The Sacred Garden: The Garden Church in San Pedro feeds the body and the spirit

Mint tea at the Garden Church. Photo by Chelsea Sektnan


by Chelsea Sektnan

Tucked inside a formerly vacant lot on 6th Street in downtown San Pedro, behind a large, green wrought iron gate, is a dinosaur with a crown of thorns holding a quote from the Gospel of Matthew that says, “I was hungry, and you fed me, I was a stranger, and you invited me in.”

The dinosaur welcomes both strangers and members of The Garden Church into the lush, green sanctuary. 

The entrance to The Garden Church features a dinosaur with a crown of thorns holding a quote from the Gospel of Matthew: “I was hungry, and you fed me; I was a stranger, and you invited me in.”

Inside those gates, on a recent sunny Sunday afternoon, Brianna Laurel sat in a circle on a foldable camping chair, recently baptized 7-month-old baby Opal on her lap. She sang along with Reverend Dr. Amanda Adams Riley while Opal smiled and cooed at the bright flowers surrounding the group of worshipers. 

“I was raised Catholic, and it was pretty rigid. I lost my way with God for a bit,” Laurel said. “I wanted to find God, but not in a Catholic way; I wanted something more open. The community here feels like what church is supposed to be.”

The Garden Church is an Ecumenical Ministry of the Swedenborgian Church, and a sister congregation to the Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes. Instead of worshiping in a building with nature outside, The Garden Church has no walls or ceilings, and the garden is an integral part of the service and community. The only crosses are the stakes holding up the vegetables. 

“It’s not a scary church,” Pastor Connie McOsker said. “We don’t have expectations of arriving on time. You can come for two minutes and leave, or stay the whole three hours we’re open. It’s like going camping at church every weekend.”

The Garden Church was founded nine years ago as an outdoor sanctuary for people looking for community outside the traditional church structure. The church intentionally fosters an environment of purposeful inclusion, welcoming people of all religions. 

Robert David Merrick receives a blessing after dinner at The Garden Church on June 2.

“Our founder (Rev. Anna Woffenden) had this vision of a church that’s a garden and a garden that’s a church,” Pastor McOster said. “There’s no expectation to believe anything or do anything. We just want to create a peaceful space for you to come and sit and rest. If you want to volunteer in the garden — great, we’ll take ‘ya — we just go with the flow.”

The green garden gates are open wide throughout the week to welcome anybody who wants to spend time in nature among the plants and flowers. 

“We have two gates and a big ‘ole sky,” said Reverend Dr. David C. Brown, an 18-year veteran lead minister at Wayfarers Chapel and minister at The Garden Church. “We co-create heaven on earth right here. It’s just a church without walls.”

Tall stalks of fennel, vibrant orange poppies, giant bushes full of nasturtium flowers, fragrant bushes of oregano and lavender, and an entire lush garden of vegetables surround the circle of congregants. Rev. Riley paused mid-sermon as a motorcycle blasting the Randy Newman classic, “I Love L.A.,” drives down 6th Street. Bystanders paused by the garden gates to see what’s happening.

“Come on in,” Rev. Riley said to the curious wanderers. “We’re all about that!”

Reverend Dr. Amanda Riley leads an afternoon service on Sunday, June 2.

Some lingered at the gate, wondering whether they want to join. Others slowly filtered in, grabbed a seat, and started singing along with the group.

“I originally came here because I like the environment,” Parishioner Robert David Merrick said. “I stayed because I like it and believe in what they’re doing. I like fellowship and everybody coming together like this.”

In the middle of the circle is an altar made from a cedar stump found at a local Christmas tree lot. The stump-turned-tabernacle features the Bible, a flickering candle lit to “symbolize Christ’s light within all,” an icon of the Tree of Life from the Book of Revelation, a bell rung at various times of the service, grape juice, and gluten-free bread for Holy Communion,  which everybody is invited to partake in.

“Let’s all gather in the garden,” Rev. Riley sang as people filtered into the circle from the garden beds. Worn garden gloves were left on tables, watering cans were set next to chairs as the singing began, and the tabernacle candle lit,  despite a slight breeze blowing it out periodically.

Instead of wearing the typical Sunday best, congregants begin filtering into the church around 3 p.m. in their garden gloves and worn-out jeans to tend the garden and enjoy community under the bright blue sky. People began to find their seats for the service while vegetables and herbs were gathered, and around 4 p.m., three musicians began singing “The Gathering Song” while Rev. Riley began the laid-back service. Bees buzzed around the lavender blossoms, adding another layer of sound to the voices of the community members. Around 5 p.m., a dinner that included vegetables picked from the garden was laid on a picnic table, and members of the congregation and unhoused individuals joined together for a meal.

Volunteers, including lead gardener and musician Linda O’Brien Rothe and lead facilities Peter Rothe, tend the garden during “garden tending” time with their granddaughter Leia during Friday afternoon garden tending time on May 31, 2024.

“The only thing required is to be hungry,” Rev. Riley said. “It’s part of food justice and social justice. The scripture says, ‘I was hungry, and you gave me food,’ and that’s what it is, the ideals of radical inclusion in the breaking the bread.”

Throughout the week, the Garden Church’s gates open for anybody to join and help tend the garden. They have a morning dedicated to educating kids about gardening and food justice and explaining why organic food is good for building healthy bodies. Sarah Rothe Ruiz, the Little Sprouts children’s event coordinator, helps guide children in learning about gardening every Friday morning from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

“The Garden Church and Little Sprouts provide community and fellowship in the sometimes lonely world of parenting,” she said. “The kids just like to play, and parents just want to connect in a safe, controlled area where parents can meet, connect and have community.”

