Church Gardens List Now Live!

Several readers advised me of church gardens I’d missed in last week’s column. Thanks to my sharp-eyed readers!  Those gardens missed are:

Trinity Lutheran Church – Palmer
First Christian Church (DOC) – Anchorage
Immanuel Presbyterian Church – Anchorage
Trinity Presbyterian Church – Anchorage
River of Life Lutheran Church – Chugiak

I’ve added a menu item on my website showing all church gardens I’m aware of, along with the names of identified coordinators. Take a peek. http://www.churchvisits.com/church-gardens/

Please help me keep this list up-to-date with corrections or additions.
Chris
churchvisits@gmail.com

Church Gardens: Why aren’t more doing them?

 

Lutheran Church of Hope – Hope Garden – 2016                                                  (Don Bladow pictured in garden)

In 2015, at the suggestion of a St. John United Methodist member, I wrote my first column on church gardens. I followed that column up with several others about the fantastic strides some local churches have been making in planting those gardens. (see http://www.churchvisits.com/?s=church+gardens to read those columns).

However, considering that Anchorage has around 400 churches, it’s disturbing to see so few churches devoting space and emphasis to this practical ministry with many spiritual implications. Fewer, if any, of those gardens involve individuals in the community who are given the produce grown in those gardens. Is it possible that a sense of entitlement has grown up among recipients of all of this fresh produce, overriding any real interest in learning how food is grown, where it comes from, and the significant amount of labor to make it happen? Or, are churches struggling with the concept of involving needy recipients in the process of food production?

It’s already planting season, and planning for those gardens should have occurred months ago. While never too late, concerted effort could still be made to make them happen yet this year. If one looks at the average physical church property, many have adequate space surrounding them to make it happen. Just look at the average church property you drive by regularly.

Several churches are making a difference in the community by dedicating the space, putting in the requisite planting beds, and fencing them for protection. One of my favorite church gardens, and largest to my knowledge, is Lutheran Church of Hope on W. Northern Lights. They started last year with around 4,000 sq ft, and have doubled their space to over 9,000 sq ft. Their bountiful harvest goes to Lutheran Social Services of Alaska (LSSA) for distribution through their food pantry.

Master gardener Don Bladow shares that The garden is not free of snow yet so is looks like we won’t be planting ’til the more traditional time near Memorial Day. We did expand it last fall to about 9,000 sq. ft. It’s all fenced. We got that done in October. I have been planting starts and have plans for a couple of new experiments this year. Will try to grow a number of other species of peppers and cucumbers. The cukes will be outside under a lean to type greenhouse that will be open on the ends. Will also plant beans and turnips this year as well as most of the stuff we planted last year.”

Hope Garden (potatoes from one plant)

Don maintains a blog on the garden and expects to start posting to it several times monthly as early as June. His excellent blog is located at http://harvestofhopememorialgarden.blogspot.com/.

Hope Garden (one Friday’s harvest)

Anchorage Lutheran has also taken the plunge into church gardening with 17 – 4×8’ raised beds. They’ll be fencing the garden shortly, a necessity, as church gardens make excellent browsing and forage sources for rabbits and moose. I talked with Lisa Wilkinson, co-coordinator of their garden, who, with member Dick Mikkelsen has been a strong champion. They’re planting potatoes, cabbage, carrots, primarily, along with a mixture of other things. They’ll be donating their product to LSSA and Beans’ Café according to member/gardener wishes. They’ll be planting in compost, and are setting up a composter on site to further this practice. Lisa shares their goal is “to teach and donate”.  That’s the first step in involving a wider community.

St. John United Methodist Church has had a “Jesus Garden” for several years. Coordinator Allison McLain has personal and practical visions for the Jesus Garden. Allison says, “My Jesus Garden vision for this year is one I have followed for as many years there have been Jesus Garden’s in my life: grow fresh vegetables for people in need of food. Growing vegetables is something that I can do to support people in need and happily there are friends at church and a husband and daughter who believe in this idea too!!! I feel called by Jesus to do this…and I wonder sometimes if Jesus called me to do this because it is something reasonably easy for me to do for people in need with a full-time job, family, church, and the other adventures in my life.”

