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The Trees in the Forest

A collection of stories about the emerging Wild Churches and their leaders.

Like any natural ecosystem, the Network is composed of diverse expressions of community, open and allowing for the fresh wind of change to billow through the domestication of our shared Christian faith. Some churches are affiliated with a denomination and may be more liturgical and ordered, others are independent and may be more contemplative or focused on climate activism. Most include a time of solo wandering in nature and sharing their experiences as a group. Some are led by vocational pastors, others by people with no church experience who have felt called to start a Wild Church.  

This is a movement that cannot be defined by creeds and rules and institutions.  It is best described through stories.  We will add new stories every month.  If you become a member, you can also download the resources created by these innovative, dedicated, beautiful leaders.   

  • November 17, 2020 1:23 PM | Valerie Serrels (Administrator)

    Rev. Dr. Mark McReynolds, Mennonite Church EcoPastor. Our wild church is in the Mt. Baldy area of the San Gabriel Mountains and is part of SoCal A Rocha. It is in San Antonio Canyon, in the creek bed, that we meet each other, our Creator and a place full of life and lessons. Typically, we begin with a Welcome and move on to Singing and Reading from the Christian tradition. After that we disperse for individual silent Wandering and Wondering in which we ponder what the Book of Nature (God’s creation) can teach us about God, ourselves, others and our surroundings. We then Share observations and reflections, Pray, take Communion and end with a Blessing.

    Contact Mark     

    SoCal Arocha Facebook page

    SoCal Arocha website

    IS YOUR WILD CHURCH ASSOCIATED WITH A DENOMINATION? No – we are associated with the Christian non-profit conservation organization called A Rocha.

    WHAT LED YOU TO START A WILD CHURCH?  I thoroughly enjoyed the spiritual discipline I experienced in seminary and the natural history from my bachelor’s and PhD. So, I now combine knowledge of God’s creation, aka the Book of Nature (general revelation), with the Book of Scripture (specific revelation). I was also trained as an Opening the Book of Nature facilitator a few years back. 

    WHERE DO YOU USUALLY GATHER?   We usually gather in San Antonio Creek in the Mt. Baldy area within the Angeles National Forest and the San Gabriel Mountains. 

    WHAT IS YOUR CLIMATE LIKE?  Our climate is Mediterranean – so we have rainfall only in the late Fall and Winter, followed by a quite dry period. We are also in a semi-desert area – so we most often have sunny weather even in the Winter. Summers can be hot, but streamside trees and the cool flowing water keep us comfortable.

    WHO ARE THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE displaced by settlers in your bio-region? The Tongva people lived in San Antonio Canyon and the valley below it. Mission San Gabriel’s Spanish missionaries and disease were likely the cause of the Tongva population’s crash and their loss of the use of the land. The San Gabriel Mountains were unclaimed federal land in the 1900’s and eventually became Angeles National Forest with several Wilderness areas and a new National Monument. 

    HOW DO YOU INCLUDE THE LAND, CREATURES, ELEMENTS OF YOUR PLACE IN YOUR PRACTICES OR SERVICE?  The Psalms say all creation praises God, so if we take the time to look we expect God’s creation – the swirling water, green canopy, bird calls, cool breeze, tumbled boulders – to help us better understand the place we are at, the people with us, ourselves and our God who has made “all things”. 

    IS YOUR WILD CHURCH INVOLVED IN CLIMATE ADVOCACY WORK AND/OR ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION? How do you embody that?  We pick up trash as we walk from our worship site – the area before our site is well used (or abused) by the general public. Through SoCal A Rocha there are opportunities to be involved in microplastic pollution studies at the beach, keep track of birds behind a dam, monitor Bluebird boxes and more. Mark has spoken at a local climate change conference, and publicly written about forest fires and climate change. Our national organization, A Rocha USA, has Climate Stewards and Love Your Place programs for individuals too.

