Bryn Athyn College Alumni Magazine Fall/Winter 2017-18 - Page 29

running header ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT ing, belonging, and some greater force of love in the universe. We can see things in the world that need to change, and we want to make a difference, but it’s hard to do on our own.” It was clear to Anna that al- though some old church structures were dying, new forms of church were ready to be born. Holding this awareness, Anna worked for seven years as outreach director at the New Church of Boul- der Valley, and then for a year in outreach in Bryn Athyn; all the while, “God kept drawing me toward this vision of re-imagining church.” As the years passed, Anna began to sketch out concrete plans for the kind of church she dreamt of: one that embraced and celebrated the universal human desires for food, God, and community. The church would be set in an urban garden, promote good in the community, and serve food as part of worship. It would welcome any person who felt hun- gry, either physically or spiritually. Having an open- air church felt especially welcoming, with no doors to close off. Taking the Leap In 2014, soon after graduating with her Master of Di- vinity from Earlham School of Religion and becoming ordained as a minister in the Swedenborgian Church of North America, Anna packed up her belongings and moved to a mixed socio-economic area in San Pedro, California. Although she had begun searching for a good plot of land to start her church, she didn’t let the lack of space stop her. After all, a local park could become a “church” with the right intention. So, she set a date and spread the word: On September 28, 2014, she would host the first service in a local park. This took guts. As Anna said, “I was newly ordained, terrified to go out into a pub- lic park, in my clerical collar, and lead worship.” In the days leading up to the service, Anna kept her eye on a local park; yes, it still had plenty of litter. When Sunday arrived, Anna greeted the church’s first worshipers with trash bags, gloves, and the words, “Welcome to the Garden Church!” She fondly remembers the view of her tiny new “congregation” scattered around the park and watching them gradually cluster together to work as a team. After the clean-up, the group found a shady spot under a tree, spread blankets, and sat down. Some of the children helped Anna unpack the “tabernacle,” church in a basket: the Word, a candle, a “singing bowl,” and some other symbols of worship—a tradi- tion that the Garden Church continues today. After the service, the small group laid out a picnic and ate together. During the meal, one participant said, “I’ve been looking for a place to belong. I didn’t realize this would happen, but I feel like I belong here.” That affirmation gave Anna encouragement that even though there were so many unknowns, this budding church was on the right track. As with many first experiences, some of the practical obstacles became apparent. For example, with traffic and airplane noises, little children, and a very public setting, Anna quickly realized that her prepared sermon would be too much. On the fly, she whittled her message down to the essentials and then opened it for discussion. Keeping the sermons con- cise and interactive would also continue to be a key practice in the coming years, even as her church grew to become a solid, beloved fixture in the San Pedro community. B RY N AT H Y N A LU M N I M AG A Z I N E | 29