Her two daughters, Maia, 6, and Leia, 10, enjoy tasting the food from the garden. Their current favorite is the tiny orange kumquats that make their faces pucker as they eat them. 

“They taste good and are fun to eat,” Maia said, popping one in her mouth and contorting her face into a grimace as the juicy fruit pops.

Ben Gunter, a parishioner and owner of the San Pedro used book store Sunken City Books, discovered the Garden Church almost two years ago after not having been to a church for over 20 years. 

“I thought it was a nice prosocial thing in the community, and we might have a lot in common,” Gunter said. “It turns out we did. It’s emotional and moving and a stronger sense of community than you find in most places within the city.”

William H, a member currently experiencing homelessness, comes to The Garden Church because of its welcoming environment. 

“It’s a breath of fresh air, as opposed to being a stuffy church,” William said. “Being outside with the garden and flowers, it’s a very positive place. Miracles happen here.” 

Benjamin De La Cruz also said the church has been a blessing. 

“The people here are my spiritual mothers,” De La Cruz said. “They gave me a job when I needed it, and I came here to work. But it became more. They’re open to anybody and everybody, and they’re loving. They don’t judge; they just want to love people.”

After the service ends, everybody lines up to wash their hands with water and reusable towels by the church leaders. Then, they line up to enjoy dinner, which features vegetables grown in the garden. Then, everybody sits down to share a meal. 

“It’s all about showing people that church can be something other than their stereotypes,” Rev. Brown said. “It’s a very open and welcoming space, and it’s also about food justice and trying to model ways of being in the world and showing up where it’s all the things that are good and positive and hopeful and liberating, and less of those things that are kind of heavy and oppressive.”

They cook the vegetables for their Sunday meal and sell their produce a block away at the San Pedro farmers’ market every Friday.

Leia Rothe Ruiz, 10, with a kumquat from the garden.

“It’s locally grown produce,” Rev. Brown said, adding that the money raised goes into programs that support the garden and their ministry, as well as Feed and Be Fed, an independent non-profit and secular partner of the urban garden that is dedicated to restoring food justice by growing and distributing organic whole foods and by providing environmental education. 

“I think it’s the synergy of reimagining what church can be,” Rev. Brown said. “I think what draws people in is the green space. It’s about showing up and modeling ways of being in the world that are good and positive and hopeful and liberating and less of those things that are heavy and oppressive.”  

The Feed and Be Fed program also has a 3.2-acre plot of land at the LAUSD Science Center in North West San Pedro, where they grow organic produce such as lettuce, tomatoes, beans, squash, chard, and kale, specifically heirloom varieties that are not available in supermarkets. They also compost food waste and conduct an outdoor classroom to educate fourth graders on sustainable agriculture’s practical and scientific aspects.

“Our goal is to engage, energize, and give agency to our local community in the healing of our planet,” Peter Rothe said. “Our programs grow food, but their main goal is growing community.”

After the service, people experiencing homelessness, many of whom did not attend the service, dropped their backpacks and walked up to the table to have their hands washed before grabbing a tin plate of food. Many were welcomed by name, and all were cheerfully greeted by the community as they ate. 

“It’s pure love and pure helpfulness and kindness that’s straight from the heart,” Laurel said while watching Opal play with water in a reusable cup. “Everything that ties into the garden — creating, taking care of it, and sharing it — that’s what church is.” Pen

The Garden Church Sunday Worship:

3 p.m. Garden tending. 4 p.m.

Sunday worship. 5 p.m. Dine together

Open Garden:

Tuesday and Friday — 10 a.m. ‘til 2 p.m.

Theological Thursday:

Second Thursday of the month at Sunken City Books. 7 p.m.

403 W 6th St, San Pedro

Fall Fundraiser:

September 14, at The 6th Street Garden.

Live music and local culinary artists. 

Tickets at

429 W 6th St, San Pedro

(310) 929-0547

“Feed and be Fed” documentary

Garden Church Mint Tea 


  • Fresh mint leaves (a handful)
  • Boiling water
  • Honey (to taste)
  • Citrus zest (optional)
  • Fresh lavender or other garden herbs (optional)


  1. Pick Your Mint: Head to your garden and pluck a generous handful of fresh mint leaves.
  2. Brew: Place the mint leaves in a teapot or mug. Pour boiling water over the leaves and let it steep for about 5-10 minutes.
  3. Sweeten: Stir in honey to taste. Start with a teaspoon and add more if you like it sweeter.
  4. Zest It Up: For a citrusy twist, add a sprinkle of citrus zest.
  5. Herb it Up: Toss in some fresh lavender or any other herbs you fancy from the garden.
  6. Enjoy: Give it a good stir, let it cool slightly, and enjoy your fresh garden mint tea!

Sip, relax, and let the flavors transport you to a serene garden haven! 

Tips for Growing Mint: Mint loves a bit of space to spread out, so plant it in a larger pot or a garden bed with plenty of room. It’s also a good idea to trim it regularly to encourage bushier growth and prevent it from becoming too leggy.

Mint can be a vigorous grower, so to keep it from taking over your garden, consider planting it in a container or using barriers in the garden bed to contain its spread. This will help manage its growth and keep it from overwhelming other plants.


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