    FROM THE "CHRIST TRADITION" IS ONE WAY WE HAVE DESCRIBED THE COMMONALITIES OF WILD CHURCHES IN THE NETWORK. HOW DOES (OR DOESN'T) THIS DESCRIBE YOUR COMMUNITY?  We see Church in Creation as a pan-denominational Christian worship service. It’s led and influenced by a Mennonite pastor who, over the years, with his family, has attended Anglican, Christian Church, Evangelical Lutheran, Mennonite, Mennonite Brethren, Presbyterian, United Methodist and non-denominational churches. His calling is to bring Church and creation together – Church in Creation is one way to do that. We work with anyone, secular or spiritual, who cares for what we see as God’s creation. Spiritual nature lovers are welcome to attend Church in Creation: no one is pressured to participate and all are free to simply observe.

    HOW OFTEN DO YOU GATHER? Currently we gather monthly – usually on a Sunday afternoon to avoid conflicts with more traditional church services.


    Wild Church members can download and adapt any of Mark's resources. Please attribute borrowed resources to Dr. Mark McReynolds.

    Church in Creation Order of Service

    Wildfire Sunday


  • November 17, 2020 12:36 PM | Valerie Serrels (Administrator)

    Rev. David Stout, Rector.  St. Jamesʻ Parish on Hawaiʻi Island (affectionally known as the "Big Island"), an Episcopal church, spans from the warm, sandy beaches of the South Kohala Coast to the upcountry, Paniolo ranching town of Waimea, across the Hamakua Coast to lush, tropical Paʻauilo. Join us for our “Service on the Sand” on the beach at Kawaihae Harbor in front of the Kawaihae Canoe Club (next to the boat ramp). Bring a beach chair or towel and umbrella for rain or sun. The Beach Mass (Eucharist) is offered each weekend on Saturdays at 5 PM and Sunday mornings at 8 AM. Due to Covid-19, social distancing and masks are required. Keiki will need to remain with their parents.

    NOTE: In the event of inclement weather and there is a question of whether or not the services will be cancelled, a message will be placed on the parish answering machine (808-885-4923) and on the front page of our parish website by 4 PM on Saturday or 7 AM on Sunday.

    Contact David     

    St James Hawai'i Facebook page

    Visit St. James Hawai'i website

    WHAT LED YOU TO START A WILD CHURCH?  It is a beautiful blessing to worship is Godʻs outdoor Cathedral!

    WHERE DO YOU USUALLY GATHER?   We meet under the Kiawe and Palm trees on the beach at the Kawaihae Canoe Club.

    WHAT IS YOUR CLIMATE LIKE?  Kawaihae is usually around 80 degrees. The rainfall in this area of the island is about 5" a year, so one can usually count on it being dry. However, there are times we will cancel because of inclement weather, especially if there is a tropical storm. Always check the parish website to confirm. If the service is cancelled, one of our clergy will be present with the reserve sacrament and a good word for anyone who shows up that did not hear the worship service is cancelled.

    WHO ARE THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE displaced by settlers in your bio-region?  Our service seeks to honor our Hawaiian host culture by including the sounding of the Pū (the blowing of the conch shell), Hawaiian chant, songs (nā mele) and liturgical responses in Hawaiian.

    HOW DO YOU INCLUDE THE LAND, CREATURES, ELEMENTS OF YOUR PLACE IN YOUR PRACTICES OR SERVICE? We sound the Pū (the blowing of the conch shell) to call us together. The Eucharistic Prayer is written specifically to honor our environment. We seek to honor the ʻaina (the land) by leaving it better than we found it.

    IS YOUR WILD CHURCH INVOLVED IN CLIMATE ADVOCACY WORK AND/OR ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION? How do you embody that?  We strive to honor that we are blessed to live here and welcome those who visit. We hold that the mana (Godʻs spirit) is at work in and through all things. We hold to a strong theology of stewardship of our ʻaina (land) and kai (ocean) is a deep part of our local, Hawaiian culture.

