“I’d rather be in the mountains thinking of God than in church thinking about the mountains” John Muir.
Praising and connecting with God has always been easier for me outside: the intricate beauty of God is seen in a seed head, the variety of creation from a hedgerow, the sermon given by the wind and the music provided by the trees and the creatures. All of it teaches us of our connectedness and interdependence. Being a native to East Anglia, I’d much rather be in the fields praising and thinking about God!
I have always been drawn to nature. My jobs — from Outdoor Activities Instructor to Forest Ranger — have reflected this passion. This has led me to grow Wild Church Norfolk, a movement that takes church outside the walls. I offer a “menu” of Wild Church. There are opportunities to explore spirituality, time to sit with silence, guided meditations, noise and activity, care for creation, plus “wild walks” for worship and wellbeing. I hope that teaching people about the natural world will develop the awe and wonder that will inspire them to look after the planet we all call home and give them space to connect with something greater than themselves.
Being connected to nature has been invaluable for people during the pandemic and enforced lockdown. The closure of churches and cancellation of outdoor church gatherings inspired me to get creative and move Wild Church on to the web. We are now starting to gather again and more and more people are getting in touch asking how they can do church differently with all the changes and restrictions for indoor services. A highlight for me, especially during lockdown, has been seeing how Wild Church has been accessed by a wide variety of people. I have heard from retired congregation members who have enjoyed doing the activities with their grandchildren and a message from an individual who is housebound telling me it has been a lifeline to her.
The practical issues I guess are always the most challenging – finding an appropriate space, getting it agreed by the church council, full and thorough risk assessment, appropriate insurances and permissions and appropriate safeguarding in place. All things that are necessary but take time before you can begin. If you are inspired to set up your own Wild Church there isn’t a prescribed model — all you need is a few people and some nature! It’s not about moving existing church services outside, but rather developing a direct relationship with the natural world – I’ve shared some ideas in the resource section below.
Through leading Wild Church I have learnt to use what God has given me, where I have been placed. All God wants us to do is offer back to him what we have been given. Enjoying creation and looking after it is what we are all called to do.
For further information:
This blog was written by Charlie Houlder-Moat for the ‘Nature and Praise’ Wild Christian email. Charlie is a Military Chaplaincy Families Worker for the Methodist Forces Board and a trainee Reader with the Eastern Region Ministry Course and Diocese of Norwich.