Trees, chalk and theology in Walthamstow

Chalk message on pavement next to tree: London Plane makes beauty out of pollution

Rachel's shadow falls over a message about one of her favourite trees, the London Plane. (All photos: Rachel Summers)

Wild about trees: Rachel Summers

East London pioneer Rachel Summers is on a mission to get people to notice trees in their neighbourhood and her efforts are now inspiring more and more people thanks to blossoming media coverage

Taking time to notice what matters – not least the beauty of nature – has been an emerging theme of lockdown for many people.

Now Rachel, a Forest School practitioner and Forest Church leader in east London, has caught the attention of the media for taking her chalk to the streets to help her neighbourhood see the wood for the trees.

On her daily exercise walks around Walthamstow, Rachel has been chalking the names and characteristics of local trees on the pavement under or beside them.

Chalk on pavement next to tree: "Honey locust tree: highly adaptable"
Rachel’s Twitter feed @curiouswilds has become a spotter’s guide to urban trees


In the last month she has been featured on the local ITV television news, in Time Out and on the BBC website.

When her activity first got mentioned on Twitter (follow Rachel @curiouswilds) it was the local MP Stella Creasy who was instantly able to identify Rachel’s work. Rachel is known locally for running the forest school Curious Wilds.

Chalk message under tree: False Acacia - highly resilient

Rachel is also a graduate of the St Cedd Centre for Pioneer Mission, CMS’s pioneer hub in partnership with Chelmsford diocese, and is planning to study with CMS in Oxford from September. She has also written three books on discovering God through creation (Wild Lent, Wild Advent and Wild Worship).

So it is no surprise that she is reflecting theologically on her new lockdown practice.

“Mission is about getting people to look up and look out,” says Rachel.

Chalk message on path by tree: Yew - can live for around 900 years before they are called 'ancient'. This one will have some tales to tell one day.

“‘Noticing’ is often prayer. When I’ve been doing this, it has felt so much like I’ve been ‘doing theology’, but with trees as my sacred text.

“I’ve been seeing what they, as part of God’s creation, have to speak to us in our particular situation right now. And this is what really seems to be resonating with people:

“‘Turkish hazel tolerates difficult conditions.’

“‘London Plane creates beauty out of pollution.’

“‘Silver Birch looks fragile but is actually extremely tough.’”

Chalk message under trees: Ash tree - wood absorbs shocks without splintering

Rachel believes her activity can help to change the way people see their immediate environment during the restrictions of lockdown.

“I have a strong sense that in this way I can present the prison of our streets as a gift, to be loved and cherished.”

As another of her chalkings declares, “In France, the Lime is a symbol of liberty.”

If you would like to join Rachel to study with us in September, book now for our online open day on 19 May.

//Mission Unscripted//

Read more about how Church Mission Society around the world is reacting to the coronavirus pandemic

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