Rector's Letter - February 2017
At the end of last summer I went to stay with my friend Steve in America. Steve runs what in this country we would call ‘Forest Church’ – a congregation that gathers in the middle of the forest and is learning to engage with Christian spirituality through nature. I went along for one of the Sunday services. We met together, gathered around a tree stump which formed Steve’s altar. We prayed and opening prayer, listened to a couple of readings – one from scripture and also a beautiful poem. Instead of a sermon time, we spent time simply enjoying the forest – contemplating nature. Some drew, others wrote, others sat and meditated. One of the children created a ‘sculpture’ of Forest Church, with leaves and stones and things he had found in the forest representing all of us who gathered there. It was a peaceful, sunlit Sunday morning, and through our activities and prayers, God was worshipped.
For many, traditional church has become difficult for many who have either not grown up in it, or grown away from it: it uses a different language and has a particular pattern. Our traditional services are, I think, beautiful, and we offer a variety of different services across the benefice. Nevertheless, it is recognised by the Church of England nationally that we must find other ways of ‘being church’ that help those who do not connect with what we currently do, to find something that they can engage with.
Fresh Expressions is the term used for these new national ways of being church: Messy Church is one of them, and our Messy Church both at Amberley and Minch are thriving. If you are part of Messy Church, come and tell us what you would like us to do together next as we take that way of being church forward. But another, less well known way, of being church, is Forest Church.
At the moment, a group of us across the benefice is exploring what it might mean to gather some people together to start a Forest Church. This would take place at a different time to regular church, and would happen outdoors. It is for people who are interested in exploring nature and who value the environment, and who seek to help their own spirituality connect with how the divine may be present to us through nature.
It is early days, but the kinds of activities Forest Church involves includes walks, time to contemplate, crafts and activities for children and adults alike, involving nature and the outdoors, pic-nics together, trails and so on, with sometimes an environmental project for those interested in being involved in that. If you are not part of any church, but find you relate to some concept of the divine, this may be for you. If you have a spiritualty but do not connect with traditional church, this may be for you. If you have an interest in conservation or wildlife, this may be for you. If you are just curious, this may be for you. If you do connect with traditional church but find you like to express worship in different ways or help others engage with exploring faith in different ways, this may be for you.
I would love to hear from you if you would like to register interest in this, so that when we hold our first event, perhaps around the time of the summer or autumn solstice, we can let you know it is happening – indeed you might even want to offer to be involved! You do not have to profess a Christian faith – though you can do! – but we will focus our interest in the divine in nature through what Christianity might have to teach us through that.
In the meantime, a group of us are reading books (Bruce Stanley is an author / instigator of Forest Church and well worth reading), visiting existing Forest Churches and setting up a forum in the Diocese for us to share ideas. We will keep you posted!
With best wishes