Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Wild Journey: Going Beyond Church Outside

Doing Wild Church

By Mindy Braun

 I have found God in nature for as long as I can remember. The tiny wildflowers would speak to my heart and reassure me that God sees me, just as He sees the hidden face of the flower. I also felt a sense of gratitude from God and the flower that I had the eyes to see them, notice them, appreciate them.

 It was through my grandparents, Bob & Barbara Stevenson, that this church of the wild experience really got established in me. They heard and answered Gods call to move from Coalinga, CA to Calvin Crest Conferences near Oakhurst, CA. Calvin Crest was established by the San Joaquin Presbytery of California in 1954. They moved their family of six up to the camp, where my mom spent her high school years. Our family would spend holidays there and I became a camper at Calvin Crest when I entered elementary school.

 The mountain and forests of Calvin Crest (which is on the homelands of the Miwok Indians) were midwives to my spirituality and connection to God. Calvin Crests outdoor church was my favorite. My heart could truly soar in worship underneath those pines.

 Im now 48 and am rediscovering a deep connection to God through this beloved earth and all creation. For years, my heart has longed for church outside again. I was able to get a taste of it during Covid-19 when my Presbyterian church, The Cove Fellowship, began to meet outside when the weather allowed. I confess that at times I may have listened more to the goldfinches singing in the trees than the sermon.

           When a fellow spiritual director told me about a book she was reading, my life and heart opened up in a new and exhilarating way. I began reading Church of the Wild by Victoria Loorz. Its her story of being a spiritual director and pastor, longing for something beyond her experience of church. When she writes, I longed for church to be a place where Mystery is experienced not explained…” I heard my own heart echoed.

 I soon visited Wild Church Petaluma and pretty much wept through the entire time. This could be church?” I thought. I signed up for Wild Church Networks six-week leadership course for those who were feeling the call to start a wild church in their watershed. Wild Church Petaluma is part of the Petaluma River watershed and I lived in the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed just north.

 I quickly realized I was kind of doing wild church” already. I had been leading God in Nature Hikes for the past four years through Journey Center Santa Rosa, for which I serve as Executive Director. We are a Christ-centered contemplative spirituality nonprofit for those seeking to encounter the Sacred. We have various pathways to encounter the Divine and one of them is God in Nature. I had been leading groups where we started with a scripture or poem reading, walked in silence together for 20 minutes, then stopped along the trail to share what we had noticed. Then the rest of the hike was in conversation with one another.

After telling others in the Journey Center community about wild church and seeing there was a resonating “YES!” in people’s hearts, Wild Journey was born in December 2022! This is the description you will find on our webpage:


Wild Journey is an emerging community of those who are returning to nature as spiritual practice. We are Christ-centered AND welcoming to all spiritual paths. We are not led by doctrine or dogma, but by the Divine Mystery that dwells in us all. We meet outside in various locations within the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed and seek to reconnect with the sacredness of earth, honoring the Divine Presence in all beings.


Our gatherings offer opportunities for contemplation, grief and praise, movement and song, solo wandering and wondering, advocacy, ecological restoration, and activism on behalf and in collaboration with the beloved others in our watershed. Children are welcome to participate or play nearby. All are welcome.   


We meet once a month within the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed; usually the first or third Sunday of the month. Wild Journey is an expression of Journey Center Santa Rosa and is a part of Wild Church Network.


There are four movements within our time together:

·       Gathering & Grounding – Welcome, Invocation of the watershed, introductions and gratitude, 7-direction prayer

·       Reading & Reflection – Reflections on the season we are in and poems to ponder

·       Wandering & Wondering, - 30 minutes to wander and listen to nature speak

·       Sharing & Sending – return to the circle to witness how the Spirit moved in each other and then a closing song to send us out

 You will find on the Wild Church Network website this beautiful description of the movement that is drawing people to love, protect and preserve this precious gift of Mother Earth:


Popping up all over the land, like wild mushrooms after a spring rain, Wild Church communities are responding to a call from deep within to change the way we relate to the natural world, moving  ‘from a collection of objects, to a communion of subjects’Thomas Berry


In this age of mass extinctions, we feel compelled by the love of Christ to invite people into intimate relationship with some of the most vulnerable victims of our destructive culture:  the land, waters, and creatures with whom we share our homes.  


