By Susie Henderson
Wild Churches are restoring and reimagining relationships between faith and the natural world
Taddle Creek Wild Church, Metropolitan United Church
Every way you look at it, the present-day front yard of Metropolitan United Church, which corners on Queen and Church Street in downtown Toronto, is a very lively place –there are people from all walks of life, relentless traffic, steps from a major hospital, and more. The building can definitely hold its own here, and so does the congregation. In fact, the 200 year old congregation pre-dates the grand building that now sits on McGill Square. With everything going on here it would be possible to miss the green space, the gardens, and the congregation of trees that are also present. But this is the space, outside the walls, that a circle of people have gathered to worship at Taddle Creek Wild Church.
Since the pandemic has exiled everyone from their buildings, it’s not that extraordinary to find a group gathered in the yard. But these folks are going outside on purpose. In a new community ministry initiative, a small group of Met folks, with leadership from Rev. Jason Meyers, are gathering monthly as “Taddle Creek Wild Church.” The gathering itself has a simple structure, beginning in prayer, sharing a reading, setting an intention, a time of wandering and a return to the circle to share reflections and a closing blessing. Underneath the magnificent trees the group acknowledges the traditional Indigenous territories, remembers the Taddle Creek waterway that now lies buried underneath the city, and spends time be present to their surroundings.
When I joined their circle one Sunday in July, my attention was immediately drawn to the beautiful Plane tree that holds court in the south east section. I remembered how it gathered up our ribbon prayers during the celebration of World Pride a number of years ago. And I wonder what other stories it holds.
According to their own description, “Taddle Creek Wild Church is a community ministry of Metropolitan United Church that lives at the intersection of emerging eco-spiritually and the timeless ways of Jesus. Our monthly gatherings offer opportunities for contemplation, grief and praise, movement and song, solo wandering and wondering, advocacy, ecological restoration and activism on behalf of and in collaboration with the beloved others in our watershed.”
This is a new initiative at Metropolitan with plans to continue in the fall, throughout the year on the third Sunday of each month – rain, shine, or snow!
Three Rivers Forest Church, Richmond Hill United
Meanwhile, up river in Richmond Hill, the Three Rivers Forest Church has been gathering since 2017, started by Rev. James Ravenscroft who encountered the Wild Church movement during a trip to the U.K. This community has met regularly, usually once month, in a gathering that is attuned to the seasons and cycles of the year including solstice and equinox celebrations, marking the departure and return of the birds and critters, a farewell to fall, and a Candlemas offering of little bread boats filled with nuts and seeds and fruit for animal siblings. They draw on a wide range of spiritual practices including making mandalas with found objects, mediation walks, and sharing food. Scroll through their Facebook page for a beautiful account of their journey. On their page they describe themselves this way: “We’re a group of people connecting with divine mystery outside in nature rather than in a building. We come together to learn, meditate, pray in relationship with the trees, along the river, at the shore, seeking the gift of spiritual connection outside.”
Now that James has moved on, the leadership of the group will transition to Paula Windsor a member of Richmond Hill United, who has been involved since the beginning. Paula acknowledges that traditional church doesn’t work for everyone and explains that forest church provides an alternative space that offers people an opportunity to connect with like-minded people. She says: “It’s interesting to hear what people say, what they have picked up on in their time in nature, how Spirit has spoken to them, lessons they have learned, the beauty that they see. Because that’s what it’s all about. There is beauty in everything and so we are just looking to find that “ahhhh” (you’re supposed to sing that bit) moment in nature.” During COVID when meeting was not at all possible, the group provided a script for people to do on their own and then they met later on Zoom to share experiences. They will continue into the fall with Paula’s leadership.
Wild Church movement
Both of these expressions of ministry identify as a part of the larger Wild Church movement which has been informed both by a hunger for a deeper ecology in our spiritual practice and also by the quest for justice and right relations within the watershed. Some are drawn to the openness of a spirituality that walks closely with the seasons and cycles in the wheel of the year and invites people to find and name the Divine for themselves. Some are seeking connection with the growing activist network that gathers in the name of “watershed discipleship,” a movement compelling Christians to make environmental justice an integral part of daily practice. Taddle Creek Wild Church puts it like this: “In this age defined by habitat loss and disconnection to the natural world, we feel compelled by the love of Christ to invite each other into intimate relationship with some of the most vulnerable victims of our destructive culture: the land, waters, and creatures with whom we share our homes.”
No doubt, it will be good to return to a time when we can choose to gather again and to meet inside. But before we pack everything up and move it indoors I wonder if there are any more seeds that have been planted in the church of the wild?
Links for More Information
Three Rivers Forest Church on Facebook