Have you knelt down in the woods today? If not, take a leaf from Oakwood Forest Church.
A denomination free, new project in Reading that takes church outside of four stuffy walls and puts it in the beautiful surroundings of Maiden Erlegh Nature Reserve – or ‘God’s Cathedral’ as Emma Major, Licenced Lay Minister(LLM) at St Nicolas’s church calls it.
Emma first encountered the idea while on a holiday in the New Forest. She and her family went to the New Forest Forest Church where she was blown away by attending a service in the middle of the woods.
When she came home she thought about her experience and longed to go back.
“I kept thinking I need this closer,” she said. “Then I realised that we can do it closer. I’m a 15-minute walk from a nature reserve, why can’t we do it there?”
Maiden Erlegh Nature Reserve is made up of ancient woodland known as Oakwood, it also has grassland, a large lake, a brook, an old woodland pond and surrounding wetland habitat.
The area supports a large amount of wildlife including over 100 species of butterflies and moths, more than 50 species of birds, 50 species of fungi and 20 species of trees.
The area became a nature reserve in 1996 through English Nature and is a Site of Urban Landscape Value and contains Wildlife Heritage Sites. A lot of animals that live there are being protected. They include the Holly Blue, Speckled Wood and Small Copper butterfly. Treecreepers, Bullfinch, Woodpeckers, Kingfisher, Tawny Owl and Song Thrush birds. Bats are present along with White-clawed Crayfish, Water Vole, Common Shrew, Crickets and Stag Beetles.
In the spring you can see drifts of Bluebells and, as the weather warms up, Wood Anemones, Marsh Marigold, Yellow Loosestrife, Opposite-leafed Golden Saxifrage and Honeysuckle. Oak, Crab Apple, Wild Service, Hornbeam and Hazel grow there.
Realising the nature reserve was such a special place Emma told friends and colleagues from other churches about her idea.
“I just started speaking to people and it got off the ground,” she says.
It now meets on the third Saturday afternoon of every month, and everyone is welcome.
Is meeting in the woods ‘real church’? What if people start hugging trees?
Emma laughed and said: “I don’t mind if people hug trees, why shouldn’t they?
“There are eight medieval trees in Oakwood.They were acorns 400 years ago, that’s awesome. I want to thank God for that and all that tree sheltered and nurtured since it’s been around.
“We don’t water anything down, but meeting God doesn’t mean it has to follow a set liturgy or be in the church building. We meet on a Saturday afternoon and we do it differently.”
Emma remembered the last time Oakwood Forest Church met. “As we walked around the top end of the lake the wind suddenly dropped, the rain stopped and everywhere was dead calm. Just a pure smooth surface on the lake. We stood still and I said ‘Look how calm this is. We need calm in our crazy lives. This is a place we can come and just be.’”
Forest Church meets at the nature reserve car park in Marefield, Lower Earley, at 3pm on the third Saturday of every month.
For more about the forest church movement, log on to www.mysticchrist.co.uk/site
To find out more about Maiden Erlegh Nature Reserve, log on to www.maidenerleghlnr.org.uk.