Church in Creation is a SoCal A Rocha initiative registered with Wild Church Network. Perceiving a need for Christians to connect with God, one another, and creation, SoCal project director and eco-pastor Mark McReynolds began holding outdoor gatherings to encourage learning from the book of God’s creation as well as the book of Scripture. The September meeting referenced in the following reflection was held in and around the San Antonio Creek wash in the Angeles National Forest with a group of nine adults and children. Our simple liturgy uses quotes, scriptures, and hymns about creation which you can replicate in your own group: just find a pleasant spot in nature and open all your senses to the lessons God has to give through creation.
by Autumn Ayers, SoCal A Rocha
“The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”
Creation reminds us, O God, of your love.
By grace, we are learning, as year leads to year,
We’re called to be stewards, your caretakers here.
—The Earth is the Lord’s by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, Church in Creation Hymn
Church in Creation began with a long moment of stillness. All of us gathered in and around the San Antonio Creek were allowed time to truly prepare ourselves for worship, breathe in the clean mountain air, listen to the indescribable movement of the water, and cultivate a sense of awareness of the presence of God in created things. Soon, this silence gave way to a burst of music as we sang praises to Creator God, and I thought to myself: “Is this the first time I’ve sung with others since the pandemic began?” As we were easily spaced out by several feet, I sang with joy—grateful to be unburdened of the ever-present worry of living during a pandemic, even for a short time.
After singing and reading from Scripture, each of us set out on our own to “wander and wonder,” reflecting on creation’s mysteries. I came into the woods remembering the many Biblical figures who went out to the wilderness to meet God—Hagar, Moses, Jesus, and others—and I hoped that I might heal my anxious mind and connect with the Creator. While trying to focus, however, I realized how full of intriguing distractions the wilderness is. Simone Weil teaches that prayer is “the orientation of all the attention of which the soul is capable towards God,” so practicing attentiveness to a particular person or thing is an act of love, and it strengthens our ability to pay attention to God.
I tried, then, to pay attention to singular things—the way the light glimmered on the banks, the unique patterns that adorned the many rocks, and the refreshing coolness of water rushing past my feet—and in my attention, a feeling of love and admiration grew in me. Author Richard Louv attests that “We cannot protect something we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot know what we do not see. Or hear. Or sense.” In my reflection, I felt an intense desire to protect the beautiful place where I sat: from nearby graffiti and litter, from logging, from wildfire, from climate change, and any other unknown threat.
Both the Bible and the Church’s teaching affirm that creation gives knowledge of the Creator: “Since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that all people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20). Likewise, St. Basil exhorts, “I want creation to penetrate you with so much admiration that wherever you go, the least plant may bring you the clear remembrance of the Creator.” In my reflection, I sat in awe that every great and small thing around me lives and has its being in Jesus. When we reconvened as a group, we shared our unique experiences, and I became especially grateful for children among us! With a saintly delight in God’s creation, they splashed in the water and played in the bushes, inspiring a sense of joy and wonder in all of us. Elder Porphyrios of Athens urged this same sort of delight, calling the beauties of nature “little loves” that draw us to Christ, the Great Love.
These moments of joy were balanced by the solemnity of repentance. Together, we reflected on the ways that we offend God and hurt ourselves, others, and the rest of creation. I was reminded that each created thing has its proper place in God’s world; through my action or inaction, I commit violence against these creatures, and I often take more than I need from our environment. Together, we committed to turning away from harmful actions, confident in the power of God to make us and the world whole. All this culminated in partaking of Communion, where we celebrated connectedness with God, one another, and the rest of creation.
Victoria Loorz, founder of the Wild Church Network, poses the question: “What would it look like to expand our sense of beloved community to all of the trees, and flowers, and beings, and little creatures that live here?” I think that Church in Creation is a helpful starting point; in Loorz’s words, it shows how we can “be in a loving relationship with all that is.” Church in Creation was a great gift to me, cultivating deeper love and affection for God and all that He has made. If you are able, it would be a joy to have you join us at our next gathering; if you are not, consider hosting one of your own! (See the resources provided below.)
Church in Creation Blessing
“According to Scripture: Jesus, who has “created all things,” knows you and wants you to know him. Jesus, who “sustains all things” and “holds all things together,” sustains and holds you. Jesus, who is the “heir of all things” is “making all things new,” including you.
Basil the Great, St. “Hexaemeron, Homily V.2-3, ‘The Germination of the Earth’” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Second Edition, vol. VIII, eds. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Pub, 1989, p. 77.
Loorz, Victoria. “Encountering God in Nature: Victoria Loorz and Wild Churches”. Earthkeepers: A Circlewood Podcast on Creation Care and Spirituality, 2020.
Louv, Richard. The Nature Principle. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2011, p. 104.
Porphyrios, Elder. Wounded by Love: The Life and Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios. Ed. Sisters of the Holy Convent of Chrysopigi. Limni, Evia: Denise Harvey, 2005, p. 218.
Weil, Simone. “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God” in Waiting for God. New York, NY: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2009, p. 57.