  • November 05, 2020 1:20 PM | Valerie Serrels (Administrator)

    Lanni Lantto, Lay Leader.  Wild Church of the Upper Peninsula is rising from an ecumenical choir of people reconnecting with our ancient black rocks, our expansive watersheds, our paper birch trees, our snowshoe hares and wild wilderness.  Gathering together we bear witness to the holiness around us & place ourselves as God's stewards within a living breathing eco-system of black rocks and Great Lakes.  We challenge the emptiness of our culture of consumption and experience the fullness of living in right relationship with the Earth and our Creator.  

    Contact Lanni       

    Find UP Wild Church on Facebook

    Find UP Wild Church on Instagram

    Visit UP Wild Church website

    WHAT LED YOU TO START A WILD CHURCH?  The world calls us into careers and God calls us into vocations. We are called to care for creation and for each other because it is all connected. "The leaves have not suddenly changed their colors at this moment, nor has the sky been transformed. All that beauty was already there. What changed? I did. This splendor was there, but I did not notice it. I became a beholder and I see what is there to be seen" (M. Himes). When I step out of myself (ego) and into creation, we begin to notice the love which supports all that exists. God is the Mystery which has created all things; for God is love and love is a relationship of which, we are called into daily. We have a supportive network of people in our area who called forth this new type of ministry and I just help curate it. There is nothing more important to me to be giving my time too especially at this pivotal time.

    WHERE DO YOU USUALLY GATHER?   We usually meet with Lake Superior, paper birch trees, snow hares in winter and chipmunks and Canadian geese in the summer, in public parks or hiking trails and sometimes where you can see the scars of the mines.

    WHAT IS YOUR CLIMATE LIKE?  Snow 75% of the year! We meet indoors in a small chapel for Evening Centering Prayer but during COVID, we meet online.

    WHO ARE THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE displaced by settlers in your bio-region?  We acknowledge in every service that this is the unceded ancestral land of the Anishinabe people.

    HOW DO YOU INCLUDE THE LAND, CREATURES, ELEMENTS OF YOUR PLACE IN YOUR PRACTICES OR SERVICE?  The often hidden congregation of land and creatures is always present either in physical space or within the prayers, themes the service. We pray together as a community but we also reflect on how our actions affect everything around us.

    IS YOUR WILD CHURCH INVOLVED IN CLIMATE ADVOCACY WORK AND/OR ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION? How do you embody that?  We are usually the only voice of faith at climate advocacy events as a part of our mission is to "put our faith at the forefront of societal and climate changes". We know that the Christian tradition is rich with wisdom on our responsibility to care about these issues. We also hope to be a place of respite for those who have left traditional congregations or faith traditions that never fully connected these dots, especially the youth.

    FROM THE "CHRIST TRADITION" IS ONE WAY WE HAVE DESCRIBED THE COMMONALITIES OF WILD CHURCHES IN THE NETWORK. HOW DOES (OR DOESN'T) THIS DESCRIBE YOUR COMMUNITY?  We are rooted in Christ and the teachings- we do not 'worship nature' we worship in nature a God who created ALL things. We are a cross-denominational entity that brings forth a lot of ancient Christian wisdom especially from the desert mother/fathers, the lives of the Saints, and modeling after Christ.

    IS YOUR WILD CHURCH ASSOCIATED WITH A DENOMINATION?  Affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and the Episcopal church. Open to all. 


    Wild Church members can download and adapt any of Lanni's beautiful and poignant resources. Please attribute borrowed resources to Lanni Lantto.

     Reflection: A Prayer for the Amazon

    Reflection: An Invitation From the Birds

    Nature Prayer Service: Ask the Animals

    Centering Prayer


  • November 05, 2020 11:50 AM | Valerie Serrels (Administrator)

    Rev. JAMES RAVENSCROFT, United Church of Canada.  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. We pay homage to the Celtic year, celebrating the equinoxes, solstices and cross quarters. Sometimes we go on a meditation walk and other times we honour the spirit of a season through formal ritual.