My practical vision for this year is to expand our vegetable growing abilities by asking people in our church to be Potato Nannies – to grow potatoes at home in buckets – all the potatoes would of course be part of our St. John Jesus Food donation to Downtown Soup Kitchen. With potatoes growing elsewhere we will have more space to grow more chard and kale in the garden at St. John. My goal for this year is to grow and donate 300 pounds of food to DSK.”

“Kale and chard are two standard soup ingredients for soups on the weekly menu at Downtown Soup Kitchen (DSK), where all the Jesus Garden produce is donated. Last year we donated 260 pounds of produce (peas, red runner beans, chard, kale, parsley, basil, lovage, and potatoes.). I plan what we grow with Vicki Martin at DSK; we only grow what will be used in soups made by DSK chefs. Often what we deliver early in the week is used later that week in soup.  If our donated vegetables don’t go into soups right away DSK volunteers process them for freezing and later use.”
Other churches with gardens this year include:
Central Lutheran Church
Christ Church Episcopal Church
Joy Lutheran Church
Lutheran Social Services of Alaska
St. Anthony’s Catholic Church
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Turnagain United Methodist Church
Trinity Lutheran Church – Palmer

If I’ve omitted any church from this list, please let me know and I’ll add it to a new tab I’ll be placing on my website ChurchVisits.com.

Blessings to all churches for the coming harvest from these gardens. I’ll provide updates as I receive them. Write me at churchvisits@gmail.com to keep me updated. There is a very practical side of ministry but most local churches seem to be missing the boat in applying that lesson.

There’s Still a Place at My Table for You at the AFACT Breakfast on Tuesday–7:30 a.m.

Dear Local Anchorage Readers
As mentioned in my last post, I’m attending the AFACT Breakfast of Hope, Central Lutheran Church – 7:30 a.m. I’d love to have you join my table, get acquainted, and also hear about what AFACT is doing in our faith community.

This link provides greater detail:
http://www.churchvisits.com/2017/05/join-me-for-breakfast-in-anchorage-next-tuesday/

Please RSVP me at churchvisits@gmail.com if you can join me for this informative breakfast.

Blessings

Chris

Join Me for Breakfast in Anchorage Next Tuesday?

Dear Local “Church Visits” Reader
I’d like to invite you to join my table at AFACT’s “Breakfast of Hope”. This event is a complimentary breakfast for people to come and learn more about AFACT (Anchorage Faith & Action-Congregations Together). Yes, it is a fundraiser. There is no minimum or maximum gift requested. You are welcome to join me to learn more about the organization and the work they are doing in the city of Anchorage.  It will be the job of the organization to inspire people to want to give. As much as anything, we want people to come and find out about the great work AFACT is doing to change the lives of families in our community.

What: AFACT’s third annual “Breakfast of Hope” fundraiser

When: Tuesday, May 9, 2017
7:30am – 8:30am

Where: Central Lutheran Church
1420 Cordova St.
(15th Ave. and Cordova St.)

AFACT (Anchorage Faith & Action—Congregations Together) was created in 2003 by eight local pastors to organize, empower and mobilize local faith communities to address quality of life issues impacting the community.  Since its inception, members of local faith communities have stepped into leadership roles on a multitude of issues (examples below) and have worked with public and elected officials on all sides of the political spectrum.  AFACT’s congregation-based community organizing model is at its core, about people.  Today its membership includes sixteen diverse faith congregations across Anchorage.

Some of the issues addressed by AFACT leaders are:

  • public safety, bike and pedestrian safety
  • improving neighborhoods (streets, dumpsters, graffiti, bus stops)
  • chronic homelessness
  • substance abuse, including detox & treatment
  • health care (Medicare, Denali Kid Care, Medicaid Expansion)
  • education (specifically the quality of education for native students in ASD)
  • children’s issues (summer recreation and lunch programs, after- school care)
  • voter engagement (public candidate forums, voter registration & Get Out the Vote)
  • immigration reform

Also visit www.anchoragefact.org  for more information.  I look forward to hosting you at my table.  Please RSVP by sending me an email at churchvisits@gmail.com.  Just say YES, I’ll be there to sit with you and learn more. I’d also consider it a great honor to get to know some of my readers better.

