This article originally appeared in the Oxford Times
The summer is here – the abundance of life is clearly all around us – nature is busy doing its thing! It is a time when we perhaps feel more connected to the earth. Delights for our senses are everywhere, from the sweetness of freshly picked strawberries and peas, to the wonder of so many shades of green around us.
It is a time of year when we might start to sense and know more fully that we are all connected to nature. It isn’t just something that we watch on TV, or that we venture into to walk the dog. In fact it isn’t something we go into at all, rather we are part of it. Really we are indistinguishable from nature.
This realisation can be profound. It has the potential to help us change the way we view nature, and also how we look after it. It is also good for us! Growing evidence suggests that embracing nature connection boosts our physical and psychological well-being and deepens our ecological sensitivity.
Nature connection is also central to the Forest Church movement that has been steadily growing over the past two years (now with over 13 groups in the UK and a presence in four countries) and is asking the question of what ‘being church’ whilst participating with nature might look like? There are a few Forest Church groups in the Oxford area exploring this question and connecting with their local nature in different ways. In Carterton a group has, for example, been exploring bushcraft skills and orienteering at Kilkenny Country Park, whilst Wychwood Forest Church started with a sponsored walk in the Charlbury area.
Oxford Forest Church recently met at Wytham Woods again (we are wanting to see it in every season for a year). It was a week before the Summer Solstice, so we reflected on the gifts of the sun, the light, warmth, colour and abundance it brings. It was also a week after Pentecost, so we celebrated the presence of Spirit who gives life in all its fullness. Thanks to Dr Andy Gosler (a University Research Lecturer in Ornithology & Conservation) we were treated to a close-up encounter with a nest of Great Tit fledglings – and we took time to engage with nature silently. We closed our time with a tea ceremony, using tea made of three plants from the summer’s abundance – chamomile for peace and rest, dandelion leaves for cleansing, and elderflower for strength of voice and song. We passed the tea around with the words “may the blessing of God’s abundance be with you”.
As you enjoy the abundance of summer why not take time to purposefully head outside to appreciate nature, and how you’re part of it? Use all your senses. You could walk outside barefoot, like St Francis did, so he would experience no disconnect between himself and “Sister Earth”.
May the blessings of God’s abundance be with you, wherever you find yourself this summer.
Find out more about Forest Church groups in the Oxford area here.
Matt Freer is a freelance project manager and Environment Advisor for the Diocese of Oxford, where he co-ordinates the EarthingFaith.org network