    Contact James       

    Three Rivers Facebook Page

    WHAT LED YOU TO START A WILD CHURCH?  I have felt a connection to Spirit in nature for as long as I can remember. It wasn't a surprise then when I ended up spending much of my time at the Greenbelt Festival in the UK several years ago in "The Grove", participating in worship and teaching workshops led by various British "Forest Churches". I returned to Canada knowing I needed to start something similar. I knew that I was not alone in finding divine connection in nature. I also knew I was not alone in my desire to protect the environment, a critical need right now as climate change continues apace. For me, facilitating a Forest Church group combines both of these passions together, making space for those working to protect the Earth to also be spiritually nurtured through her mediation.

    WHERE DO YOU USUALLY GATHER?  Three Rivers Forest Church meets within Greater Toronto and so is quite urban. We are lucky to have access to lots of green space, public parks and conservation areas. Richmond Hill is in the Oak Ridges Moraine, a high point in the region from which flows several rivers that flow into the Great Lakes. It is hilly with areas of mixed forest. This is the northernmost tip of the Carolinian Forest and so home to many unique species. Unfortunately it is very much under threat becasue of urban sprawl. There are also several kettle lakes nearby. As an urban area much of the animal life we encounter is adapted to living near humans, namely squirrels, rabbits, sparrows, monarch butterflies, bumblebees, even the occasional opossum.

    WHAT IS YOUR CLIMATE LIKE?  The climate of Central Ontario is fairly temperate with four distinct seasons. The summers can be hot and the winters quite cold. Because of the Great Lakes it is also quite humid, making the summers muggy and the winters damp. Winter is our most "difficult" season with occasional snowstorms. We have never needed to cancel. No matter the month we spend at least part of our celebration outside, even if it just for 15 minutes.

    WHO ARE THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE displaced by settlers in your bio-region?  The history of this area is complicated. Not far from the centre of Richmond Hill was a Wendat village. It was abandoned as members of Haudenosaunee settled in the area. They in turn moved south as Anishnabeg expanded their territory. These moves were further impacted by the arrival of French explorers and then British settlers. Most recently the area is the traditional territory of the Mississaugas. The land that is now Toronto and the areas north was "purchased" but the legal obligations of the treaty not honoured. We regularly acknowledge this complicated and tragic history as we come together.

    HOW DO YOU INCLUDE THE LAND, CREATURES, ELEMENTS OF YOUR PLACE IN YOUR PRACTICES OR SERVICE?  We often begin our gathering with a prayer that acknowledges the elements. People are invited to centre themselves by paying attention to the wind, the sun, the air, the sounds around them, the solid footing of the Earth. Several times a year the main focus of the service is a meditation walk where participants take time being attentive to the teachings that the more-than-human have to offer us. In addition, we seek to make ecological connections through Judeo-Christian scripture, texts from other traditions, and teachings from the Celtic and Wiccan traditions.

    IS YOUR WILD CHURCH INVOLVED IN CLIMATE ADVOCACY WORK AND/OR ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION? How do you embody that?  As a group sponsored by the local United Church congregation, most of the Climate Advocacy Work of Three Rivers Forest Church is done in partnership with local churches and community based organizations. Participants in Three Rivers Forest Church are also members of these churches and groups. At this point we have focused on offering the spiritual grounding for the activism people are doing.

    FROM THE "CHRIST TRADITION" IS ONE WAY WE HAVE DESCRIBED THE COMMONALITIES OF WILD CHURCHES IN THE NETWORK. HOW DOES (OR DOESN'T) THIS DESCRIBE YOUR COMMUNITY?  We strive to approach the name "Christ" broadly, recognizing the spiritual reality as expressed powerfully in the life of Jesus but not exclusively. Christ for us is more broadly a recognition of the incarnational nature of our experience, where God, divine mystery is present in and through all things, humans included. We regularly make use of Judeo-Christian scriptures and themes but also draw on the teachings of other traditions. We consider ourselves to be interspiritual, especially honouring the Wiccan tradition alongside the Christian for many of our gatherings.

