselves. People who are governed by truths springing from goodness derived from the Lord know that of themselves they do not have any power against evils and falsities, thus against hell. Moreover, they also know that they cannot from any power of their own do good or introduce themselves into heaven, but that all power is the Lord’s. (Apocalypse Revealed 178, Emmanuel Swendenborg)

I read this reading today for my work in Apocalypse Revealed and it jumped out at me as the text to base my weekly task on. I resonate with the statement “For you have little strength”.  My first reaction to that statement is: “Yes, that feels true in this moment”. I feel the ups and downs of transition. I’m navigating the elation of classes and new adventures, new people, in amongst the vulnerability of being in a brand new place, without anyone I know, stepping out with trust and faith in so many areas. The task I want to hold in awareness this week is to use the line, “For you have little strength” as a mantra. Reminding myself that no wonder I’m tired, grumpy, frustrated, happy, joyful, in transition, etc. I’m human. All power is the Lord’s. To take a deep breath and be wherever I am at the moment.

Embracing the Questions | Learning from One Another

This evening I participated in a webinar (online audio/video/visual presentation) by Peter Rollins (http://peterrollins.net/blog/) on a practice that he calls the Evangelism Project.  The purpose of the Evangelism Project is to visit different faith communities in order to BE evangelized. The basic idea is to gather a group of people together who are interested in truly learning about and experiencing people and faiths that are different from what they are used to and comfortable with. To purposefully enter into situations where people hold other faiths, other views and other ideas then we have held. The experience is about listening and observing. Not about defending or explaining one’s faith.

I’m intrigued and inspired by the conversation and find myself energized by the thoughts. Peter talked a lot about the process of doubt and humility and the willingness to let go of being right and to be open to being changed. This is a theme that I want to take into my seminary time. And a theme that I feel God has been working in me over the past 8 months particularly.

As I have allowed myself to question more, to doubt, to wonder, I am finding my spiritual path and awareness of the Lord growing and strengthening and unfolding. I am finding that as I embrace the questioning, I am simultaneously feeling more sure of and present with the Lord and with God’s presence in the Word. I am finding myself willing to open up to the Word being full of paradox AND being God with us. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God… (John 1:1). I am growing to see the Word less as a rulebook, and more of a Divine Narrative of how the human race and the Creator interface.  And for me, it’s coming alive with a growing Vibrancy and Life.

I find myself fearful at times, particularly as I put voice to pieces of my process. I wonder if exploring the paradox might break down the careful construct that I have built for exactly how I should build my life—and then what? And then the Still Small Voice comes… It’s in those moments where I let the Lord take over and surrender to all He’s revealing and creating in this present moment that I get a glimpse. A glimpse of I’m not even sure what. But it seems to be good.

This evening’s discussion was good. I’m intrigued to see what ideas and experiences the Lord will bring tomorrow.