Written by Carla Friedrich
The New Church of the Southwest Desert (NCSWD) often refers to itself as “the little church that could.” NCSWD has faced many challenges over the years, perhaps not so different than other churches that: began without a minister, had dwindling congregations through attrition, single-digit plate offerings for weeks on end, untimely deaths, inadequate buildings or no building at all, and, for us, a disappointing seven-year search for a more appropriate building, and now, COVID-19.
NCSWD has approached everything with courage, hope, and a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-busy kind of attitude. Throughout all of these challenges, our parishioners and friends have shown loyalty, commitment, vision, and dedication. We could not have made it without our strong volunteer base.
For example, two gentlemen showed up for a full year as we finally made the move into our new, historic, downtown location. They swept, mopped, moved, painted, and decorated. One had had a stroke, the other had a dislocated shoulder from a fall at home, but we all pressed on. There are others who volunteer to fix things, clean, arrange, and bake, though we can always use more volunteers. We were also recently gifted with a brand-new espresso machine from an individual donor.
We are now settled in and can offer a full complement of activities including small groups, classes, game night, dances, and art. We often fall short of what we hope to do, but from a high vantage point, we hope the Lord is pleased. There is that little church that could… and tried.
On some Sundays, we have had to move thirty chairs and tables from one side of the building to the other, so that repairs and remodeling work could be done while groups and activities could continue (worship, AA, fellowship, creative recovery group for recovering our creativity as artists, Bible and book study class, rummage sales, coffee served, etc.).
Our next effort will be to open our stage with full music equipment for acoustic nights, dance parties, and karaoke, and bring back our Cosmic Saturdays studying the cosmos in all its glory and Mystical Mondays exploring new thought teachings. We hold an Annual Healing Arts Fair: but not during the pandemic, yet we are still a connection for healers and those seeking alternative healing modalities such as herbs, light, frequency, natural and organic foods, and positive thought.
When I came to Silver City, New Mexico, I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay past the initial time of an interim minister, but the NCSWD, the Oasis, and the Silver City community are amazing, eclectic, amenable, adventurous, and adaptable.
Since many of you have not traveled to Silver City, and may never get this way —though you are always welcome—I thought I would describe for you the flavor or tenor of the ministry on any typical day.
We are in New Mexico, which is a depressed area, and Silver City is even more so because of its isolation. It’s considered a “frontier town” due to its isolation. Silver City boasts natural surroundings, historic buildings, and approximately thirty-seven art galleries.
Our mission is to help bring about or demonstrate the Second Coming Holy City New Jerusalem descending through praising and love to the Lord in worship, sharing Swedenborg’s teachings, and a life of service.
Our messages must meet the needs of a spiritually diverse congregation: Southern Baptist, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, Swedenborgian, mystical Christian, Native American Elders, Baha’i, evangelical, Catholic, and more faith stances. Not an easy task.
We continue to offer the “new Christianity” and have regular visitors in attendance at church services. Some stay and some move on.
We confirmed five new individuals into the New Church last year, and two more this year. Pastor Linda and Rev. Carla offer spiritual messages on a variety of topics using the Bible, Swedenborgian excerpts, and modern writers.
On any given day, if necessary, we shop for the Oasis (creamer, flour for baking, cups, waters, juice) and open by 10:00 AM. Our clientele is mostly tourists but also some locals who love the concept of a welcoming, friendly, inclusive place to gather. Both the church and the Oasis have a reputation for being inclusive of all, ecumenical, interfaith, as well as a place of useful service and charity.
Throughout the day, we have a few locals who will drop in for coffee, or a couple of tourists, or a family, will stop in for coffee and perhaps directions and recommendations for travel and sightseeing. Often you can hear a sigh as a person enters, and they will remark about the way the space feels: “a very peaceful and good” vibe.
Frequently, an un-housed person will come in to rest from the weariness of being “moved along” on the street. In these cases we will offer a juice, coffee, or a bagel, a kind conversation, an outlet to charge their phone (their only connection to estranged family, loved ones, community services, or a doctor appointment). If you were there, you would hear and see the anger subside as their heart and soul becomes at ease again. It is in those times that one nods to oneself and thinks, “Ah, that is why I am here today.”
Additionally, we may have a box of veggies, or snacks, protein bars, water, or other supplies to hold a person over until being paid, or other resources come in. While there are several public bathrooms down the way, sometimes a shopper who has been turned away at another establishment comes in to use the restroom. We often help people fill out and turn in paperwork for food stamps, HUD housing, and college applications. These things are not our job, but in the long run help to make less work for us.
We have a comfortable place that is cool in summer/warm in winter with international flags circling the wall at ceiling height, and a wall-sized thoughtful photographic display fundraiser for children and families stuck at the border. We have colorful, historic famous Swedenborgian characters, by Swedenborgian artist Eleanor Schnarr, framed and gracing the walls.
We are also affirmed in our mission when someone just thinks they are coming in for coffee or creative expression, but leaves with a sense of friendship; gets a key piece of information critical to their well-being and future; or finds new hope, courage, belonging, or acceptance because someone saw them and heard their story or listened to their concern without judgement.
Occasionally, someone will stop in to ask for a “go-fer” ride after the Oasis closes, when the pastor helps out or we may call another person in to help. We offer rides to the grocery store, doctor appointments, and housing agencies or run water, food, and other supplies to an un-housed person camping in the woods. This goes on regularly.
The Oasis has become a place of outreach, accessibility, connection, and community. Through this open door, people find this is a church that cares and is active in living faith. They may or may not ask about the church, but if they do, we show them. They are pleased to see that our image of Christ is as a Native American.
I heard someone say recently, “This is the only church I’ve ever seen that deserves to be called a church.” We’re sure it’s not the only one, but we do try to be real and faithful to scripture and Swedenborg’s writings.
Rev. Carla also stays in touch with far-flung Swedenborgians who do not have a nearby church and who visit occasionally. She also hosts a few people in need on occasion: a woman about to give birth, another waiting on housing, a young person kicked out of the house, another getting their medication right, and so on. She lives in a rooftop community of individuals who are parishioners who are inter-dependent on one another for a helping hand. They also enjoy art, music, and meals together.
The Swedenborgian Church of North America provides a variety of grants and loans from the Augmentation, Iungerich, Mission, and Building Funds to our ministries. This article highlights one ministry that is benefiting from such grants in 2022.
Read the full issue of the December 2021 Messenger
Meet Rev. Carla Friedrich
Rev. Carla Friedrich was born into the New Church (third generation) in 1956. Her home church was in Florida, followed by nine years in the General Church. Rev. Carla was ordained in 2005 in Berkeley, California, consequently served in San Diego, California and Wilmington, Delaware. She has been serving at the New Church of the Southwest Desert in Silver City, New Mexico, for nearly seven years. She enjoys making art, writing children’s stories, being in nature, learning about and supporting sustainable living practices, growing medicinal plants, and most of all spending time with her extended family and friends.