    HOW OFTEN DO YOU GATHER? We gather monthly

    HOW MANY USUALLY GATHER WITH YOU?  Between 6-12, mostly people who identify as Christian. We often have visitors as well.



    Wild Church members can download and adapt any of James' beautiful and poignant resources. Please attribute borrowed resources to James Ravenscroft.

    Conscious Senses Meditation 

    All Hallows Tide: A Time to Say Good-Bye

    Candlemas Meditation Walk and Mandala Making

    Winter Solstice


  • June 12, 2020 2:16 PM | Valerie Serrels (Administrator)

    Rev. Stephanie Price, United Methodist Church.  The Land is an outdoor faith community dedicated to connecting with and caring for creation. Our mission is to draw people together from all walks of life to cultivate spiritual community through faith, farming, and food. We are committed to cultivating an inclusive spiritual community that affirms all people as beloved children of God welcome to full participation at The Land!

    Contact Stephanie      

    The Land UMC Website

    The Land Facebook Page

    The Land Instagram Page

    WHERE DO YOU USUALLY GATHER?  We meet on our own prairie land under a canopy structure with walls that can pull down in the winter. With propane heaters, even in the winter, it can remain a comfortable place to gather.

    WHO ARE THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE displaced by settlers in your bio-region?  This is something I have really failed to focus on. I think it scares me, to be honest, and I am not sure what to do with the whole reality. This is not due to a lack of exposure since both my seminary education and my denomination have done a lot of education and reconciliation work with indigenous communities. I think I struggle to find an entry point that feels authentic for me.

    HOW OFTEN DO YOU GATHER?  We gather weekly.

    HOW MANY USUALLY GATHER WITH YOU?  Usually between 12 and 25. A majority are Christian.

    CLIMATE/ECOLOGICAL ACTIVITIES:   We offer spiritual ecology education, as well as classes to the community on xeriscaping, composting and gardening. Our activities include tree planting and other restoration actions, community gardens and other food-related actions, and community based sustainability actions. We are committed to conserving our prairie grasslands in the midst of development. Our sustainability calendar helps us to track our carbon footprints and water usage.

    DO MANY KIDS ATTEND? WHAT DOES THEIR PARTICIPATION LOOK LIKE? Yes, we have a Prairie School during our service and they also serve communion and run the show, so to speak.


    HOW DO YOU INCLUDE THE LAND, CREATURES, ELEMENTS OF YOUR PLACE IN YOUR PRACTICES OR SERVICE? We have a practice of pausing for/with creation when worshipping. We pass a composting bucket for our offering.


    Wild Church members can download and adapt any of Stephanie's beautiful and poignant resources including:   

    Holy Saturday 


  • May 20, 2020 11:59 AM | Victoria Loorz (Administrator)

    Rev. LEANN BLACKERT, UCC Minister.  Wild Church is a sacred nature-based experience to awaken deep love for self, earth and all living beings for the survival and healing of the planet. We are a new expression of “church” being offered in British Columbia. The Christian story starts in a garden with humanity in conversation with the Holy One. Somewhere far down that luxurious path through the woods, structures began to be built and “church” became walled in. Wild Church is our attempt to return to the natural world to find connection with God, Source, Creator, whatever you name that which is bigger than we are. We will meet out in “the wild” to explore and experience the spiritual and the sacred.

    Contact LeAnn      

    Wild Church B.C. Website

    Wild Church B.C. Facebook Page

    Wild Church Okanagan Facebook Page

    Wild Church B.C. Instagram

    Wild Church Okanagan Instagram

    WHERE DO YOU USUALLY GATHER?  The interior of British Columbia is a dry, lake-filled, mountainous area. Kamloops is semi-desert with rolling hills covered in sagebrush, small cactus and Ponderosa pines. It's not uncommon to come across a bear or coyote while wandering the trails of our local parks. Crows, ravens and magpies dominate the conversation, though the meadowlarks and red-winged blackbirds get their time, too. The locations for our Okanagan gatherings are centered in and around Kelowna, which is located right on Okanagan Lake. Not as arid as Kamloops, this area offers many meeting places along the lake or nearby Mission Creek or up high on the ridge lines. Painted turtles, ospreys and eagles have skirted our groups checking us out. And geese! Everywhere there are geese!

