Wild Church

The question of how best to care for God’s beautiful, but fragile, creation typically prompts answers about initiatives involving solar energy, recycling, water use and other steps we can take to minimize or reverse the harm we humans cause to the natural environment. But what if we added one more item to the list: Doing church in a way that deepened our relationship with Creation – and our Creator?

It’s already happening in Wisconsin, where a couple of loose-knit communities affiliated with a movement called “Wild Church” have popped up in recent years.

The movement naturally appeals to those for whom the climate crisis requires an urgent response from people of faith. But it also resonates with unchurched individuals searching for community.

The Wild Church movement has emerged organically over the past decade or so. Now supported by the Wild Church Network, the movement is non-hierarchical and non-credal – less traditional church than spontaneously arising communities of believers whose faith calls them into intimate relationships with land, water and creatures.

Services are as varied as the individual Wild Church gatherings and may or may not reflect the traditional liturgical calendar. They do involve reflections on the natural surroundings and, often, “wandering time” that gives participants a chance to roam and ponder the landscape.

“Wild Church isn’t just doing indoor church in an outdoor setting. It’s about trying to worship with nature,” says the Rev. Daniel Cooperrider, a UCC pastor who lives in Madison and has facilitated Flicker Pop-up Wild Church gatherings west of Madison. He is married to the Rev. Dr. Julia Burkey, pastor of Orchard Ridge UCC, who helps facilitate.

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Wild Church gatherings don’t take place every work. Instead, they occur “at critical times of the year,” Daniel says, such as full moon, new moon and peak leaf color. “It’s a little more responsive to the time of year.” His group’s next gathering will take place the afternoon of Dec. 21, the winter solstice.

Interest in Wild Church crosses all sorts of lines.

“It seems to resonate most with spiritual-but-not-religious people who might never set foot in an indoor church but are hungry for a sense of community and ritual,” Daniel says. “It’s those who say ‘nature is my temple’ or take a hike on Sunday morning.”

But the movement also draws more conventionally religious individuals across denominational lines, says Eric Anglada, who leads Wild Church gatherings in southwest Wisconsin and northeast Iowa. He is co-founder of St. Isadore Catholic Worker Farm in Cuba City and works as ecological program director at Sinsinawa Mound Center, a ministry of the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters. Daniel Cooperrider considers Eric a mentor.

“Some of the group are Catholic or Presbyterian or Episcopal, trying to (take) their faith into creation,” Eric says.

“I think this movement that is emerging is responding to the desire people have to understand their spiritual journey in the larger context of the rhythms or creation and the planetary challenges we’re now facing. We’ve lost our place within the community of creation. Wild Church calls us into greater intentionality to be with the land.”

Flicker Pop-up Wild Church will gather celebrate the Winter Solstice at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 21, at Donald County Park west of Madison. Click to learn more. Email the Rev. Daniel Cooperrider here.

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