One weekend in May – deep in the forest (church)

DSCF0355CMS Pioneer students Ali Middleton and Sue Martyr told Helen Harwood about their ReSource weekend in May exploring Forest Church in the Cambrian Mountains. Here is how Ali started to describe it…

One weekend in May saw a group of around 25 pioneers travel to the middle of Wales to explore and experience Forest Church as part of our Resource Weekend module. Our facilitators were Bruce Stanley from Mid Wales Forest Church and Matt Freer from the newly planted Oxford Forest Church. Not only did the sun shine brightly and the healthy food delight but we were also challenged about our view of creation and the creator.

Helen: What was the most exciting bit?

Sue: It was all pretty exciting: being with nature is always exciting. There was a rather pertinent, personal moment on the trip, where my parents, the landscape and I intertwined, became one. You see, by inspiration I took my parents on this trip, well their dear ashes. I have had them under my jewellery bench for a while and I was inspired to take them to Wales at this ReSource weekend. They liked Wales. I was unsure of what I would do with them or indeed do anything with them. I must say I don’t normally carry them around in a rucksack! On the first evening we were told that we would be walking to the source of the River Severn. This excited me. I have always wanted to go to the source of this river; after all it is the longest river in England, it has a great history, plus Worcester, where I live, sits on it and as a child the family used to walk along its banks. This possibly could be the right place for my parents to be physically put back to nature. So after surveying the thoughts and feelings about the distribution of the ashes in such a place and seeing that Bruce was sensitively keen, a sort of plan was evolving. So, we ‘pioneers’ journeyed through various changes of landscape, company and feelings to the gathering place of a beginning, a ‘source’. When we had all gathered we were asked to think of things that we may have carried on our journey to the source and which we may want to leave there, and it was then that I got my parents out. I released them into the water where they swirled a little and started to disperse into the flow of the river… a beginning and an end, together with ‘pioneering’ company that they would have loved, and with me on my journey. Bruce offered me out to be hugged by others!

Ali: For me one of the most exciting parts of the weekend was the group exercises we did to help us to rediscover some of our God-given senses. The loss of the memory of these senses, Bruce explained, is part of our disconnection from nature. One exercise we did involve being blindfolded and silently led to a tree in the woods, left with there for 5 minutes and then to be silently led back a different route to the path. The experience of being led required trust and concentration, but what I found to my surprise was that on the return journey to the path I was aware of where my tree was located. On return to the path, my blindfold was taken off and I was told to find my tree, which I did. This may seem like a strange exercise to many, but I felt a connection to God’s world in a new and different way which was awe inspiring.

Helen: What was the biggest challenge?

Sue: Bruce gave us an exercise of floating like a leaf. This exercise is to ‘explore proprioception [awareness of the position of one’s own body]’. One of us lay on the ground with eyes closed and about eight others placed their hands under this person. They lifted the person horizontally, travelled a little way and then turned the person round in space and travelled back to the same place and they began to gently sway the person/leaf backwards and forwards to lay the person back on to the ground. I am not that keen on being touched by people let alone by eight people at once! However, I couldn’t miss out on this experience and I had to have a go at being ‘the leaf’. The experience was good, very good. It gave the most amazing feeling of being a leaf in the wind; it was as if nothing was holding you up. It was worth the challenge, how often are you literally touched, held up by eight people? Probably only at your death!

Ali: The biggest challenge of the weekend for me was probably how disconnected from creation I personally have become and the love of nature which Bruce obviously showed challenged some of my own personal stewardship. The love that God has for his world and how his redemptive work includes the natural world really spoke into my own way of life.

How did you experience God in a new way?

Sue: This was not a Bible-led weekend, but an experience of God, of awe and wonder in creation. I think that the more time I spent with creation the more I became more human and became aware of the humanity in others. Bruce and his team shared his life with us on this weekend and by doing this he gave us a deep understanding of God.

Ali: I have always found I am closest to God out of doors and so for me the weekend in Mid Wales confirmed parts of my own spiritual journey. Therefore the Sensio Divina session we experienced on the Friday night led me to connect to God in a deeper way. Taking time to walk in silence, dwelling on the landscape on a macro and micro level and considering its history enabled my prayers to bubble over.

Helen: Have you learnt something you can take away/pass on?

Sue: To really take up the challenge of being at one with creation, we are not an add-on to creation but we are creation itself, so I must remind myself and others to pause, to look, and to be aware of all our senses. In doing this will be renewed and so will the world.

Ali: The whole weekend gave me plenty of concepts and ideas for further reflection. I found I understood more about forest church and the people that it seeks to reach out to. That some of the sensory exercises we did could be adapted to my own rural context and especially for an all age activity. That as Christians we can be part of the rescuing of creation and fulfil our God given task of stewardship given at the Garden of Eden.

Anything else?

Sue: Forest church in Worcester? Most likely a yes! And take a look at Bruce Stanley’s book, Forest Church, Mystic Christ Press (2013).


Sue Martyr is in the first year of the Pioneer course at CMS and is part of the small missional community in Tolladine, Worcester. The Diocese is kindly paying Sue’s course fees and the parish kindly pays Sue’s travel expenses. Ali Middleton is currently a Pioneer Ordinand at CMS. She is working with young families in Long Buckby, Northamptonshire.

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