    WHAT IS YOUR CLIMATE LIKE?  Our climate offers four seasons although spring can be a bit short. Temperatures can range from -35C to +35C (-31F to 95F). Sometimes warmer in the summer. We do meet outside year round, choosing locations to help regulate temps. In the winter we bundle up in our good parkas and snow boots and typically participants choose walking meditation over sitting on the land! In the winter we offer sheepskins and blankets to help keep everyone warm.

    WHO ARE THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE displaced by settlers in your bio-region?  We open every gathering with an acknowledgement that the lands on which we gather are the traditional unceded lands of the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc and Syilx peoples. This land was taken from the peoples around 1811. At that time the colonial government divided the larger nation into smaller bands with specific portions of lands distributed to each. In addition, the Syilx peoples became a trans-boundary nation separated at the 49th parallel and US/Canada border. The arrival of smallpox wiped out many of the indigenous peoples. Later children were taken from their families through manipulation and force and sent to residential schools with the intention of stripping them of their culture. The name of our community, Kamloops, comes from the indigenous word "tk-emlups" which means "where the rivers meet." The North and South Thompson Rivers meet in Kamloops and flow on to Kamloops Lake.

    HOW OFTEN DO YOU GATHER?  We gather twice a month plus a monthly pilgrimage where we go on longer hikes together.

    HOW MANY USUALLY GATHER WITH YOU?  Usually between 12 and 25, and many of them are spiritual but not religious.

    CLIMATE/ECOLOGICAL ACTIVITIES:  We participate in climate or spiritual ecology, tree planting and other restoration actions, and community based sustainability actions. We are working toward more climate advocacy work. Our initial goal is to create a new ministry in our communities with a goal of helping others learn to love and care for our local lands. We continue to introduce ideas and actions to foster more commitment to this work.

    IS YOUR WILD CHURCH ASSOCIATED WITH A DENOMINATION?  We are under the umbrella of the United Church of Canada as a supported church plant. 

    Leann'S LITURGIES AND Resources

    Wild Church members can download and adapt any of LeAnn's beautiful and poignant resources including:   

    International Women's Day/Celebration of the Divine Feminine


  • March 25, 2020 11:00 AM | Victoria Loorz (Administrator)

    Rev. WENDY JANZEN, Mennonite Pastor.  Burning Bush is a small, experimental worshipping group; individuals who have found ourselves longing for connection with the Divine spirit in the natural world. We come to nurture our spirits and tend our souls. We come to reconnect with our wild home, our watershed, and the community of creation. We come to find others who are on similar spiritual paths. We come to experience silence, and beauty, and contemplation.

    Contact Wendy

    Burning Bush Forest Church Website

    Burning Bush Facebook Page

    Burning Bush Instagram

    WHERE DO YOU USUALLY GATHER?  We meet in urban forested parks, mostly at one in particular, but we do occasionally gather at other locations as well. Our regular gathering place is on the banks of Laurel Creek, in a mostly deciduous forest (maple, beech, oak, cherry, willow, hemlock...). Some of the creatures who call this place home are ducks, geese, chickadees, beaver, deer, and rabbits. We chose this place because it is a beautiful natural sanctuary within our city that is easy for people to get to by car, bike, or public transportation.

    WHAT IS YOUR CLIMATE LIKE?  We are in a northern climate, with four distinct seasons. Both summer and winter present certain challenges - in the summer there is the heat and humidity, threat of thunderstorms, and insects like deer ticks (that can carry Lyme disease) that we need to be aware of. In the winter we contend with cold temperatures and potentially icy/snowy ground conditions.  

    WHO ARE THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE displaced by settlers in your bio-region? The original peoples who lived here and cared for the land were Haudenesaune, Anishnabe, and Neutral. The story of how the land was taken from them is is too complex a question to do justice to with a brief answer! We  recognize and name their place in the story of the land where we gather, and the need for reconciliation.   

