With churches closed because of Covid-19 restrictions, there has been growing curiosity in outdoor church, building on an existing interest from Forest Church and other pioneers. What can people do in small groups in outdoor spaces while the indoor spaces are off limits?
The answer is – plenty, and this strange season may well be a gateway into outdoor worship for many.
For others, it confirms a wider view, which is that outdoor church has a role not just in worship, but in mission – particularly in response to social and environmental issues. That is very much my own view, as a leader of Park Church Luton, a community that meets in the woods in People’s Park, Luton. We have discovered the joys of learning about God in nature, drawing from the seasons and the wildlife to inspire our worship. We have also been able to direct our mission towards the park and its users, with a particular focus on a social enterprise that hopes to renovate a disused changing room block and turn it into a cafe.
One of the powerful things about outdoor church is that it reconnects us with nature, and nature disconnection lies at the heart of so much environmental abuse. It reconnects us with each other, rebuilding community and investing in the public spaces that are the glue of a healthy society. And it does it all in the context of worship, bringing God, people and nature together.
This month saw the launch of the Hazelnut Community in Bristol. Rather than a park, they are creating a worshipping community around a shared food-growing project. It’s an exploration of the question “what would it look like to combine the community of a city farm with the spiritual life of a local church?”
For the Hazelnut Community, their project is a direct response to climate change and inequality, a way of doing church differently that puts things back together. Could outdoor church be part of a prophetic response to the climate and ecological emergency?