Rewilding and Healthy Churches

The Revd Clive Hicks, Healthy Churches Development Enabler, writes about rewilding in relation to healthy churches based on a experience he had at A Rocha Canada in October this year.

When we consider the relevance of creation (and rewilding thinking) to the broadest ‘healthy church’ agenda, we start to see some specific themes emerging.

When we look beyond the individual (species, people) to think about relationships and processes that interlink, and are part of the greater whole (this is rewilding thinking) – it is manifest in things like Growing Faith, which sees the linkages of church, schools and families for children to build their spiritual muscles

Incredibly, experts speak about how salmon bring nutrients from the oceans to the local environment, benefiting the health of predators like ospreys and eagles, and even trees – and so we are wise to consider how newcomers to our Christian communities bring special things with them, rather than expecting them to ‘become like us.’  As Amy Gulik has said, in Alaska, ‘the salmon not only help grow the trees, they actually grow in the trees,’ and so we can expect the presence of any individual or group in our communities to feed into it (and hope and have faith for this to be for good, rather than at times focusing on bad influence).

The return of salmon – after several years away, in the oceans – speaks to the affection with which people can return to our churches, and their close association with ‘place’ – this is a remarkable opportunity; and we can be part of the welcome and desire to include and integrate them.

When listening to the detail of the project in northern British Columbia (Houston, salmon hatchery), I was open-mouth amazed that volunteers, under supervision, would reduce the height of beaver dams (over a distance of 30 km) to enable the Coho salmon to reach their spawning grounds up river.  The picture here is of a radical, knowledgeable, approach to hospitality, that goes to where people gather, and lowers the threshold for newcomers to ‘come home’.

Cindy, hearing of our own meagre efforts to rewild our garden (with yellow rattle, poppies, cornflowers, this year), recommended Douglas Tallamy’s “Nature’s Best Hope: a new approach to conservation that starts in your yard” (Timber Press, 2019) – and it is a common theme for each of us to think about the small part we can each play in the Kingdom of God, to ‘make a difference.’

Quoting Jean Giono (author of The Man who Planted Trees) ‘We do not want to isolate man, He is no longer isolated. The face of the earth is in his heart.’   The thinking behind Forest Church, Muddy Church, church walking groups, is a wonderful window onto the possibilities to connect anyone who cares to the natural world where they are.  I thoroughly enjoyed living in the Eden Valley (as a vicar) during the Covid lockdowns, not least listening to the dawn chorus, untainted by traffic noise, in May 2020.  Let’s expect that creation cares for us (as well as us for it!)!

Here are some lines from The Threshold in ‘Brooksdale Poems: spring uncut” by A.L. Naluz.                

It was but a broken nest
Placed upon the earth
Every so gently
By the hands of God

And now I understand
The next place beyond
Truly is the end
But is also the beginning

An unbounded horizon
Lush with limitlessness

And so I flow
out of the Threshold
Into the ground of
infinite light

The first newsletter we received from A Rocha Canada (October 2023), featured the headline ‘Planting a Garden, Sprouting a Church’ linking with an online gathering about Hazelnut Community Farm at Greenbank, Bristol, in suburban Bristol; different kind of worshipping community the other side of the world from British Columbia.

First published on: 24th November 2023
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