“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.

A Meal That Tasted of Freedom

April 13th 2017 Maundy Thursday
The Garden Church
Rev. Anna Woofenden

Listen to the audio

“On the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus gathered with his faltering friends for a meal that tasted of freedom.” These words from a communion liturgy have been haunting me.

A meal that tasted of freedom. Faltering friends gathered, for a meal that tasted of freedom. This evening we gather to remember the Last Supper, that Passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples before he was crucified the next day. This evening we gather to mark the next movement in the unfolding story of Holy Week, to touch the dust, the feet, to break the bread, and pour the water, to take the towel and bend down and wash each other’s feet.

When we were last together, we gathered with Jesus on Palm Sunday, this triumphal entry, as the people who were struggling and oppressed flooded to the streets crying out “Hosanna! Lord save us!” We walked these steps, praying and longing for the coming of justice and compassion, seeking the peace of the city, calling for people to be fed, and for mourning to be turned into joy. We held our palm branches high and claimed the promises of a kingdom that is beyond the brokenness of this world, while directly embedded in it. And as the people in Jerusalem longed for Jesus to come and save and change it all, we cried out for a king to save us, while knowing that the story has a twist coming.

I wonder by the time the disciples got to this Thursday Passover if they might have started getting wind of the plot twist. That this king, this savior, would not be rescuing them in the way they had thought and that the freedom he was offering was something beyond the economic bondage of empire they were stuck in. As they sat down to share the Passover Meal together, gathered in that upper room, I wonder if that longing for freedom was still lingering in the room as they celebrated the Passover that their ancestors had been cerebrating since the exodus so many generations ago, and that they desired now.

And here, again, Jesus doesn’t give them what they are looking for in the way they were looking for it. Instead, he tells them that the bread is his body, the cup his blood, and that if they really love each other, to wash each other’s feet.

And here’s the thing that slays me: As he shared these poignant moments and gave these acts of love, not only did he know he was going to be crucified, he knew that some of them would betray him. He knew that people were still fallible, fickle, human people, and even while knowing that, he loved them. And shared a meal with them. And washed their feet. He knew that he wasn’t going to change everything about their economics or the systems that oppressed them. And yet he knew that the freedom he offered—the resurrection, the love, the new life he pointed to—was beyond that, and right there in it.

He knew that right there in the bread, the wine, the dirty feet and the warm water, there is a freedom beyond their comprehension. Freedom that doesn’t come from dropping bombs or inciting violence, a freedom that isn’t won by building walls or removing “those people” from our community. No, it is the freedom to share a meal, and love and forgive and wash the feet of the very people that may betray you. The freedom to not be afraid. A freedom that comes in the messy, in the confusion, and even to the very death. A freedom in which we participate fully in the revolutionary acts of love and forgiveness. Jesus shows us, gives us, and invites us to participate in this freedom with him, and with each other.

“On the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus gathered with his faltering friends for a meal that tasted of freedom.” May it be.

#GivingTuesday at the Garden Church

We are committed to feeding people…in mind, body, and spirit. 

On this #GivingTuesday, will you join us in making a difference in the world as we re-imagine church and engage in innovative ways to bring more heaven, here on earth?

Online fundraising for Seed Money for The Garden Church

Dear Garden Church friends and family!

Part of re-imagining church is re-imagining our funding sources and methods. The way the world works is changing, and the funding for new expressions of church aren’t primarily coming from our institutions any more.

Instead, we have the opportunity to build a community of support made up of individuals who share our passion. We believe there are people all over who want to be part of doing something to make the world a better place—perhaps including you!

We need to raise $2,000 a month for the next year from our Cultivation Team. That’s 200 people giving $10 a month, or 100 giving $20, or 50 people giving $40—you get the idea. Give what amount is right for you, monthly for the next year, and be an essential part of the team that is re-imagining church and bringing more heaven here on earth. (If you’re wondering why the bar graph says more, that’s because razzo counts one-time and monthly gifts as the same. We are recieving and appreciating both! And our overarching goal is $2,000 in monthly pledges).

We are so incredibly grateful for the stories and pledges that have been rolling in from across the world over the past few weeks as people are joining the team.

Today is the last day of our three-week crowd-funding goal. Will you join with others from across the globe to ensure the Garden Church has the support it needs to grow and thrive serve in this start-up season?

