Pastoral Transitions at the Garden Church 8.7.2017

Dear Friends,

Three years ago this week I moved to San Pedro with a question and a vision, “Could we re-imagine church in the context of an urban farm and sanctuary?” Thanks to hundreds of people, from funders to farmers, people who prayed and people who have come through the gates and participated, this vision has been realized and the answer to the question is a resounding “yes!”

We have fulfilled our original mission to re-imagine church as an interconnected organism, worshiping, loving and serving together as we transform a plot of land into a vibrant urban garden. And what a blessing it has been to facilitate and work together with so many of you in this process!

It is with joy and sadness that I share with you that the time has come for me to move on from this beautiful project, as I will be relocating from San Pedro to the East Coast at the end of the year. While its is hard to think about not being here to see and shape the intricate details of what grows next, I am humbled and grateful to see the next generation of leaders here and ready to take the organizations into its next seasons.

Bree Aseltine is fully engaged now as the Executive Director of our non-profit wing, Feed and Be Fed. She is continuing to lead and serve to create community partnerships and programs as we feed in body, mind, and spirit and bringing the non-profit portions of our work to life in new and exciting ways. The Board of Directors has appointed a Transitional Pastoral Team of Rev. Dr. Jonathan Mitchell, Rev. Asher O’Callaghan, and Rev. Dr. Amanda Riley who will be joining our team September 1st for a period of transition this fall. My position will move to half-time as I work with the Transitional Pastoral Team through the fall. As the congregation moves forward into the new year, with the transition team at the helm, they will begin the process of calling the next pastor of the Garden Church in 2018.

I am excited, humbled, and grateful beyond measure that Bree and these three amazing pastors are called to this work and will be offering their immense skills and gifts to our community. I look forward to introducing you to our new team members in the next few months and to sharing in this time of transition together with curiosity and gratitude.

Please take a few minutes to read about our incoming pastors and why they feel called to serve you and our community. I have every confidence that God’s guidance and blessing will continue with this community, as it has been from the start, and I look forward to wholeheartedly supporting this transition for all involved.

In service to the Holy One and holy humanity,
Rev. Anna Woofenden


Rev. Dr. Jonathan Mitchell
Rev. Jonathan Mitchell is a native of Massachusetts, where he grew up in a restaurant family.  Before entering the ministry, he pursued academic interests in philosophy, comparative religion and language.  He holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and an M. A. in Swedenborgian Studies from the Swedenborg School of Religion. Since ordination, he has served ministries in Washington DC, Wayfarers Chapel, and San Diego. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking and the study of natural history.

“It is a great joy to watch a vision become reality. As a colleague in ministry, I was there for the journey as Rev. Anna gradually unfolded the vision of an urban garden sanctuary where people would work together, worship together and eat together. And now here it is: the Garden Church, three years old and blossoming in downtown San Pedro. Dreams can indeed come true!

It has been a delight over the last three years to dig into this ministry:  planting, harvesting, making new friends, sharing meals, preaching, serving on the Garden Church Board of Directors, and above all, seeing God at work. As we come together to feed and be fed we are nurturing each other and finding new and creative ways to serve our community. I am excited at the prospect of helping to cultivate this church plant from its start-up phase into a strong and sustainable ministry.”


Rev. Asher O’Callaghan
Asher is currently serving as Program Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, a non-profit which believes that the public witness of LGBTQ leaders transforms the church and enriches the world. There he works to create community, accompany, and engage in ministry with queer Lutheran leaders across the country. Previously, he served as Pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, a small mountain-town congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) located in Idaho Springs, Colorado. He’s bisexual and transgender. So after a fundamentalist upbringing, Asher thought he was done with organized religion. He fancied himself spiritual but not religious. But then he stumbled into a church called House For All Sinners and Saints in Denver where God screwed up all his plans. There he heard an invitation he couldn’t help but go share. From Christ’s open Table he heard: “Behold who you are. Become what you receive.” It changed everything. He earned a Master of Divinity from Luther Seminary and has become the first openly transgender person to be ordained through the regular process of the ELCA.