Blessings and thank you!

Chris

Seder Celebrations are Jewish History to the Core

During Holy Week this year, I participated in Congregation Beth Sholom’s (frozenchosen.org) 2nd Night Community Seder, my third with this warm congregation. Seder is observed during the eight-days of Passover (seven if in Jerusalem). Pesach (Passover) commemorates the events of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. In the Bible, the Exodus story is found in the book of Exodus, chapters 1-15.  The Passover, proclaimed by Moses, was instituted in Egypt as the key last event preceding Pharaohs releasing the children of Israel.

Passover was intended to be observed by the Israelite’s after their deliverance. Instructions for its observance are contained in Exodus, chapters 12-15. Seder, as such, was formalized after the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70.  Before Passover is celebrated, each Jewish household is thoroughly cleaned and all forbidden items such as yeast, yeast breads, etc., are eliminated.

Pesach is one of the most commonly observed Jewish holidays, even by otherwise non-observant Jews. According to the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS), 67% of Jews routinely hold or attend a Pesach Seder, while only 46% belong to a synagogue.

Generally a written Hagaddah is used which contains the various readings and songs in proper order. It was a treat to be seated with CBS member Michael Silverbook who described some of the key during the evening. At the same time, he was hosting three deaf gentlemen, using his phone to dictate what was happening at each moment, showing it to one who communicated to the others via sign language. Michael’s wife, and former Rabbi Frederick Wenger and his wife also were at our table.  I should note that the meal was catered by Aladdin’s Restaurant who yearly does such a fine job of serving kosher and excellently prepared food with great service.  The 2nd Night Community Seder is offered to non-CBS members for a fee, which includes all food and the ceremonial wine; I paid this fee in advance.

You can read the entire text of a Reform Judaism Haggadah by clicking this link. (http://jewishfederation.org/images/uploads/holiday_images/39497.pdf)

The entire celebration lasts 3-4 hours and is a delightful time of listening, learning, and celebrating Israel’s liberation. This is a family affair with all members of the family participating. Rabbi Michael Oblath, who replaced Rabbi Wenger, led the readings and singing from the Haggadah. Each act performed is symbolic.

  1. Sanctifying the Day
    2. Handwashing
    3. Dipping Parsley in Salt Water
    4. Breaking the Middle Matzah
    5. The Seder Narrative
    —The Four Questions
    —The Four Children
    —The Ten Plagues
    —Dayenu
    —Explanation of Passover Symbols
    6. Handwashing
    7. Blessing at the Start of the Meal
    8. Blessing over Matzah
    9. Eating of Bitter Herbs
    10. Matzah and Charoset Sandwich
    11. Dinner
    12. The Afikomen Dessert Matzah
    13. Grace after the Meal
    14. Praises and Blessings
    15. Closing Section and Songs

I particularly enjoy the four questions asked of children, children’s search for the afikomen, drinking the ritual four glasses of wine, the ritual drops of wine of a plate for each of the plagues, singing of Dayenu, and the sense of community this celebration brings annually.

Some Christian churches conduct Seders in their churches which has created some degree of controversy and animosity within the Jewish community. Last month Christianity Today ran several articles dealing with the pros and cons of Christians observing Seders in their churches. I suggest both for a balanced view. Personally, I think Christians should respect the argument that having these celebrations amount to cultural appropriation. I attend to better understand Jewish tradition.
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/march-web-only/jesus-didnt-eat-seder-meal.html

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/march-web-only/rabbi-passover-is-for-christians-too.html

Several years ago, I asked a Rabbi friend what he thought about Christians doing Seder in their churches. He wryly answered, “Why don’t they do Yom Kippur?”

I’ve previously written about my local Seder experiences in these two columns:
Lubavitcher (http://www.churchvisits.com/2015/04/seder-in-anchorages-lubavitcher-community/) and Reform, (http://www.churchvisits.com/2014/05/at-seder-a-community-reflects-on-liberation-from-slavery/).

