Thursday, March 26, 2020

"This is God's Table" - Anna Woofenden


If you are even a remote acquaintance of Anna Woofenden's, "This is God's Table: Finding Church Beyond the Walls" will not surprise you. It possesses her intelligence. It possesses her insight. It possesses her passion. It possesses her compassion. It possesses her humility. It possesses her deep awareness that a church is far more than a building or a sanctuary or anything that can be or should be confined within four walls. If you are not an acquaintance of Anna Woofenden's, then rest assured that what you read within the pages of "This is God's Table" radiates her deep commitment to life and love and God and the earth and ministry and so much more. 

I am a passing acquaintance of Woofenden's, someone who has met her on a couple of occasions and someone who would likely stick out in her memory more because of my being a double amputee and in a wheelchair than because of my personality or any connection I've had to her life. We attended neighboring seminaries - she Earlham School of Religion and I Bethany Theological Seminary. I was honored to be able to read an Advanced Reader's Copy of "This is God's Table," a book that I would easily label as an essential read for this interested in church planting, creative ministry, progressive theology, and the memoir of a pastor. 

"This is God's Table" is all of these things. It's a beautiful example of the trials and tribulations of church planting. In this case, that church is San Pedro, California's The Garden Church, an outdoor church planted by Woofenden that continues even as Woofenden's time with the congregation has now ended. "This is God's Table" explores the theology behind planting the church, but also delves into the challenges finding volunteers, finding congregants, solving practical issues, raising funds, and more.

"This is God's Table" is also a wonderful book for those who seek to explore non-traditional ministries, yet want to have ministries rooted within ritual. Woofenden, who is ordained within a progressive branch of the Swedenborgian faith, develops the church's beliefs and practices from a variety of faiths, inspirations, mentors, and other sources. 

"This is God's Table" explores Woofenden's theology, a unique weaving together of the somewhat conservative and somewhat progressive branches of the Swedenborgian church in which she grew up and a faith that has grown into her own expression. While there are many resources available for church planters, Woofenden's more progressive theology is a welcome addition to the subject. Finally, and perhaps most successfully, "This is God's Table" explores Woofenden herself. As a female pastor, Woofenden writes honestly and authentically about her development as a pastor, her growth as a pastor, her inspiration, the practical aspects of her ministry, and her growth into a relationship with her eventual spouse. It's refreshing to see a book so openly address the subject of love and relationship, an important subject that is so seldom addressed. Woofenden writes in a way that beautifully weaves together both spirit and intellect. She writes with tremendous humility, often acknowledging her own flaws as a pastor and as a human being while also being open to lessons learned even from those she serves including many of San Pedro's unhoused residents. 

Woofenden references quite a few contemporary Christian writers throughout "This is God's Table," yet seldom simply makes statements or references without providing resources and/or scriptural references for additional follow-up. A mutual friend who unexpected passed away, Tracy, is mentioned eloquently in "This is God's Table" while Woofenden isn't shy about writing on those situations where she questioned herself, her words, and her actions. 

With "This is God's Table," Woofenden paints a vision of church done differently and it's a church that she and God and volunteers and the diverse residents of San Pedro brought to life. She paints a vision of a church without walls where you can find both God and a garden. She paints a vision of hope for pastors who wish to be different and for those who've been hurt by church that they too might find a place where they truly can belong. She paints a vision of abundance redefined. She paints a vision of church planting that is realistic yet visionary, challenging yet possible, unpredictable yet sustainable, and filled with all the harsh realities of life yet also filled with so much love. 

"This is God's Table: Finding Church Beyond the Walls" is an insight, engaging, and truly enjoyable read that radiates God's love in each of its pages and will leave you feeling better after having read it. A refreshing new theological voice in literature, Anna Woofenden has crafted a book about reaping what we sow and sowing what we reap all in one. If you appreciate Christian writers such as Diana Butler Bass, Rachel Held Evans, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and Sara Miles then "This is God's Table: Finding Church Beyond the Walls" is most definitely a book to add to your collection.

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