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.
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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.
IS YOUR WILD CHURCH ASSOCIATED WITH A DENOMINATION? Yes, the United Church of Canada.
JAMES' LITURGIES AND Resources
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
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