A hearty thank you to all who attended this evening’s discussion on Rewilding The Church. It was an excellent and thoughtful discussion and hopefully something to build on.
Attached is the script I used for the introduction, details of the books discussed, and a link to a YouTube discussion between the author & the Moderator of The Church of Scotland on which my presentation was based.
Rewilding the Church Presentation 10/3/21
This is the second of two books written by Steve Aisthorp
The first is ‘The Invisible Church’ & it was based on a study of people who have left congregations and it argues that while they are ‘unchurched’ they are still people of faith. It’s handy to read both books and both are easily readable but here I’m going to concentrate on Rewilding the Church
About the author.
He lives in Kincraig here in the Highlands. His Twitter account describes him as “Following Jesus, researching faith trends, working for a culture of dignity for people seeking refuge, rock climbing …”
He has worked with various congregations and groups on mission & I’m aware that some here may have worked with him and may know more about the concept of rewilding than I do! If so bear with me as I’m aware that there are different levels of knowledge of the book and I want to get us to a common understanding of the concept so we can spend some time in discussing how it can affect what we as Christians do in the future. Look on it as a taster. I hope it may grow with further discussion in time.
What I’m going to present is largely based on a conversation by the author and the Moderator of The Church of Scotland which is available on YouTube
I encourage everyone to read both books. Also watch the video and read the book review which is referenced.
The author asks a number of questions:-
Have we tamed the church?
Have we tamed or domesticated God?
What happened to Jesus who he describes as ‘The Wild Messiah”
If church is predictable are we still following Jesus who can be unpredictable?
Do we need to re-engage in the adventure of faith.
Do we need to renew the church (and that means renewal of us because we are the church).
4 years ago Steve Aisthorpe was finishing his first book, The Invisible Church. He was also reading Feral by George Monbiot about environmental rewilding. He saw connections between the two issues.
The environment is over managed, tamed, preserving a man made environment.
It can be argued that the same is true of the church which has become constrained and stepped aside from the ‘adventure of faith’.
There are people disengaged from church but still on a journey of faith. Still part of big C church but dropped out of small c (congregational or denominational) church.
Nature – has an inbuilt urge to regenerate. It bounces back. Step back and let nature do its thing. Just leave your garden for a few months and see what happens!
Church – St Paul suggested that the Church has ‘immeasurable power’. If we are less heavy on the management and taming, and focus on simply following Jesus what emerges from that?
This is not about how to save the church buildings & congregations.
Faith is about following Jesus, becoming more like him, listening to what he wants us to do and responding to that. What comes out of that is Church
We have view of what ‘church’ is and we manage towards that. We are in our congregational silos. We duplicate & repeat. Just look at the variety of service offerings on the internet at the moment! One of the things I’ve learned this Lent is that there are loads of offerings to feed me. Text, reflections, glorious music. We don’t all need to do everything locally ourselves especially if we share the load.
Here, tonight we are taking the first steps to rewild. Two congregations listening and I hope later discussing what it all means for us.
Actually Covid has been good for us because we have had to think differently & do things differently. We need to grasp the opportunity and not return to our routine and dare I suggest, tamed, norm.
The scary thing about rewilding though is that we don’t know the outcome. It’s about process! About leaving the space and seeing what will happen while trusting in God.
The author cites the Highland estates examples where he lives, with some estates having a 200 year plan for rewilding (stepping back and letting nature do it’s thing) and some managed for sport (managed for a particular man made want and therefore unchanging).
200 years is a long time. Will the estates get to an interim position. Different but not wild? Will the owners be brave enough to continue. What will be the result? Seriously more questions than answers. Questions we need to ask ourselves about church.
I’m sure that as we discuss what we mean by rewilding the church we will all have our own ideas. We’ll have our favourite things we want to hold on to and those we want to ditch. That is the challenge! We need to give God room to get on with the job without our interference but we also as Christians need feeding. What does that mean?
If we follow Jesus we don’t know where we are going. He has a habit of leading us to a different and sometimes surprising place than we expected!
It’s about trusting Him and about listening and responding.
The author asks – who is Jesus? And says He is a compelling person who speaks with wisdomand acts with courage.
The Wild Messiah – The Great Interferer None of that is safe.
How often do we feel that, in church, & in our daily lives?
He is a higher force, wisdom and love to guide us and challenge us but we sometimes do not allow that and we have domesticated church & Jesus.
Have we tamed him in such a way that he is less attractive to people? Have we dumbed him down (or dare I say wrapped him in rules & liturgy that drowns his essential essence)?
We don’t talk about the adventure of faith.
How do we find that adventure. How do we renew our connection with ‘’the Wild Messiah’? How do we let him be wild?
Reconnecting with tradition (the living faith of the dead) is not to be confused with traditionalism (anchoring in the past or present not wanting to change anything).
Using the estates analogy rewilding is tradition, sporting estates exhibit traditionalism!
Are there traditions we need to open up to rekindle the adventure of faith? Some of the Celtic traditions perhaps?
The author says that the creator’s fingerprints are all over creation and that Jesus talks about nature, and that we need to reconnect, to take a look at, really take a look at, birds and lilies for example and at what they can teach us.
So not only do we need to step back and let nature do it’s thing we need to study it. In terms of church do we need to pare back to the basics and really study and reflect on the life of Jesus. You could argue that everything thereafter is man made.
This book is a way but not a destination. It’s food for thought and discussion. It gives us a process but it does not show us a destination
A quote from the book:-
“If you want to rewild the church don’t promote mission strategy and teach church planting tactics. (We’ve all done that at some point) Instead foster a trust in Jesus and foster a deeper love for those He brings across your path.”
There isn’t a map. It’s an invitation to join a holy adventure. We don’t know where it will end so the church is always an interim church or a church in transition. No destination, just a potentially surprising and exciting journey.
Rewilding subverts traditionalism. It’s not about the buildings it’s about encouraging and celebrating the faithful rhythms of listening and responding to Jesus whether that looks traditional, innovative or something else.
It’s not about church on Sunday, it’s about being out there in the world as Christians listening and fostering a trust in Jesus and a deeper love for those He brings across your path.
The church (& that includes us because we are the church) needs to recapture a sense of its identity as the global body of Christ (the big C church) but also foster the small & local where Christian communities can be sufficiently agile to respond to the Spirit’s life.
The question is what does that mean for each & all of us?
Are we brave enough and trusting enough to give God the space to rewild the church and to let him show us the way?
Rewilding The Church by Steve Aisthorpe Publisher: Saint Andrew Press
ISBN 9780715209813 Published. 30/07/2020
The Invisible Church by Steve Aisthorpe Publisher: St Andrew Press
ISBN 9780861539161 Published 30/04/2016