By Ian and Hannah Marnoch.
Let me begin with a word about what Forest Church is not. It is not a transplantation of Sunday morning’s sanctuary worship to the outside. That’s what we do in the summer when we worship on the church lawn!
Forest church is an experiment in participatory worship of the Triune God in nature. By “nature” I mean all of the things, processes and events in the world that are not human nor made by humans. It includes the plants, animals, rocks, water, the seasons, volcanic eruptions, fire, flood, rain, snow, etc. By “participatory” I mean engaging all of the senses together with the intellect, the emotions, and physical actions.
This involves study (learning both the Bible and the natural world), allowing for moments of awe (those moments when you cry out: “Hey, c’mere and look at this!” or, “Isn’t that neat.”) and ultimately it involves discerning theological meaning.
Living Water Forest Church began in March, 2022. Typically, 4-12 people gather in the afternoon of the third Sunday of each month. We chose to meet on the third Sunday of the month because it is the Sunday closest to the season changes: the equinoxes and the solstices. With the exception of the summer months, when the abundance of ticks inland drives us to the shores of the St. Clair River, we gather at the same spot: a local wetland. By gathering at the same spot each month, we can experience how this one spot of God’s creation changes with the changing seasons.
Each gathering opens with a prayer through which we affirm God’s steadfast love surrounding us in every hour of each day and season of life. We read and reflect on Scripture and we engage in some form of prayerful participation with our natural surroundings. This usually involves a time of Wandering and Wondering: walking the trails and engaging our senses in observing. Although, sometimes a campfire is involved or planting seeds or a Bannock-cook. When we return to the circle, participants share insights from their wanderings and wonderings. Then we close with what we call a Water Ceremony. Our water ceremony involves a common pitcher of water drawn from the nearest natural water source. Worshippers take turns pouring into a common bowl while offering a prayer of thanksgiving or a few words to God about their worship.
The theological foundation of the forest church model is grounded in the teaching that the living and triune God has created all that we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell – along with the non-tangible elements (emotional, cognitive, super-natural).
We can therefore know, worship, and even relate with God through participation with the natural surroundings.
Bruce Stanley, the author of Forest Church: A Field Guide to a Spiritual Connection with Nature, refers to Scripture as God’s first book of revelation and the natural world as God’s second book. These titles refer to authority, not sequence. Obviously, nature pre-dates scripture, but to know God through nature we must interpret what we observe through the lens of scripture. As we experiment with participatory worship of God in nature, one of our foci is to learn to read the Second Book with insights from the First Book.
For example, if you were to observe that a tree produces shade, food, and oxygen — that it provides for life and enhances the beauty of the surroundings — one might suppose that these god-like qualities suggest the tree belongs to the realm of the divine: that it is a god. This, of course, neither tells the truth of the Triune Creator, nor of the tree! However, if through the lens of scripture, you were to consider the life-giving and aesthetic qualities of the tree and discern that the God who created such a thing is the God who desires life and beauty and provides for such, this interpretation both glorifies God and tells the truth of His creation!
Our central focus of Living Water Forest Church is to practise faithfully reading the second book of revelation. This involves observing the natural world, learning, allowing one’s self moments of awe, and discerning theological meaning with the help of Scripture.
We welcome all people who want to experience participatory worship of God in nature to join us. Please contact Rev. Ian for more information (519-813-9646) or firstname.lastname@example.org
“When the heavens declare the glory of God, what do you hear? Trees rustling in a breeze? The call of a red-winged blackbird! The trickle of a stream?” — Hannah Marnoch