Forest Church:
Field Guide to A Spiritual Connection with Nature

Bruce Stanley

A Review
Frank A. Mills

January 29, 2024

The Forest Church: Field Guide to A Spiritual Connection with Nature, Bruce Stanley, 2014. Vistal, NY: Anamchara Books. 166 pages, Forward and Further Resources. (Forward by Kenneth McIntosh). ISBN: 9781625240088

St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote,

It does not seem to me that the gospel is speaking of heaven as some remote habitation of God … because the divine is equally present in all things, and, in like manner, it pervades all creation and it does not exist separated from being, but the divine nature touches each element of being with equal honor, encompassing all things within itself.

I think of this often as I garden, as I enjoy nature. And as I do, I wonder what is the practical application of these words? Forest Church: A Field Guide to a Spiritual Connection with Nature, is practical application of the thoughts of St. Gregory of Nyssa.

When I am in the garden, my wife may be present, but more just as often, I am alone in the garden. Forest Church takes us from that solitary experience of God in nature and places us in community. As I think of community in a spiritual sense, I think of community in the sense of church. In Forest Church the church had moved from the building to the “forest,” although there is nothing that says that it has to be in a forest, there’s nature enough to be found in the most urban of settings.

There are many versions of a Forest Church, some may even be far away from a traditional Christian grounding. For Bruce Stanley and for the purpose of the book, a Forest Church happens in the outside, participates with nature, creates worship events that are site specific, allow time for nature to contribute, aims to be regenerative, recognizes that God is revealed in nature, as well as speaks through nature, and falls within the Christian tradition.

Before we continue, I must note that although the concept of a Forest Church, pioneered by Bruce Stanley, has been around for years, the concept is just as vital as when Forest Church was first written in 2013.

Those of us who see God in nature, may not need a primer on why go outside? Yet, chapter 1, “Why Go Outside?” got me thinking about those aspects of nature that I often take for granted. This chapter is good too for those who are exploring the idea, as well as for those for whom “church in a building” does not quite seem to cut it. Rather than me summing up Stanley’s reasons for going outside, read the book.

The vastness of the universe is often referred to as “the Second Book of God.” Stanley condenses the vastness of the Book in learning how to read it in nature. “Reading the Second Book of God” (chapter2) is not some theoretical treatise. In place of theory, the chapter suggests practical ways with which to read and understand what the Second Book of God is saying to us. It is easy to be in nature and not hear what God is saying to us through nature. If you read nothing else in the book, read this chapter. That said, Forest Church is such a delightful read, I believe that once you start you will want to read the whole book.

Once we learn how to read nature, we will start to participate with nature, but participation is a learned process. “Participating with Nature” (chapter 3) and “Developing Your Wild Side” (chapter 4) both provide practical help with the process. As we learn to participate (chapter 3) we will begin to develop our “wild side” (chapter 4), that is learning how to facilitate (both for our own self and in a group setting) our natural connection to nature as a natural entity. “Developing Your wild side” moves from basic routines to more extreme ways to experience the Second Book of God. Basic or extreme, the ideas are practical and doable. Stanley, always seeking to keep it practical, even provides some thoughts on necessary equipment.

From the beginning, Forest Church is about community. We are taken on a nature walk in such a way that we want to bring others along on the walk. Chapter 5, “Growing Your Own Branch of the Forest Church” and chapter 6, “Example Activities” give us suggestions and resources to do just that.

And that is exactly what I am going to think about doing. And as I think about growing a new branch of the Forest Church, I wonder, is the Forest Church concept a tool to both revitalize a declining church to reach the unchurched?

Bruce Stanley, a pioneer in the Forest Church movement, claims to ran away from the circus to become involves in things creative. He is a life coach specializing in positive psychology. His passion is to promote the “nature connection,” and participation with that connection, hoping that “what we love we may care for more.” Bruce lives with his wide Sasa in the Cambrian Mountains, participating with nature through the growing of a permaculture forest garden.

© Frank A. Mills, 1997-2024

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