    HOW OFTEN DO YOU GATHER?  Monthly on Sunday afternoons

    HOW MANY USUALLY GATHER WITH YOU?  Usually between 12 and 25, and about a quarter of them are often visitors

    CLIMATE/ECOLOGICAL ACTIVITIES:  Community-based sustainability actions such as hosting an outdoor public prayer service in conjunction with the global climate strike in September 2019. We also host book studies, and exploring ways to engage with the urban reforestation plan for the city.  

    IS YOUR WILD CHURCH ASSOCIATED WITH A DENOMINATION?  We are affiliated with the Mennonite Church through a partnership with a local congregation which serves as a fiscal sponsor for us, and I am an ordained Mennonite pastor.  We are rooted in the Christian tradition, and include readings from scripture in addition to poetry or other texts. We welcome everyone, no matter your faith background or experience with church. We are not focused on dogma or doctrine, but on faith experience, and hope that all will encounter the Divine as we gather.  


    Wild Church members can download and adapt any of Wendy's beautiful and poignant resources including:   

    Winter's Sacred Blessing Service

    Hope and Lament Service

    Awakening Hour Service

    Holy Ground Eucharist 


  • February 23, 2020 1:42 PM | Victoria Loorz (Administrator)

    VALERIE LUNA SERRELS, MA, Founder/Guide.  Shenandoah Valley Church of the Wild gathers together with the wild others in the George Washington National Forest in the North River and Shenandoah River watershed, a church without walls on the edges of wilderness and civilization. Our teachers are the Black Oak and the Eastern Cottonwood, the Cardinals and Finches, the ancient lichen and the black stone, and one another. Recognizing the sacred in all of creation, and ourselves as part of nature, we listen in to the sacred conversation within ourselves, under our feet, and within and between all beings, as a pathway to personal wholeness and cultural transformation.

    Valerie Serrels is the leader of Shenandoah Valley Church of the Wild.  Her Irish/Scottish ancestry led her to research and lean deeply into the Celtic stream of spirituality. Her gatherings reflect the nature-based practices and orientation of her ancestors. Enjoy Valerie's interview:




    INSTAGRAM:  svchurchofthewild

    HOW OFTEN DO YOU USUALLY GATHER?  We meet monthly in the forest, but we've also started meeting closer to town at a park for potlucks and casual conversation once a month as well, as a way of building more intentional community.

    AFFILIATION WITH A DENOMINATION?  None. My own spiritual background is varied, beginning with an evangelical/pentecostal church in my 20's, through years of engagement with Lutheran, Episcopal, Mennonite and community-based churches. I've integrated the best of these traditions, especially the social justice lens of the Mennonites. However, I couldn't contain what was rising in me within the walls, both literally and conceptually, of what I consider the domesticated institutional church. I locate myself now within the Celtic stream of consciousness within both pre-Christian and post-Christian landscapes. 

    WHAT DOES YOUR HUMAN CONGREGATION LOOK LIKE?  Between 12 and 25 of usually gather.  We've never had kids attend, but many are college students, some are older, and a few elderly. Most would identify as "SBNR" (Spiritual but not Religious), some identify with Buddhism, others as Christian. 

    WHERE DO YOU GENERALLY MEET?  We meet in Hone Quarry Campground, a public campground in a national forest. Hone Quarry Run provides year-round water flowing through the campground and recreation area, with mixed hardwood trees including eastern pine, red oak, sycamore, and poplar. The area is home to deer, squirrel, raccoon, rabbits, white-breasted nuthatch, pileated woodpecker, different species of fish, snakes, and salamander.

    WHAT IS YOUR CLIMATE LIKE:  We have four seasons - hot in the summer, some thunderstorms, rains in the spring and summer and some snow and cold weather in the winter.

