An article written for the diocesan magazine about our Good Friday walk in the woods.
A few years ago I came across an idea for combining walking and church, being pioneered in North London by Wood Green Mennonite Church.The concept is to get into the outdoors to help people engage with God in the fresh air, and the hope was that this form of Church might become attractive to those who don’t like to be sat still in a cold building. It is still a complete service, with liturgy, readings, prayers and a talk but these take place at various stops on the walk, allowing plenty of time in between for worshippers to ponder what had been said, discuss it with others, or simply to catch up! I had the opportunity to try out a shortened version of their Walking Church at the Greenbelt Festival in 2012, a write-up of which can be found in another article on my blog.
As with all good ideas, I started to think as to whether this could be adapted to be useful in our setting.
We are a small church, grown out of relationships in a new-build community. With the exception of one, all of our members have children under five. Walking Church as they ran it simply wasn’t going to work, but a Strolling church, where people were free to bring their pushchairs and move at a toddlers pace, might. Was there a way we could adapt it to fit the needs of adults and pre-schoolers?
Since then we have run a variation of Walking Church on four occasions, the most successful being on Good Friday both in 2013 and 2014. The idea of stopping at various points and reflecting lends itself well to Good Friday, as people have for many years by using the Stations of the Cross. We decided on an hours walk (at toddler pace) in the local woods with six stops. At each we would take one aspect of the easter story, read a passage, share a thought, and say a prayer. The Way of the Cross material in Common Worship’s Lent resources was very useful, as was the use of Resurrection Eggs at each station to engage the children. We rounded it off with a trip to the coffee shop.
In church, it is often a struggle to get toddlers and preschooler to sit down, be quiet and engage with something. Often all little boys want to do is to run and jump and generally make a noise. Having church outside lends itself to this. It really didn’t matter that our boys were running around with dirty sticks or picking up snails. We were in the woods, that is what they are supposed to do! We have also used scavenger hunts, egg hunts, a photo competition (using smart phones), and bubble prayers which they loved too.
This seems to be a form of church that people found it relatively easy to invite others to. On the first Good Friday well we had, many of our regulars came and brought friends. Going for a walk is something that many people do on a Bank Holiday anyway, so going on a nice walk at the same time as marking the season (whilst also avoiding having to sit through a church service) was, apparently, quite appealing. At another of our walks, the husband of a member, who would not usually come near a conventional church service, felt able to cycle round the woods as we were doing our Walking Worship. He joined us in the coffee shop afterwards, so he didn’t feel he was entirely excluded.
If you would like to know more about the original Walking church, check out their website or read this article on the Fresh Expressions website.