‘My wife Sara and I got into foraging some years ago and found that a Sunday spent out in nature was more spiritually rewarding than the alternative. As naturalist John Muir said, ‘I’d rather be in the mountains thinking of God than in Church thinking of the mountains’. Since then over 15 groups have started in the UK with more springing up in the US and elsewhere. All of the groups should have a few things in common but beyond that there is a lot of room for diversity.
In Mid Wales Forest Church we rotate between three different sorts of gatherings, sometimes we walk with pauses for site and season specific reflections and meditations, sometimes we have workshops on nature connection related subjects such as bird language, foraging or making art in nature from found materials. And four times a year, close to the solstices and equinoxes we have a ritual followed by a shared meal.
My daughter, four, has been to every gathering we’ve had and sits happily in a carrier on the longer walks – although my shoulders have nearly had enough as she’s growing heavier! Some groups focus so much on family activities that they’ve coined the term Mossy Church to describe those events. It is the outside version of the phenomenally successful Messy Church idea. The focus here isn’t to separate young people from older but to devise activities aimed at all ages.
There is also a nod to the Forest School movement in the name Forest Church and increasingly we’re seeing qualified Forest School facilitators getting involved and I’m excited to see what ideas they’re going to contribute. You don’t have to be Christian to worship at a Forest Church. Most groups attract folk who find that, for them, spirituality and nature go together, who want to connect with others as well. Some groups attract members very knowledgeable about alternative spiritualities such as Paganism and Druidry.
You can find out if you have a local group at forestchurch.co.uk. If there isn’t a local group, there are other resources such as national gatherings and books available.
Ideas for Celebrating the Solstice
Alison Eve, a wonderful musician and liturgist, from Ancient Arden Forest Church, has written a ritual for any group to use that is in the final chapter of the book Forest Church along with a full year’s worth of activities and suggestions.
It is fairly easy to come up with appropriate ideas for the season with its themes of light and dark, and of bringing nature inside in the form of decorations and wreathes. Alternatively, it might be a good time just to go for a walk away from it all, somewhere up high to get some space and perspective over the Christmas celebrations that are about to begin.
In Mid Wales Forest Church we like to cook together around a fire. Usually if the weather is kind to us we may manage to do this outside but so far it is the one event of the year that we’ve had to give in and eat inside. This year it will look a little different of course!