“I fell in love with The Garden Church the first time I came. It was late last summer and I had just moved across the country to Long Beach with my partner. Feeling new and not quite sure where to start building community, I figured it might be a good idea to check out this church my friend and colleague Rev. AnnaWoofenden had planted. On that first Sunday, I arrived during “work together” time before worship and I got to harvest some of the rainbow chard that so plentifully grows throughout the garden. I had never harvested actual food before. As I was harvesting it, community member Farmer Lara explained to me that the different “rainbow” colors of the chard’s stalks reminded her of stained glass. “How beautiful is this?” I thought, “Instead of a big expensive building with stunning stained glass windows, this church has a beautiful living, growing sanctuary that feeds people in body as well as mind and spirit.”

It’s been a joy throughout this past year for me to grow more deeply rooted in the work of this community. Guest preaching a handful of times, and joining with the community during special ecumenical services, on Ash Wednesday, and Holy Week this year, the liturgy – which literally means “work of the people” – of this community has come to live in my bones and speak to me throughout the week. I’ve found doing liturgy here, outside, in a garden, surrounded by noises and passersby and dirt and insects and all sorts of people to be refreshing and inspiring. Through the liturgy and my experiences preaching at the Garden Church, I’ve come to sense a call to leadership in this community.

My home congregation, House For All Sinners and Saints, where I first sensed a call to ordained ministry, was a church plant too. There I discovered a passion for innovative new expressions of our ancient Christian faith. My years there were a time of rapid change as the community grew, changed locations, and became sustainable. Since then, during my first call as an ordained pastor, I received certification in intentional interim ministry and walked with the congregation I was serving through a transition process and helped prepare them to call their next long-term pastor. And now, serving as Program Director at Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, I’ve gotten a glimpse at the non-profit world and have continued to develop my skills in interim ministry as the organization is in the midst of a change in Executive Directors. Getting to serve a part of the Garden Church’s transitional pastoral team feels like something God must be present in – It pulls together all my experiences and training and feels like a perfect fit.”


Rev. Dr. Amanda Adams Riley
A native of Washington, DC, Amanda and her husband Bill moved to Southern California in August of 2010.  Amanda graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 2005 and completed a Doctorate in Ministry from McCormick Theological Seminary in 2014. She began her ministry in Michigan serving churches first in Ann Arbor and then Fenton.  In her first years in LA, she served as Parish Associate at Brentwood Presbyterian Church. Then Amanda and a colleague began a Worshiping Community in Playa Vista, California. She met Rev. Annathrough her church planting work and like so many others fell in love with the vision, work and mission of the Garden Church. Amanda joined the Garden Church board in 2016 and recently took on the role of Chair of the Board. She is also currently serving as Parish Associate at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, is active in the Presbytery of the Pacific, and is co-author of the book The Girlfriends’ Clergy Companion. Amanda is a proud mother to two active boys, and lives with her husband and sons and dog in Torrance, CA.

“I met Rev. Anna and heard about the church long before setting foot in the garden. The first time I attended, I was blow away by what had been created from dry abandoned ground. God is truly present in this place, and through the people who unpack the tabernacle each week and share in worship, work and a common meal together.  When my family and I left the church that first day, my eldest son began referring to The Garden Church as “the church with no roof.” After just one visit he saw what so many of us see—that this is a unique and special place where “church” transgresses the bounds we have made for it into the every day of our lives reaching people in a way we haven’t before.

After joining the board and learning even more about the mission and ministry of The Garden Church and the new Feed and Be Fed organization, my excitement for what is happening here grows with each passing day. I am honored to be part of the transition team this fall, and look forward to the days a head as we continue make church together and to watch God’s Kingdom unfolding in our world.”