With deep gratitude and joy for all that is and for all that is to come,
Anna and the Garden Church team

“With every tree, there’s this incredible network of beauty. There are the limbs, the branches. And we see all of this springing up from the ground. Also, underneath the ground, there is an equally intricate network of roots, of support.  This system that keeps the tree upheld…I decided that I want to be a part of it. I want to be a part of growing something new, growing something beautiful. ”  -Carol Howard Merritt, Author 

Watch Carol share more: 

Join us in this work today! 

Why Amy Supports the Garden Church

Give and share! http://givingtuesday.razoo.com/story/The-Garden-Church-Fund

“I’m invested in the Garden Church because, the church is changing. I love the church and the future of it matters. And so when people have conversations with me and say, ‘the church is dying’ I can tell them, ‘let me tell you about the Garden Church.  –Rev. Amy Gall Ritchie



Crowd-funding for the Garden Church is live!

Give and share today! http://givingtuesday.razoo.com/story/The-Garden-Church-Fund

The Garden Church is re-imagining church as we work together, worship together, and eat together.

We’re so excited about the Garden Church, which is being planted in San Pedro, California! And we want you—wherever you live—to be part of it!

We are re-imagining what it means to be church, gathering a group of people together to create a church that is a communal garden, and a communal garden that is church.

Part of re-imagining church is re-imagining our funding sources and methods. The way the world works is changing, and the funding for new expressions of church aren’t primarily coming from our institutions any more.

Instead, we have the opportunity to build a community of support made up of individuals who share our passion. We believe there are people all over who want to be part of doing something to make the world a better place—perhaps including you!

We need to raise $2,000 a month for the next year from our Cultivation Team. That’s 200 people giving $10 a month, or 100 giving $20, or 50 people giving $40—you get the idea. Give what amount is right for you, monthly for the next year, and be an essential part of the team that is re-imagining church and bringing more heaven here on earth.

Be part of our Cultivation Team by praying, pledging, and participating in being church together.

Pray—hold good intentions and energy for the work and being of the Garden Church in whatever way is true to you.

Pledge—to give regularly (monthly is incredibly helpful for our budgeting, but of course we welcome any way that you feel moved to give) during our startup season until we establish local financial abundance.

ParticipateStay connected and participate from afar through engaging in work, worship, and eating in the spirit of the Garden Church in whatever way you are inspired.

Pray—Our community will pray regularly for you.

PledgeWe pledge to share in the experience through monthly newsletters, audio and video sharing of sermons and worship, regular social media posts, and stories of how the Garden Church is growing.

ParticipateWe’ll share stories, ideas, liturgy, lessons learned, inspirations, and whatever else we encounter as we grow. And you are always welcome to come join us in San Pedro and spend some time working, worshiping, and eating together with this community. Because you’re part of the Cultivation Team and there’s a place for you at the Table.

Our goal is to gather this collection of generous pledges by #GivingTuesday (you’ve heard of BlackFriday, CyberMonday, we believe in #GivingTuesday), December 2, 2014. Pledge, celebrate, and spread the invitation!

Give and share today! http://givingtuesday.razoo.com/story/The-Garden-Church-Fund

~Be sure to check the “monthly” reoccurring donation option at check out~

~Your gift to the Garden Church Startup fund is tax deductible through our denominational body, the Pacific Coast Association of the Swedenborgian Church~

A Sermon for the Garden Church

A sermon about Word, the Bible, and how as we want to consciously choose to engage it as a life-giving, rich, deep, wide text that points to loving God and loving our neighbor as we form a community and re-imagine church.

Audio complete with train whistles and the sound of the wind!



Rev. Anna Woofenden
The Garden Church
San Pedro, CA

Prayer for the Church and the Compost Heap

2013-08-24 23.07.00
O Holy One,
Who stirs over the face of the waters,
Who created at the beginning, the garden,
Who gives us this vision of a heavenly city,
With a garden in the middle of it. 

May we, each individually and collectively,
be present,
with the journey of compost. 

May we be present with the decomposition,
to grieve,
to celebrate,
to let go. 

May we be courageous and active to being fertilizer for the next generations.
May we be purposeful and bold,
making choices not out of survival or comfort,
but from our love for all that is good and true.

And may we be curious, engaged, and on the lookout for new growth.
May we be delightfully surprised, and touched to the core of our heart,
When we see how you, O Holy One, are birthing Your New Church. 

We see a garden ahead of us,
The garden of the New Jerusalem,
with the river that flows through the city,
giving truth and quenching thirst,
to all who seek it.

