Connecting with God through nature
Churches are reconnecting with their local green spaces in response to Covid-19 and the climate crisis. For those of us still taking Covid-safe precautions, outdoor worship is proving a popular choice. And for those looking for a spiritual connection with nature, connecting with God through Forest Church is a way to express their Christian stewardship of creation.
In our latest Where Faith Matters blog, the Rev'd Maggie Thorne, Ministry Area Leader of Penybont ar Ogwr, shares her experiences of experimenting with Forest Church.
At the end of the summer I found myself at a ‘meeting’ with other curious and interested people in the middle of the woods of the Wenallt above Cardiff. I’d thought that this was to discuss what Forest Church is all about, but in fact we experienced it for ourselves, and that’s perhaps the best way into it.
But what is Forest Church?
The bottom line for meeting as Forest Church is that it’s not necessarily in a forest, but outdoors and connected with the natural world. If you think about it, many people will remark that they find it easiest to find God when up a mountain, on the beach, by the sea, a river or a lake, or in a wood or forest, so why not go to where so many people find God?
In our Ministry Area (Penybont ar Ogwr) we are blessed with all sorts of wonderful outdoor spaces that we can explore and listen to what the God of Creation is saying to us through God’s Creation. As nature is where many of us find a deep connection with God, then we should nurture that connection, not just by going for a walk, but actually by walking with intent, really noticing that connection, and allowing worship to follow from that.
For our first Forest Church, 25 of us (26 until one lady realised that stillettoes wouldn’t be appropriate footwear!) met in the new Bee and Butterfly Garden in Nolton churchyard in the Name of the Creator God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit and then explained what we’d be doing.
We sang, blessed some spring bulbs and planted them. After that our short walk began along the banks of the River Ogmore and we were made ready to walk with open eyes to see the beauty around us, open ears that were willing to hear what the Spirit was saying and open hearts to share with others what we had learnt. We were delighted to have one of the new Diocesan engagement workers with us who came with prayer and art resources that some of us used along the way.
The experience was different for each of us, but when we eventually came together again over a socially-distanced cuppa in the church hall, we pooled our experiences and a wonderful sermon emerged.
Philippa Coulson, our Eco Church representative on the Ministry Area Transition Team (MATT), jotted down what were random thoughts and feelings into a sermon called The Throne, which became our sermon for the afternoon.
Singing at the beginning
became music for our Lord To the Lord.
Be thankful for the Peace at the stream
To spend time at the life giving waters.
Water that spills over the weir.
So Crystal Clear.
The weir that builds up like turmoil.
Leads to calm - like life?
It'll all lead somewhere good.
Order out of Chaos
See it as a juxtaposition.
Of life and death.
The tree is dying, I hug it, a friendly pat
New Growth seen
In the holly bush
We could let ourselves see autumn
not as sad -
not as an end
but that those leaves,
will fly, float and make new
Sat at the circle, noticed,
The stillness and peace.
I sat at the triangle,
Drew the age of the tree.
The tree we don't see
but now we are noticing
God we will find here.
God will see us through.
We must do this for them
Our youth will run these grounds.
Denny just wants to run!
The words were set in bronze.
God sets them bold to my eye
Our fellows in each nation
under the open sky
and in an open field
We are gathered...
The Throne took on new, local meaning for us, as the National Eisteddfod Chair for 1948 can be found Newbridge Fields, Bridgend.
Philippa has been encouraging everyone to write a Letter to the Earth to send to delegates in advance of COP26 and this is our Ministry Area offering. Give Forest Church a try, and be richly blessed.
Try Forest Church
At our Diocesan Conference, Bishop June challenged Ministry Areas to experiment with a fresh expression of church. Could Forest Church work in your Ministry Area?
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, if you are interested in Forest Church as a fresh expression for young Christians.
If you’re interested in reading up about Forest Church, try Forest Church’ by Cate Williams, one of the short, but highly informative books in the Grove series (£3.95) or Forest Church: a Field Guide to a Spiritual Connection with Natureby Bruce Stanley.