My thanks again to the wonderful community of Congregation Beth Sholom and their acceptance of me at their synagogue, allowing me to experience various festivals of their faith of which Seder is only one.

 

 

Easter 2017 is Here!

It’s time to rejoice.

Easter has finally arrived with great joy for Christendom. Many Christians have trudged their way through Lent, thinking about the last days of Jesus and reflecting upon the life lived in the light of the knowledge of our Lord and Savior.

As you read this, many Orthodox Christians will have already celebrated Pascha at the midnight hour with great rejoicing. I experienced Pascha last year through the eyes of two Orthodox congregations. It was a real blessing to participate in their joy as the resurrection of Jesus was loudly proclaimed.  My ADN column of those experiences can be seen here. (see http://www.churchvisits.com/2016/05/reflections-on-orthodox-easter/)

Different faiths have different expressions of Easter joy. I enjoy experiencing them first hand to get a better understanding on how theologically accurate they are. In many congregations, Easter bunnies, Easter eggs, and frivolities are the centerpiece instead of Jesus Christ, Him crucified, buried, and resurrected. Skeptics rejoice to see such nonsense supported by those types of churches observing that nonsense.  We live in a different world, some would say, a post-Christian world. More than ever Christians should rejoice in the purity of our message of hope.

For many of my Church Visits writing years I’ve loved repeating a fantastic Wright quote from his book “Surprised by Hope” as it inspires a true re-examination of the way we celebrate. “Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday,” Wright says, “It ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom?”

I conclude with theologian Walter Brueggemann’s Easter poem.

An Easter Prayer
…On our own, we conclude:
that there is not enough to go around
we are going to run short

of money
of love
of grades
of publications
of sex
of beer
of members
of years
of life

we should seize the day…
seize the goods…
seize our neighbor’s goods
because there is not enough to go around
and in the midst of our perceived deficit;

You come
You come giving bread in the wilderness
You come giving children at the 11th hour
You come giving homes to the exiles
You come giving futures to the shut-down
You come giving Easter joy to the dead
You come … fleshed … in Jesus

And we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing.

We watch … and we take

food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbors who sustain us
when we do not deserve it.

It dawns on us, late rather than soon, that
You give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.

By your giving,
break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance…mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.

Sink your generosity deep into our lives

that your much-ness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving, we may endlessly give,

so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder
without coercive need, but only love
without destructive greed, but only praise
without aggression and evasiveness…
all things Easter new…

all around us, toward us and by us
all things Easter new.

Finish your creation…
in wonder, love and praise. Amen.

To all my readers, Happy Easter…He is Risen!

Good Friday has Arrived

For many Christians, Lent has been a lengthy time of reflection as the season of Lent annually provides. Last Sunday, Palm Sunday, I visited Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church for their 11 a.m. contemporary service.  The service, which I’ll recount in a future article, was attended by warm greetings, beautiful music, and inspiring preaching. Although there was not palm waving, there were palms. For me, it ushered in Holy Week beautifully.

Good Friday is a solemn day for many Christians, in that it commemorates the death of Jesus. Many churches will be conducting Good Friday services, traditionally at noon, but often in the late afternoon or early evening to accommodate workers.

I’ll be attending Good Friday services at First Christian Church of Anchorage (Disciples of Christ). They’ve asked me to present my versions of two older hymns but set to new music. Their service commences at 6 p.m. if you have no church option. This is a warm and friendly church. I enjoy their fellowship.

Blessings to you as this important weekend begins.

Lent Drawing to a Close

As Lent draws to a close, I’ve had a chance to reflect on its value to the Christian life. For me it has offered a time of personal introspection, something I don’t do enough of.  Ash Wednesday’s reminder of “Remember that dust you are, and to dust you shall return,” based on Genesis 3:19, are sobering words, not easily ignored. Ongoing events in my life are constantly reminding me of my mortality. Lent provided the proper framework to let it all sink in.  Maybe the same is true for you.

