St Mark’s Church, nestling in the village of Dolphinholme, has been taking church back to nature in recent months with a fantastic ‘Forest Church’ initiative.
Forest Church is open to anybody of any age who would like to learn more about God’s world and meets once a month, usually on a Saturday. Unsurprisingly, it’s very popular with families!
The idea was developed by the Vicar, Rev Cindy Rigney and the church’s ‘Vision Champion’, Jackie Hough.
And now other parishes across Lancashire can try it too – thanks to FREE resources available on the Diocesan Board of Education website; and they can be adapted for any setting, not just rural.
Since it started, Forest Church events at St Mark’s have included a bat walk, with experts and bat detectors; river dipping with a local river expert; and identifying wild flowers and fauna of the churchyard.
Cindy said: “'We identified that a number of people in Dolphinholme appreciate the beauty of where they live, but don't necessarily connect with the Church.
“I was aware of the work of 'Forest Schools' and it occurred to me that St Mark's was very well placed to offer something along those lines. I did a bit of research and then contacted Jackie who has well and truly run with the idea!”
Jackie said: “My favourite quote, that to me summarises the ethos behind our Forest Church is from naturalist John Muir who said: ‘I’d rather be in the mountains thinking about God, than in Church thinking about the mountains’.”
According to Jackie, caring for the environment and wildlife translates easily into Christian beliefs.
“For me Forest Church is all about encouraging people to engage more with nature and with each other; to stop for a moment and really look at something. Maybe it’s an animal track; maybe it could be what creature might live in the local environment and so on.”
Meanwhile, the efforts to create the Forest Church are already reaping rewards as Jackie explains: “We recently won our first award, a bronze certificate for the RSPB Wild Challenge, and we have a silver and gold certificate on the way!”
The missional element of Forest Church is important too of course. Each Forest Church session starts with prayer, or a short Bible passage, while the family service at St Mark’s is promoted on a flyer.
Jackie adds: “All attendees get their name on our prayer tree and they have sticker charts too, for any service they attend. Our Forest Church congregation is growing very nicely and we have ‘brand new’ people coming, which is amazing!”
A further development came recently with the involvement of the Diocesan Board of Education’s Children’s Team. They were putting together a project called ‘Summer Explorers’ for the use of churches throughout the Lancashire and beyond.
When Lindsay Wright, Digital Media and Resource officer for the team, heard about the Forest Church concept it inspired her to create six weeks of Bible sessions for 5-11 year olds based on it, encouraging children and leaders to go outside to reconnect with God by connecting with His creation – whatever the weather!
They can be downloaded FREE from the Board of Education website and, being on the web, it means the resources are available to parishes across the country who want to use them – not just here in Lancashire. Just credit to Blackburn Diocesan Board of Education as the source please!
Meanwhile, where better than St Mark’s itself to test out the resources? So recently St Mark’s did two of the planned activities, creating a wind chime and making a butterfly feeder, with great success.
Lindsay commented: “St Mark’s were so helpful in collaborating with our project: they took ownership of the two activities, which proved popular with the children and their parents.”
If you want to have a go at your church, a wide-open rural setting to use the resources is not required either. Semi-rural and even urban churches can get involved.
Lindsay said: “You do not need a big leafy area especially if you’re running these during your usual Sunday school slots. With our resources you will be able to find some ideas if you want to go outside but are limited by lack of space for any reason.”
Story by Mark Ashley
Ronnie Semley, August 2019