Field Trip Report: Church of the Woods
On October 12, an intrepid group of Vermont Episcopalians traveled to the woods of Canterbury, NH to participate in Church of the Woods and learn about this new mission initiative.
On 106 acres of woods and wetlands, The Rev. Steve Blackmer, Chaplain of Church of the Woods, is creating a worshipping community that “deliberately tries to crack open what it means to be ‘church.’ We welcome people of all faiths and traditions and actively seek to provide a place for spiritual practice, for people who aren’t comfortable in a ‘regular’ church, those who may be seeking alternatives, or those who long for a place and community for communing with both God and nature.”
Our Vermont team was met in the woods and welcomed by Steve, and then together with others from New Hampshire and Massachusetts, we began a service of Holy Eucharist while standing in a circle. Episcopalians would all recognize the liturgy we used: familiar pieces from our Book of Common Prayer and other Anglican sources such as the New Zealand Prayer Book were incorporated into the liturgy along with well-known hymns.
In place of a sermon, the group dispersed and spent time reflecting individually while walking trails or settling in a spot in the woods. We were gathered again by the sounds of cello music, offered by musician Chelsea Steinauer-Scudder, graduate of Harvard Divinity School and program staff member at Kairos Earth. Eucharist occurred around a small table and tree stump in a clearing on the top of a wooded knoll. Our gathered circle was infused with the energy of young children and a dog romping around us and enjoying the woods. Earth, the goodness of God’s creation, and stewardship of the earth were themes throughout the liturgy.
Following worship, Steve Blackmer hosted a dinner for the Vermont team in his nearby home. He told us the story of his ministry in the world as an eco-activist, his call to ordained ministry as an Episcopal priest, and the new and unfolding mission of Kairos Earth and Church of the Woods.
The Stirrings of the Spirit leadership team offered this Field Trip to Vermont congregation members to experience another possibility for a worship model; to learn about the “start up” of a new ministry and mission initiative; to expand our imagination about “church”. This model of church being out-of-doors and incorporating care of the Earth/ eco-ministry is a replicable model; where, how, might something like this be created in Vermont? Or some other new initiative that the Spirit is inviting us to create?
The Field Trip was planned by Stirrings team members Mary Lindquist (Brattleboro), Diane Root (Greater White River Area), and Sherry Osborn (Charlotte). A telephone conference call is being convened for participants on the Trip to share their experiences.
Funding for the Field Trip–free to participants—was from Stirrings of the Spirit and Diocesan Council support.