“If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise”… particularly if you happen to be venturing out on a Sunday afternoon into the woodlands between Bidborough and Southborough!

One church which is part of our Kent Hub has shaping their missional community by starting a Forest Church!

Clare Masters shares her story, here.

In November 2018 we began a new monthly “Forest Church” service on Sunday afternoons, alternating between the two churches in our parish, St Lawrence’s Bidborough and St Peter’s Southborough. The significant difference to our regular services is that most of Forest Church happens outdoors!

We begin in church with a short time of praise and worship, lasting about 15 minutes, and then everyone tumbles outside into the fresh air for adventures in God’s wonderful world.

Forest Church is open to all ages, but seeks to give a special welcome to families, as we know that Sunday morning diaries are often problematic, especially for those with children involved in sports. (My own three children are grown up now, but Sunday morning football matches have been a complication for us for many years.)

But 2018 saw a steady stream of families bringing their children for baptism, which led to many conversations about the difficulties of getting to church regularly on Sunday mornings. And as we prayed for these families taking first steps along the journey of faith, the idea of Forest Church began to grow.

Rural ministry may bring challenges, but there are also special advantages. We may not have spectacular premises, but our premises are set in spectacular surroundings, a real gift from God!

Around 40 – 50 people have been coming each month. The “service” component of our Forest Church is intentionally very simple, but we include a worship song (often sung unaccompanied), some confessional liturgy, Bible reading, short talk with lots of “audience participation” and interactive prayers. Although it’s only brief, it’s a significant opportunity to tell the good story of God’s love to a new cohort of families. And then we head outside for fun and fellowship.

We’ve done different activities each month, with a mix of action and creative options to suit various ages and energies. November involved a fire bowl set up in the churchyard, cooking breadsticks and marshmallows on whittled sticks, making a giant hedgehog collage on the ground from twigs and different leaves, and finishing with sparklers and prayers in a big circle.

In December (early Advent) we focused on Joseph the Carpenter and the surprises that unfolded for him. We went on a woodland walk imagining the journey to Bethlehem, stopping en route to create mud portraits of Mary and Joseph on tree trunks, played “hunt the donkey”, and also enjoyed a cake break in the woods and a mad game of passing a rugby ball round a circle of leaping children. In January, being Epiphany season, we thought about the wise men bringing treasures, and Jesus being the best treasure; and the activities included a challenging team treasure hunt (with chocolate prizes) and making winter bouquets from twigs and berries, to give to someone you treasure.

What has been particularly wonderful has been the help we have received from some of the families who have come along. Two of the families have enthusiastically taken on organising the crafts and refreshments. Forest Church has also strengthened links with three of our local farming families (who we already knew through our toddler group and the primary school), and they have invited Forest Church to celebrate on their farms!

In May we went to Four Winds Farm, a local sheep farm (Theme – the Lost Sheep!); in October we held our Harvest celebrations at Juddwood Farm; and we’ve been invited back to Four Winds for our nativity service this December.

God is very good.

If you have a story to share of what missional living, and church life looks for you, do send it through to us to comms@kairosconnexion.org .