Bryn Athyn College Alumni Magazine Fall/Winter 2017-18 - Page 31

running header From the Garden Church website: One Man’s Story Rooted in the Christian tradition and Swedenborgian theology, the Garden Church provides a living experience of encountering the Divine in community, scripture, nature, and the life of useful service, and bringing the church together on multiple levels. Through worshiping, working and learning together, feeding the hungry, and addressing the needs of the local community, this church is living sanctuary for all who seek a place to grow, to love and be loved, and to belong. Creating a place of spiritual community where God’s love is made visible as people are fed in body, mind, and spirit. When you make a sacred space for people to gather, touching experiences are bound to hap- pen. Anna told a story about one young man, Steve, who has been coming for about six months, living on and off with his parents and in the street. Steve once had a beautiful gar- den in New Mexico, but lost it when his grandmother died. Since then, he has strug- gled with substance abuse and is currently without work. But, Anna explained, “Steve has gardening expertise and has become integral in our com- munity. We know him to be a kind and caring person.” Anna explained that being seen in this way has helped Steve interact in more helpful ways with his own mother and has even helped him regain partial custody of his young son. “We had heard about Steve’s son and prayed a lot for him. Yesterday, as worship was starting, Steve walked in with his son. We were all so happy to meet his little boy, and we felt in awe seeing him as such a kind and gentle parent. He was so happy to have his son there. Steve has found a place where he knows people care about him and believe in him, and that encourages him to continue being that kind of per- son in the world.” While there are many profound moments, Anna acknowledges the challenges. She said, “It’s not like it’s all resolved; it’s not a happily-ever-after story. It’s the ongoing work of continuing to show up and be there for each other. In the moment, we do the best we can to make sure that everyone who walks through the gate is greeted in love.” Future Plans Like all organic things, the Garden Church is chang- ing and is now going through a major transition. Af- ter many months of prayer, Anna and her husband David Howlett have decided to reside together in upstate New York, leaving the Garden Church in the hands of three talented and devoted pastors who’ve been part of the community and are eager to keep it going. Anna said, “I have been so moved. When you go into something like this you don’t know if it will con- tinue. That’s the reality. As much as I can, I’ve tried to stay focused on what’s happening right now and trusting that it’s good, whether it stays in this form or not. It’s not without bumps, but overall I am amazed at how everyone’s on board and that there are people who get the vision and want to keep doing this and will take it forward in new ways.” She added, “These new pastors are incredible people. I’m excited to see how the church will grow and change. I tell the con- gregation not to get stuck on what I always did. We’ve established the core, so now things can shift. I feel really honored to have had the opportunity to have been part of this incredible community.” The Million-Dollar Question Will Anna start a new Garden Church when she moves? Anna laughed and said, “I probably can’t help but plant churches.” First, though, she will be focus- ing on teaching and supporting seminary students who want to do similar work, providing consulting for new ministry initiatives, and writing a book about the Garden Church. And most likely, she will find time on her own to put her hands in the dirt, do a lit- tle gardening, pray, and dream of future possibilities. For more information, or to find out how you can get involved, visit or contact B RY N AT H Y N A LU M N I M AG A Z I N E | 31