By The Revd Judith Holliman

People often think that my interest in the environment must have started when I met my husband who has spent his working life as an industrial environmentalist developing ways to protect and decontaminate God’s creation but actually they would be wrong. My interest was initiated by my grandmother who was a pivotal figure in my childhood. She had an amazing garden, for London in particular, full of dazzling plants and equally full of fruit and vegetables. She taught me that a bad day can be massively improved simply by sticking my hands into soil and planting the potential of something new. She also taught me that the environment needed to be nurtured; wormeries, compost bin, water butts were the norm. I learnt that we have to put back to gain. She talked of creation as something we can work through and within, she used gardening as a metaphor for my life experiences, and she saw God’s creation as sacred long before that became more normalised. Towards the end of her 91 years, she lived in a flat with a tiny balcony. Yet she still grew herbs, tomatoes, flowers, had insect houses and bird boxes all slotted in and tended with the utmost care. 

I find God speaks and soothes me in nature. My wellbeing and sense of place are deeply rooted in God’s earth and, once we had our son James, we learned that for him to cope with neurodiversity in a very non-aware world, nature was a key. Space, fresh air, beauty, peace, water, leaves and especially the wide-open skies over the seashore all spoke to him in ways that others could not necessarily understand. I cannot imagine living in a space without plants, insects and a visual reminder of God’s seasons.  

Being here in Radyr as a Pioneer Minister working on a new housing estate that is being built around us, the patches of wild nature are even more valuable than ever before. One Sunday I was preaching in one of the churches that I care for when a young mum appeared. She had a son who was obviously struggling with the requirements of being in the building, of the movement and the noise. At the end of the service, the mum, I will call her Anna, said to me “I really want to be in fellowship and to teach Joe (not his real name) about God but I just can’t see how this will work”. To me the answer was obvious, let’s move ‘church’ outside. So we set up a Forest Church juniors, a wood nearby became our obvious meeting space. It has a park and a beautiful forest with a stream. We meet and play, we have a musical walk (or stomp) sometimes led by one of the mums. We do some sort of craft, such as collecting leaves and using handmade mallets to bang them on cloths and see the way it dyes the fabric. We have a story that is creation-based. We share food - often biscuits we have decorated, and we pray and go home. We talk about, seek out and bathe mentally and spiritually in awe of the book of God that is creation. We consider how we can care for the birds, the earth, we take for granted - that we want to nurture the earth that nurtures us. We intertwine the gospel with creation as a norm. 

The Forest Church Juniors is attended by approximately 18 children and their carers; although not always all at once. We have formed a loving fellowship community. All of the children are encouraged to be themselves, to be noisy or quiet, to be engaged or to do their own thing. Yet in the fuzzy edges of this group, I have had some of the deepest conversations around puddles in the rain or toasting marshmallows around a fire. We meet God our creator in all Gods fullness without limits. 

Alongside this group, I have been blessed to meet with a couple who had a vision for a church that would meet on a Sunday morning in the open air, one that would involve prayer, the reading of scripture and then engagement between the scripture, our context and the environment that we are in. We meet in different places every other week at 10:30am on a Sunday morning, forming a circle of prayer around Cardiff. We use the seasons and older traditions such as the solstice or All Hallows. For example, we met on St Brigid’s day and made St Brigid crosses, some of which we gave to passers-by to bless their homes this coming year. We spent last Sunday bathing (mentally and spiritually) in the beauty of a forest filled with autumn sunlight. In Advent, we did some wreath making from the undergrowth which we then took home and filled with seeds for our local birdlife. We considered this last Sunday our need for balance. We looked to nature as a way of understanding how God teaches us balance; the leaves growing, falling, composting, the mushrooms providing food and nutrients across the forest floor, and how his spoke into our individual need for balance. So, was our work and personal life balanced, was our time with God balanced, how did we work out what to let go as the leaves, what to let die and compost and what to work on nurturing as new saplings? Because there is no sermon, the input comes from all. The learning is shared by all and the space is open and refreshingly honest. 

The church I care for in Radyr has been spurred on by these new offshoots of hope to work for and attain Bronze eco-church status and is now working towards its silver status. We have held Environment Sundays, one which was all practical demonstrations of ways to save water, construct insect houses, keep warm, use solar powered batteries and so on and one Sunday where our two environmentalists in the congregation spoke of opportunities and challenges within their sphere both at large scale and more locally before encouraging all present with some quick practical tips of how to make a difference individually and as a church. 

It says in Job 12: 7-10

But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
    the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; 
    and the fish of the sea will declare to you. 
Who among all these does not know 
    that the hand of the Lord has done this? 
In his hand is the life of every living thing 
    and the breath of every human being. 

To me anything we can do to express this both practically and spiritually is a way of finding joy in and intentionally defending creation. Wild Christian is a means through which I find support, ideas, a cohort of fellow carers and nurturers and the validation of a belief nurtured in my childhood that the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, and we are called to play our part in caring for it in all that we do.


About Wild Christian

wild-christian_02Many Methodist churches have registered and worked towards to awards as part of the EcoChurch scheme from Arocha UK.

To complement this movement, Arocha is developing a new community of families and individuals exploring the connections between our Christian faith, the natural environment, and how we live. 

The Wild Christian programme is designed to help individuals and families take practical action for climate and nature. The programme offers opportunities to connect with others passionate about caring for creation. 

The theme for this year is ‘Only One Earth’ which explores living sustainably in harmony with God’s creation. 

Events and a monthly email will help the community to explore some of the critical challenges around climate and biodiversity and suggest ways to enjoy, nurture and protect nature. 

Sign up to receive the free Wild Christian monthly email, which includes a biblical reflection and ideas on how to enjoy, nurture and defend nature at: arocha.org.uk/wildchristian/