Woman creates 'church in the woods' to honor father
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The story starts even before there was a bench.
What has become a spot for introspection and emotional release grew out of Annelies Gentile’s time with her father. He loved nature, so in his final days, she pushed him on the paved path along Raleigh’s Lake Johnson.
However, a spot on the opposite side of the lake, along the unpaved path, was for her.
"He never got a chance to come here, but when I was his caretaker, I actually sat here and cried, a lot," said Gentile.
Once her father died, Gentile sought to improve the place that had meant so much to her.
"I requested for people instead of, lieu of flowers to donate money to Lake Johnson to acquire a bench,” she said.
The bench was dedicated to John Gentile. She also however attached a small box with a journal and pen inside, along with an invitation.
"This journal is an offering, a sacred space for you to place your thoughts, feelings and prayers," said Gentile.
People took those instructions seriously, and the notebook was filled. Thus far, the pages of six journals have been consumed.
"It's just this enormous empty possibility that is filled with potential for people to share whatever it is that they need to share," said Gentile.
At first, she did not know what to expect, but she found that people shared a great deal.
They wrote of their most special triumphs and their most devastating losses.
"I feel like I've created a church, in the woods. It's a sanctuary for spirit. It's a sanctuary for thought," said Gentile.
People anonymously share very personal aspects of their lives, and it seems to be therapeutic.
"I've had people call me and say this has been so helpful. It's changed their life; it's actually saved them,” she said.
It has been two and a half years since the first journal was placed here. That short time has convinced Gentile of the value of a pen, some paper, and a quiet place.
"I love the intimacy of the stories. You can create that in television and in movies, but that's happening right here,” she said.
It is Gentile's goal for community journals to be established in many more locations.