On a blustery day in Lent, 17 Anglicans took a silent walk in the Duffins Creek watershed. It was the first hiking church event hosted by the Bishop’s Committee on Creation Care. Our route took us along a suburban street, under a power corridor, and into the woods along a ravine.
After 30 minutes of walking in silence, we stopped amid white pine and sumac with their red cones still bright in winter, made a circle in the snow and shared a Eucharist – the earth our paten, the chalice passed from one to another around the circle. Our return trip included conversation, framed by a question: What did you notice?
There were challenges. A snow squall made it almost impossible to see when we started out, but by the time we hit the woods, the sun was shining. We hit an icy patch on the trail. Everyone helped one another through it with great care, and we were formed as community.
As I write this, Nova Scotians are grieving people drowned in flash floods, the air is filled with forest fire soot and global temperatures are dangerously high. As the crisis deepens, so does our grief for the Earth, for the vulnerable poor who are suffering the most, for the creatures who are “falling faster than the minutes of our lives,” as the poet W.S. Merwin wrote. Lament is an important spiritual practice for us in this time. (See Karen Turner’s article.)
We know the we are at a crisis point. We know we must change our way of life. We know that our voices must be heard as advocates for the earth. We know that the actions we take as disciples are an important witness
It is encouraging to see how many parishes in our diocese are gardening, forming green teams and becoming advocates for creation. This crisis calls us to be Christ-centred, creation-informed disciples on the way, recognizing that the neighbours we serve are not only the humans, but the foxes and the cedars, the floral and fauna communities with whom we share our home.
Do you feel overwhelmed by the crisis facing our world? Not sure what to do? Writer and farmer Wendell Berry says while the crisis is global, our focus should be local. “The question that must be addressed is not how to care for the planet, but how to care for each of the planet’s millions of human and natural neighbourhoods, each of its millions of small pieces and parcels of land, each one of which is in some precious way different from all the others.”
Hiking church is a way to begin doing this work in our parishes. It’s been often said that we won’t save what we don’t love, and we can’t love what we don’t know, and we won’t know what we haven’t experienced. So why not take a walk with your parish? Find the folks who have a lot of local knowledge to share; they could choose the route. When you share Eucharist, you will be re-affirming your sacred bond to the earth, singing the Sanctus with the birds and the creatures who dwell with you in your place. You will have taken some important steps on the way to knowing, loving and serving creation in your parish.
On that snowy, icy day in Lent, one of the participants said that by the time we stopped for worship, she was tired and cold and couldn’t see how it was going to work. But as we shared bread around the circle, our feet touching the Earth, she felt a deep sense of connection that moved her to tears.
If you visit the creation care page on the diocesan website, you will find a template for hiking church, and we encourage you to adapt it to your context. We are grateful to the Salal + Cedar wild church community of the Fraser Valley watershed for allowing us to include the Eucharistic Prayer that allows you to name the creatures, the plants and the animals, the waterways and the geography of your place. (If you do use it, they ask that you credit it in your materials and make a financial contribution to the Indigenous land defenders near you.)
Our hope is that hiking church events happen in every parish in the diocese: rural, suburban, urban. It’s a good idea to scout out your route and time it, with the capacity of your hikers in mind. The pace you set must work for the slow walkers. Choose a walk that is safe, enjoyable and accessible for the people with whom you hope to share the experience. Let us know how it goes. We would appreciate hearing your experience, adaptations and suggestions for this liturgy so that what we send out to parishes will be inspiring and helpful. You can reach the chair of the Bishop’s Committee on Creation Care at [email protected] or 905-683-7981.