    WHO ARE THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES WHO CARED FOR THE LAND WHERE YOU LIVE:  The word Shenandoah is of unknown Native American origin, but some research suggests this was the ancestral home of the Senentoa people, an agricultural burial-mound people, who were slaughtered sometime in the late 16th century. During the time of European settlement there were various inter-tribal conflicts, as well as colonial-tribal conflicts. The land we gather on is the ancestral land of the Monacan Nation. These lands was stolen by European colonists on behalf of King George, and sold or given as parcels to settlers during 17th and 18th century. My ancestors were among the first settlers in the Shenandoah Valley. For many years they were involved in various conflicts with Native People, being killed by them and killing them. It’s important that we read an acknowledgment of territory at the beginning of each gathering, honoring those who inhabited and loved this land for centuries before we called this home. We open ourselves to healing a kindred relationship with the spirits of the place, and coming to terms with our violent history.

    Q&A: What led you to start your Wild Church?  I started CoW as a personal response to my changing relationship with traditional church and from my shifting perspective around what leads to social change in a time of destruction from global climate change and cultural dismantling. I would go home from church feeling depressed and far away from any experience of God, or Mystery. I remember thinking that church did a pretty good job of creating community for most people. But it does not include the full community of beings.

    For me, “church” should be about transformation. At the same time, I’d had an inside look at the climate movement, and had come to the realization that the level of change needed to create a world that doesn’t rely on extraction and destruction was not going to happen solely through direct action, as important as that also is.

    I was led to start this after walking with my sister as she started the first Church of the Wild in Ojai, CA in 2015, after spending years doing genealogy and ancestral engagement with my Celtic heritage. Social change happens when people change. Laws can change and direct people's behavior. But if the guiding worldview and orientation of people is unchanged, new symptoms will arise in society reflecting the underlying roots. Behavior can change when worldview shifts. When we understand how deeply interconnected we are with everything and everyone else. If we have a relationship with a tree or flower or piece of a forest, we will understand that the well-being of that being is our own well-being... sacred reciprocity.  Likewise, when we encounter the numinous in an experiential way, we become a participant in a sacred conversation that changes us. When we slow down enough and notice the sounds and sights and feelings and energy of other beings around us, and to the quiet stillness within, we can awaken to the divine union that exists already, waiting for us.

    Church of the Wild is a space to remember our primary belonging - to our own soul and the Divine within, with the natural world and the Divine Intelligence around us, and within one another. I can’t think of any more important work to be doing right now in a time of enormous change, unmooring and heightened anxiety in the world. We are in the midst of a crucial paradigm shift and this work is grounding in the best and most literal way possible.

    HOW DO YOU PRACTICE "EXTERNAL TRANSFORMATION" (Caring for the land, etc)  I see restoring relationship to the land and creatures as climate advocacy work. It is through direct experience of reconnection that we will live into a new paradigm that understands what we do to the ground beneath our feet, the waters that surround our towns, the trees that provide oxygen, we do to ourselves. Last year we supported the 1000 flags project in Virginia that helped raise awareness of the resistance to proposed gas pipelines that threaten forests and waterways in our region. One of our gatherings focused on water and our rivers, and we gathered in the creek with a nylon flag we had all decorated and blessed it in the waters of Hone Quarry Run, to extend blessing to those creeks and rivers in harm’s way.

    WHAT DOES 'FROM THE CHRIST TRADITION' MEAN TO YOU?  This describes our community, but perhaps not in the traditional way. If by Christ Tradition we mean in the tradition of understanding that all of life is an incarnation of God, then yes. I stand in the long tradition of the Celtic mothers and fathers who understood the natural world as the original revelation of God. I also stand in the line of the mystics and the Cosmic Christ, the incarnational God that is the universe, who holds all things together. This revelation can be profoundly experienced in our relationship with Mother Earth, with one another, and within.

    Valerie's LITURGIES AND Resources

    Wild Church members can download and adapt any of Valerie's beautiful and poignant resources, including:

    Invocation of the Watershed

    Order of Service for Honoring St Brigid

    Order of Service for a Celtic Samhain Ceremony

    Order of Service for Holy Saturday - Tending Sacred Grief

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