The trees with leaves that heal the nations.
We see twelve gates,
welcoming all to enter and
come and take the water of life freely.

This garden,
where there is no temple,
where God is the center of the city.
And in this garden,
I do believe,
there probably is a
Compost Heap.
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Read The Compost Heap and the Church

The Compost Heap and the Church: New Life (Part Five)

Presented at Gathering Leaves 
September 14th 2013, Fryeburg Maine

2013-08-24 22.34.13New Life
Decomposition and fertilization lead us to the third message of the compost heap: new life. If we learn anything from what the Lord shows us in nature, in the Word, in our own lives, it’s that things work in cycles, and there is new life. We see God is a God of resurrection, cycles, rebirth, and new life.

Friends and sisters, something is trying to be born. The Divine Parent, the Divine Womb, is rich. Use whatever words resonate with you—a new era, a new consciousness, the New Jerusalem descending to earth—something is active and present and urging to be born. The signs of the giant rummage sale are the contractions. Something is pressing to be born, and we don’t know what it is or how it will come. But we can be called to be midwives to it. New shoots and plants are pressing their way through the dirt and make their way into the light. We can notice and we can be present to the hope and the pain, the mess and the beauty, and then we can celebrate the new life.

2013-08-24 21.27.53Look for the Pumpkins
I believe by staying present to the contractions and expansions, being a non-anxious presence in times of change, and keeping our eyes out and celebrating the new birth when we see is a call for all of us. We can actively be on the look out for where the church is being reimagined and born in the world?

We might be tempted to say, “That doesn’t look like church to me. I don’t even recognize that as church. That’s not what I’m used to church looking like.” It’s easy to miss or dismiss these new expressions of life. Maybe because we’re so focused on a nice neat row of lettuce, because that is what we’ve always done—plant lettuce. But, look up and there’s a pumpkin growing out of the compost heap!

Where are these new expressions of church happening in our churches, our congregations, our world? How can recognize and re-imagine what it means to be church?

Because here’s the thing to remember about the compost heap—what comes out of the compost heap is rarely the plant we expect. You can take the fertilizer and spread it around your nice rows of lettuce, and it can help. We continue to maintain the things that are working in our churches and that serve the world.  But when we open our eyes for the new signs of life that are being born as church is re-imagined we see new life. These are the gifts of the compost heap. Not the things that we planted in straight rows, but it’s that pumpkin! And it’s the biggest pumpkin in your entire garden, because it emerged from the fertilizer that came before, and grew in its freedom, and creative new life on the back corner by the shed.

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Re-imagining Church
Last Friday I was at my internship, at Saint Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. I go on Sundays for worship and it’s beautiful and creative, then on Friday’s I go to be part of the worship that is the Food Pantry, because on Fridays there’s a different congregation there. There’s a different way that church is done.

By noon a long line of people are standing outside the doors of a steep San Francisco street. They walk in the front doors of the sanctuary, and around the communion table, where they find piles of rice, fresh celery, bread, watermelons, and strawberries. Four hundred families, who are hungry, come in and they take communion. And people are worshiping. And passing around piles of carrots. And loaves of bread. And looking each other in the eyes and seeing the face of God.

This is church. To be able to love each person who walks in the door. Many of them I can barely communicate with, because I have yet to learn Mandarin, Chinese, Russian, and only know a little Spanish. But I can greet everyone with a smile and say, “Welcome, I’m glad you’re here” and when they walk out the door, “Have a good day, see you next week.” The Food Pantry one of those pumpkins from the compost heap, it is church.

God is on the Move
I don’t know what the church looks like in this next season.  My suspicion is that it is going to look many, many different ways. It is going to be creative and the variety is going to be wide. I don’t know what the models are going to be, but what I do know is that it’s not going to look how it looked for my great-grandparents or my grandparents, or even my parents, or even how I thought it would look. Something is moving and shifting in the world. The church is changing.

I believe God is on the move. God is hovering over the face of the waters, continuing to create and move and breathe into all that is. And this is not our creation. This is God’s creation that we are privileged to participate in.

2013-08-24 21.27.39I don’t believe this new life is born of strategic plans, or any one of our specific ideas of what our denomination’s next steps are, though these can be helpful at times in our processes of preparation. I believe this new life is of, from, and will be birthed by the Holy One. We are called to be midwives and hospice chaplains and gardeners.

We are called to be that non-anxious presence in the midst of decomposition to celebrate lives well lived and grieve change and loss.

