Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
In early June, I went to Sinsinawa, Wisconsin, for a gathering of people leading outdoor churches around the U.S. and Canada. There were about 30 of us, from Texas, New Hampshire, Washington State, West Virginia, Ontario (three churches represented!), Michigan, Alabama, British Colombia, and more! We were from various Christian traditions: Episcopalians, Lutherans (well just me), non-denominational, Catholic, Reformed, Presbyterian, Methodist, and more. We were lay leaders, ordained priests and pastors, and professors. We were from cold climates, hot climates, deserts, forests, prairies and more. It was wonderful to be with so many people doing this new and ancient thing of worshiping outdoors as certainly all of our ancestors did, and as Jesus and his followers did during his earthly ministry.
It was wonderful to talk with others about the challenges of weather and logistics, and about funding new and unusual ventures in the church. It was even more wonderful to talk about the joys of meeting God in God’s own cathedral, outside in creation, and to participate in worship and hear the liturgies, songs, and prayers of others.
It was our first meeting in person of the Wild Church Network, which has been meeting via video calls for three years. When we started to consider full-time outdoor worship at New Life, I was very surprised to find no conversation partners in this experiment: there were church camps, and some churches had outdoor chapels or special outdoor services, but there was no one to talk with about doing church outside, intentionally, every week. Finding the Wild Church Network was a lifeline for me, as I led New Life out onto the land. We included a representative of the Forest Church movement in England, to share their experiences. Every month, the Wild Church Network grows. Each month there are new people who want to worship outside, and find this group. Each group seems to spring up independently, and find each other. Each is different, some meeting monthly, some weekly, a few quarterly. Some, like New Life, follow a traditional liturgy, some have more discussion, many include a hike or “wander” together or individually.
Last year, one of our New Life families, Alan and Renee Higgerson, visited one of our Wild Church partners in New Hampshire while on vacation. Church of the Woods and priest Stephen Blackner were one of the first we “found,” and share some similarities with New Life in terms of liturgy and background (they are Episcopal), but inhabit a different climate and terrain! Members of that congregation also visited New Life. This summer, when my family was on vacation, we visited The Land in Colorado, another Wild Church partner. The Land, east of Denver in Aurora, has many similarities to New Life - they are a Methodist new start, and have a tent, a labyrinth, and a service similar to ours. It was a joy and a blessing to worship with a new community finding Their way outside, like us.
I hope that when you travel, you’ll look up churches in this network, and visit! The sharing of ideas is life-giving, as is the sharing of encouragement! Like the earliest Christian communities to whom Paul writes in the New Testament, we pray for and encourage one another as we forge a new path, one that seems to be hitting a nerve. More outdoor churches continue to pop up, and it seems Christians are longing to re-connect their faith with the deep spirituality of being in nature, and worshiping with nature. Visit! Make connections!
Thank you for being with me in this journey to meet Christ in the first sacred earthly space - out in Creation. I truly wonder if this new thing, this old way, is how God is rebuilding the church, reconnecting us to our source, and making all things new.
Find the ever-growing list of Wild Churches here: https://www.wildchurchnetwork.com/
Read more about some of them here: http://www.allcreation.org/home/loversoftheland
Check out the Forest Church movement in England: http://www.mysticchrist.co.uk/blog/post/forest_church_a_field_guide_to_nature_connection_for_groups_and_individuals