I’ve been blessed, as I wrote last week, by participating in a single church’s Lenten soup suppers and talks on Wednesday evening. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church offered great soup, incredible Christian fellowship, and meaningful talks. Last night, Rector Michael Burke concluded these Lenten evenings with a history-based talk about the meaning of Holy Week and the various days observed during it.  He began with a discussion centering around a handout relating to the liturgical calendar of the church year.  The various cleansing ceremonies in the early church were then explained including full immersion baptism after one learned more about the faith for three years.  Candidates renounced their sin, fears, and the evil powers of this world, and were immersed three times. This was done once a year at the time our current Easter falls. Rector Michael mentioned he tries to do the same at St. Mary’s each year, and if possible to lead the congregation in a renewal of their baptismal vows.

Burke concluded this informative time with the Eucharist. Using the rudimentary service contained in the didache, a brief anonymous early Christian treatise dated to the first century, we shared the bread and wine around the circle, a most meaningful experience.

A pastor friend introduced me to Rev Dr Jill F Bradway, First American Baptist Church’s new pastor, explaining she introduced her congregation to Lent starting with Ash Wednesday. She describes her experience with it at her church.

“I’ve been in Anchorage for 5 weeks. I came right at the beginning of the Lenten season. It has been a new experience for the congregation. I hope more will choose to make the journey next year.

“Lent isn’t something that most Baptists observe. We wake up to the season around Holy Week, celebrating Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter! And as wonderful as that is, it misses the opportunity to enter more intentionally into the disciplines of prayer, self-reflection, and repentance.

“While a Master of Divinity student at Colgate Rochester Divinity School, I saw my Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Episcopal counterparts participating in Lenten exercises. It made ask myself the question, “What do they know that I don’t?” And so, I began to ask questions of them, to observe their special services, and finally to look at Baptist polity to see if there was anything to keep me from adopting these practices into my own life and ministry. Expanding my understanding to include the significance of Lent has added an unexpected richness to my spiritual journey.

Many more Baptists and other evangelicals are exploring Lent and its meaning in the Christian walk. I wish Rev. Bradway and her congregation well as they do their own personal exploration. This year, Ash Wednesday at St. John United Methodist Church was my Lenten beginning. Many Anchorage churches have ushered this poor soul into the meaning of Lent for which I am truly grateful.

 

Lenten Wednesday Night Soup Suppers – St Mary’s Episcopal

I’ve been enjoying St. Mary’s Episcopal’s Wednesday night soup suppers and talks. Starting at 6 p.m., they feature a simple soup supper prepared by a parishioner. At 7 p.m. Heidi Marlowe, St. Mary’s member, has been presenting an excellent series of talks on “Monastic Practices for Lay Life“.

Drawing on her personal experience as a modern day contemplative, Heidi’s presented a picture of monasticism going back to the dawn of Christianity.  She’s guided by St. Benedicts Rule, as are many monastics. Marlowe also created a short form of the Rule called “A Smaller Rule”, which she made available to all who wished a copy. An example from it reads:

“embrace life, whatever that may cost,
whatever that may mean,
and however that may appear.”

Another volume she created was a Psalter to be used for Lent, drawn from the Rule of Benedict, and the Office of Vespers for Wednesdays in Lent.  It is used for group recitation at the conclusion of her talks.

These Lenten suppers end on April 5.  I’ve enjoyed each presentation as they have evolved, starting with Heidi’s talk first Sunday of Lent.

Last Wednesday, The Rev. Kacei Conyers–Associate Rector, gave a fascinating talk about the origins and use of the Common Book of Prayer.  It certainly added to my store of knowledge of this central document used in the Episcopal Church.

Lent is a time of self-examination prior to Holy Week.  St. Mary’s is excelling in presenting Lenten fare that aids in that process. I highly commend this series to anyone seeking to know more about contemplation, and a more structured practice of practical monasticism for the daily life. Thank you St Mary’s for this gift to the community. You are feeding the body and the soul through this series.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church is located on the SW corner of Tudor Rd, and Lake Otis Parkway.

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Church Visits is alive and well. However, many readers do not receive it because they do not check the website, churchvisits.com, regularly or do not participate in social media to receive notices of each new column.  If you’d like to receive an email of each column, complete this form, submit it, and confirm your request by the email you’ll receive.  Then you’ll receive each column as published by email. Thank you for your interest!

Chris Thompson