We are called to honor our ancestors, to notice and name the way their lives and work fertilized all we are today. We are called to be fertilizer, to consciously make choices and changes based on what is pressing to be born.

And we are called to witness new life. Not new life that we quickly fabricate within our desire to survive. But new life that comes from God—and grows out of what has been. New life that arises after we’ve been broken down, our dreams have died, we’ve let go, we’ve released our holds, we’ve sat—quiet and still—through the cold of winter awaiting the new life of spring.

2013-08-24 21.37.34


You can find this entire article published in the recent edition of The Messenger.  

The Compost Heap and the Church: Decomposition (Part Three)

Presented at Gathering Leaves 
September 14th 2013, Fryeburg Maine

2013-08-24 23.07.00Decomposition

It seems in general that we’re more comfortable with changing seasons than we are with change in our own individual lives. We are more comfortable with the leaves dying while displaying their vibrant tones than we are with facing our own mortality, or the mortality of those we love. And then when we move from our own mortality, or the mortality of those we love, to the death of our churches, it brings up another collection of responses. The idea that our churches may be dying stirs up emotions and reactions for all of us, and I believe it’s important to recognize and name that.

I’ve spent much of my career in outreach and evangelization, and I was often the person who would come into a congregation or denominational setting and say, “There’s hope! Try this, try that!” And I do believe there is a place for that. There are positive things that are happening and there are good places to put our attention. I have come to believe that in order to be healthy organisms, we also need to be able to see and name the places that are dying and where things need to end. It gets confusing when the cycles of life and death are going on in our churches and our denominations at the same time. Within a community, it’s not always clear what part of the life of the church is on hospice and what is coming to life.

2013-08-24 23.03.16

Church Hospice
Being aware of what is going on in our churches and having the courage to name it is a call to all of us. When a hospice chaplain walks into a room with a family, often the job to be done is to name the thing that no one is going to say, which usually is, “Your loved one is dying.” This is a hard and painful job, but I find that often this honesty is the greatest gift you can give. To name what everyone in the room is thinking and feeling—and not saying.

And so I invite us—collectively—to be hospice chaplains for each other, and to acknowledge and say, “There are things in our church that are dying.” Aspects of our churches are changing—whether it be it a congregation, a way of doing things, or an idea we’ve held onto. We are called to acknowledge that some of our congregations have died or are going to die in this season, in this giant rummage sale that we are going through. We can be honest by acknowledging that this movement and change is held within the Divine cycle of life.

I believe that one of our callings in this time of change is to be hospice chaplains. A good hospice chaplain is present with the cycle of death, not rushing it and not prolonging it.  Sometimes the loving thing to do is to come in and say, “Let’s celebrate and then let go.” To be able to say together, “ You know what, we’ve always done our worship service this way, and we know it’s time to change.” It doesn’t need to be an abrupt cutting it off, and it also doesn’t need to be drawn out on life-support. We could say, “For 100 years we have said that same litany, with those same words. Let’s celebrate that… and then let it go and see what is waiting to be created anew.” This gets harder when it’s our congregations and our buildings—these places and communities we love. I know some of you have been through this, where you’ve had to let go and say goodbye. Let’s be good hospice chaplains together. Let’s celebrate, let’s look at the legacy, let’s claim the memorial, and then let it die.

I believe we need to be open to the possibility that our denominations hold this process of death as well. I do not know what next season is going to look like. I’m not predicting whether our denominations are going to disappear or not. But what I do know is that something is changing in them, and that there are ways of being, systems, concepts, and cultures, within all our denominations that need to die. How can we be present to that? How can we differentiate between the new growth that is alive and from the Lord and the things that we’re clinging onto, trying to survive?

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How can we accept that death is part of the cycle, and remember that death is not a failure? When our elders die, do we criticize them on their deathbed, telling them how they should have lived longer? No, we celebrate their lives, and then lay their bodies in the ground to decompose and go back to be part of the dust from which we all come. Could we not treat our churches, our worship services, or dwindling programs with such dignity and respect? Could we celebrate the years of legacy, the people, the pastors, the buildings, the events, the marriages, the deaths, the service to the community, the heritage of worship? Grieve the loss of something we love, celebrate life well lived, and accept that our churches have a life cycle. Death is not a failure. Death is a part of life.

2013-08-24 23.06.31To be continued… or if you can’t wait and want to read the whole piece right now, you can find it published in the recent edition of The Messenger.