Monthly Archives: October 2021

Forest Church at St Mary’s

Congregation for Forest Church in September


Based for the moment at Billingsley, “Forest Church” is something we have been experimenting with over the last six or so months. It really is not well-named; it is actually a way of responding to God as experienced in nature by an open-air service, though it is open to everyone regardless of their faith or sense of spirituality.

In this benefice and deanery, we are all very aware of the natural world. During lock-down, the fact that nobody lives more than a five-minute walk from open-countryside, and that almost everyone can see countryside from their home, was a great help to a lot of people. We are also very aware of how dependent we are on nature; our climate is fragile, we live in ways that are unsustainable because of the effect that they have on the planet. Perhaps it is not surprising that many people find something spiritual in being outside, be it in countryside or simply in a garden. Interestingly, this is felt not just by committed Christians; many who would not consider themselves as “religious” still feel a connection with something beyond themselves by being outside and having time to think and be still. Forest Church is an attempt to bring groups of people together to do just that.

At Billingsley we have tried two approaches. We have regular walks, of around three to six miles. Mostly these are not remotely religious in nature; we simply walk, talk (about the trivial and the profound) and look. But these do provide an opportunity for people to feed their spiritual sides, by just being outside and active. We have experimented with a short period of walking in silence, to encourage this. These will remain primarily social events, to walk with friends, but I think we all feel some sense of being built up spiritually by them.

The other approach is to hold short services of readings, music and meditations. So far we have based these at Billingsley churchyard (with the option of sitting in the porch if it rains!), sometimes with a short walk to an orchard or farm. We have looked at the natural history of the church and churchyard; flowers and birds, the stones of the building formed 200 million years ago. We have looked at the wild and the farmed harvests; the crops, wild fruits and livestock. In the presence of the grain driers at Church Farm, we have broken and eaten bread. We usually finish in church with refreshments.

The majority of people who have attended our events have been church-goers, but we do also have people who would not call themselves Christians, who are perhaps uncomfortable with the very idea of God, at least as (s)he is conventionally pictured. In fact, a non-church going person who attended a Forest Church commented “this is one of the best experiences of my life”. I try and pitch the events that I lead so all can respond. Of the people who have helped and encouraged me (none of this is my own idea!), one is Christian, the other does not identify herself as such. This is typical of people who take part in Forest Churches, wherever they are held. We do not ask questions about personal belief; all are welcome.Our next service is at Billingsley on Sunday 28th November at 10.30; please come along if you are interested!

Thought for the week23rd October – Valuing others

The news last weekend was dominated by the murder of Sir David Amess, the MP killed during a routine meeting with constituents. This brought back memories of a few years ago, the killing of Jo Cox, another MP. Both lost their lives by simply doing their job, as elected representatives of us all.

Politics thrives on debate and argument. MPs can expect to be criticised for the views they hold; on occasions it may be appropriate to offer personal criticism, if for example, they say one thing and do another. But, from what I can see, this is uncommon; most MPs have integrity. What we (and they) should not do is to use language that degrades their humanity; I worry when I hear words such as “scum” or glib judgements that “they are all the same”. They are not; each is a human; in Christian terms, a unique person in the image of God.

From a book I have recently read, I understand that in Zulu, “sawubona” is a greeting; its meaning covers seeing and recognising a fellow human. The response “shiboka” can be translated “I exist for you”. The authors of the book make the point that when a Benedictine monk meets another person, the monk bows to face the ground; this is an acknowledgement both that God is within that person and that they and the person they have met share the same earth. These truths apply to all we meet, whatever we may think of them.

Thought for the week 17th October – The old evil

In recent days, Israel and Jewish identity has been in the news. The main headlines have been for the author Sally Rooney, who refused to allow her Israeli publisher to translate her latest novel into Hebrew, because she felt it did not dissociate itself from the actions of the Israeli government. But, as a university teacher, what I noticed was that Bristol University has dismissed one of its professors for harassing Jewish students.

There can be difficulties in opposing the actions of any government without targeting all those who live in that country. It would be wrong of me to comment on the specifics of these cases as I do not know the full facts. But I am uncomfortably aware that all too often the Christian Church has been complicit in acts of discrimination, particularly against Jews, on the totally spurious basis that they somehow killed Jesus. Jesus lived and died a Jew; the first Christians considered that they were Jewish. As Christians, we accept the authority of the Old Testament, the Jewish bible. There can never be any excuse for anti-semitism. It was not the Jews who killed Jesus, it was a religiously-minded mob, orchestrated by their priests. And, as a priest, that is an uncomfortable truth I have to face whenever I put on my dog collar.

Harvest update!!

The well attended Harvest Festival was held last Sunday. The church was decorated beautifully and the service highlighted the work of the two charities that the church is supporting this year. As part of the service David spoke of the work of the Shropshire Rural Chaplaincy Service that provides a variety of support to members of the local rural community and Bonnie made a presentation highlighting the work of Singawnza , a South African based charity that provides sustainable early years education within disadvantaged communities. All produce collected was donated to the Bridgnorth Food Bank.

Coffee morning brings Billingsley residents together

Ellen’s coffee morning held on Saturday was a huge hit and well attended by residents of Billingsley. Everyone present enjoyed good company and excellent refreshments. Ellen worked tirelessly beforehand to bake amazing cakes and was supported by many willing volunteers. The event also raised in excess of £400 which will go towards the work of St Mary’s Church.

Thought for the week 10th October – Nobel Prize Winners

This time of year is always of interest to me, as it marks the announcement of the Nobel Prizes. Yet again, inexplicably, I’ve not had the phone call from Stockholm… But I take some reflected glory from, over the years, having met/known prize winners and on one occasion, actually publishing with one. I’ve also met a number of people who fall into the category of “why-have-they-not-been-given -Nobel-prizes”; the judgement of the committee is always subjective and I suspect had one person been able to give better lectures, he would have had a prize.

This fleeting acquaintance with scientific greats has made some mark on me. It has shown me what a really great intellect looks like; an important lesson in humility for myself and a useful guide for identifying those who think they have a first-rate mind but actually don’t. The people I have met also have another characteristic. Not all scientists are noted for their modesty; sometimes you have to take this side of their personality alongside the merits of their work. However, the Nobel laureates (and the near-misses) that I have known do not have this edge. Perhaps I have been fortunate, but they have all been modest and thoughtful individuals. Whilst I do not think any would consider themselves remotely “religious”, they may have grasped that compared to the wonders of the natural world, or what I would loosely term “creation”, personal humility is the only appropriate response.



The 100 Club October draw results

The October draw was kindly drawn by Peter who pulled 3 first time winners out of the bag. Number 5 was first to appear winning our most senior member, 99 year old Sammy, £52. Numbers 2 and 63 were second and third to be drawn winning Mary and Julie £26 each. Congratulations to all our winners and as ever a huge thank you to our supporters.