Revd. Fiona Gibson is the Vicar of Cople, Mogerhanger and Willington, three rural villages between Bedford and Sandy. They have some new young families in the villages and Revd. Fiona had been praying about how she could reach them in a distinctively rural way.
She knew she couldn’t copy what was being done in more urban contexts: “we haven’t got the money, we haven’t got the people, we haven’t got the buildings.” Instead she wanted the benefice to “think to our strengths…we’ve got forests, we’ve got rivers, we’ve got lakes…
I noticed that outdoor school and forest school and all these things are huge. Then I was reading the magazine of the Arthur Rank Centre: Germinate…and somebody mentioned they’d been doing a forest church, and I thought that’s it! That’s the answer! Because that’s distinctively rural. It plays to our strengths. We can start small, which also plays to our strengths. We’ve got young families in the village, they do forest school at the schools…so that was the beginning.”
It’s hoped that Forest Church will reach new people who may not regularly attend Sunday morning services, particularly children with sporting commitments and men who might feel more at ease sitting around a campfire, whittling a piece of wood and doing outdoor activities with their families.
The benefice intends to launch the new church in Spring 2019 and has been establishing ecumenical relationships to support the church, finalising the venue, applying for funding, developing resources, and considering publicity strategies. Long term sustainability is vital for any new church initiative and it’s clear that the project must not be clergy-dependant. Fiona has established two teams – one to focus on praying for the church, and the ‘Roots Group’ – a small leadership team made up of church-based families able to offer time and/or expertise.
The hope is that during Forest Church gatherings people will learn about God through short interactive times of teaching and prayer, then have time to think and respond. Discipleship may also continue beyond the forest: through meals together, or by encouraging attendance on courses. Whilst Forest Church has been designed to reach new people, they also want exisiting church families to be involved, Fiona explains: “they’re going to be the ones that will model the discipleship, it can’t just be the vicar, it’s got to be other Christians, lay Christians, modelling discipleship, modelling the fact that it goes up and down as a journey, we still don’t have all the answers, we’re not living perfect lives”.