“An utterly soulless place.” It was this comment made in the press about the new housing area in which I was living that provoked me into fully appreciating the unique gifts in each and every context. Little did the commentator know that the place contained one of the highest points in the county; that the land had been owned by the Benedictines and that it had a 19mph speed limit.
Last year the pandemic and the resulting lockdown brought about a sudden change in our frame of reference. With reduced horizons we looked more closely at what was all around us and discovered parks that we hadn’t known existed; some learnt bird song and others of us planted vegetables. The fifth mark of mission calls us into a deeper relationship with the earth.
Forest church invites us to search for the gifts in each context and locality in that particular season of the year. In Penicuik we began doing virtual Forest Church and sending in pictures of our gardens and what we were doing there -pruning, tidying up, planting, harvesting, thinning out to let in more light…We listened to these actions and let them speak to our spiritual lives. We wanted to learn more about God’s ‘first book of revelation’ (Augustine) and of how together with nature we could learn God’s ways. Now when we gather in the woods together it is with expectation, and we start with the prayer “for what we are about to receive…” This experience has been replicated across the country with lots of new Forest Church type groups popping up from Shetland to Southampton. As well as committed Christians our group includes activist husbands, de-churched folks and regularly draws other people into conversation about what it is all about!
‘It was trying to rain as we gathered at the designated spot. A new couple joined with us for the first time as we settled in to a closer examination of our selected meeting point -a local pond. As well as catching up we had planned that summer afternoon to look for bees and butterflies. The meadow near the pond had presented itself some days before as an ideal place to do this count. Information on British bumble bees and butterflies had been shared and relevant bible passages and poems were readied.
On arrival at the pond however we found that these mild wet conditions were perfect for an exodus. An exodus of tiny common frogs who had decided on mass that the time was right to leave the pond after they had fully metamorphosed. There were literally thousands of black frogs piled up in clumps at the edge of the pond. Exodus, plagues, timing…new themes from the context that day emerged. We got talking about God’s abundance and timing We continued to be fascinated, if not a little bewildered, by seeing such vast numbers of these tiny creatures.’
“On one Forest Church journey we were following the route of trees that were described as prayers in a book written by a local author Penny Wooding. One of the trees was described as the ladder up to heaven. The group paused and the prayer we shared described an embodied God, on a ladder between the home of heaven and earth’s dwelling place – and being at home in both. This was a significant spiritual re-awakening for me during an unsettled time for our local church. Forest Church is an easy way to share the connection between earth and heaven with others.” Isobel
Virtually every time we’ve met we’ve encountered a stranger who has blessed us and with whom we have had a spiritual conversation.
Peter Wood with Fiona Lough
Penicuik Forest Church