New Wild Churches are emerging all the time, offering invitations to reconnect with the natural world. As kin. As sacred. As beloved co-participants in a larger story of grace and inter-being.

 Wild Journey continues to grow and welcome those who are longing for connection to God and nature in community. I am in awe that this indeed is church and would dare to say it is a much fuller expression than I have ever known.


Mindy Braun is the Executive Director of Journey Center Santa Rosa. She graduated with the 2021 Cohort of the Journey Center Associations Spiritual Director Formation Program. Her passion is to create safe, sacred spaces for all people to experience love and belonging.

Grounded in Context

 by Rev. Eric Beene

Eco-activism can easily become abstracted. The problems of changing climates and planetary destruction become separated from the places where we encounter the needs of the world, and they lead us to worry in ways that can literally overwhelm us. Photography is also a process of abstraction. When we snap a photo, we literally put a frame around an object or a scene or even a person, and then we remove it from its context and carry it away into a much bigger world. But I wonder if photography can be a tool for grounding our activism again, too.

Although photography is a process of abstraction, the act of zooming our lens in on an object or set of objects and pressing the button or tapping the screen happens in a context. The context is not only visual. It is also filled with the emotions we feel when we are confronted with what we see in that place, as well as the spirit that stirred us to go to that place and take out our camera. As we frame and capture images, we also capture those feelings and that spirit’s leading, and if we are willing to pay attention to them, they can be a source of great power for us. In a 1958 article in Commonweal called, “Poetry and Contemplation:  A Reappraisal,” Thomas Merton said, “Aesthetic intuition is not merely the act of a faculty, it is also a heightening and intensification of our personal identity and being by the perception of our connatural affinity with ‘Being’ in the beauty contemplated.” By noticing and acting on the feelings and leadings inside us as we frame a photo, we exercise our creative power. That creative power is aligned with the power of the Creator whose work we are abstracting and carrying home. And then, in looking at our photographs later, and in sharing them with others, we bring them to new contexts in which we can discover additional details, with new feelings, different values, and longings we didn’t know we had. Through our photography, with all of its context, abstraction, and re-contextualization, we can ground ourselves over and over again in our “connatural affinity with ‘Being.’” 

We can let our impulse toward activism on behalf of the environment follow a similar path. We can take those issues that are abstracted and overwhelming and put them back in touch with the feelings and the spirit which were the context into which our activism was born. Our desire to preserve and protect the places where we live and where we encounter the needs of the world thus can become an expression of our affinity with the Being in whom we live and move and have our own being.

 All of the photos below were taken within an hour’s drive of my home in Sonoma County, California. I have paired them with sentences of scripture to show how I perceive my own connection through them with the God of my being. I pray that they will show you a way that leads you to be grounded in your own identity and affinity with the One who created you and calls you into the work you do.

“When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth.” (Jeremiah 10:13)

“You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore!” (Psalm 16:11)

“Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness and of your praise all day long.” (Psalm 35:28)

“For there shall be a sowing of peace; the vine shall yield its fruit, the ground shall give its produce, and the skies shall give their dew.” (Zechariah 8:12-13)

“The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)

“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11)

“Happy are those…whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them!” (Psalm 146:5-6)

Rev. Eric Beene is General Presbyter of the Presbytery of the Redwoods and an amateur photographer. Previously, he served as Pastor to congregations in Savannah, Georgia, and Boston, Massachusetts. He lives in Windsor, California, with his wife Mary and their teenage son Isaac.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Morning Grace


Eric Diekhans

By Eric Diekhans

The alarm sounds at 5:30 am and I immediately roll out of bed. In summer, the sun is already bursting through the blinds; in spring and fall my bedroom is dark and sometimes cold. I pull on lycra shorts, jersey, gloves, and cleated shoes. When the weather get colder, I add a jacket, booties, lobster gloves, and sometimes a balaclava. My gear allows me to ride even when the temperature drops below freezing. 

The world is mostly silent as I push my bike out the door and climb aboard. A few blocks later, I wave to a small gathering of cyclists also ready to roll out. They ride faster than my pace so I continue on solo. That’s the way I prefer it anyway. 

I’ve been taking these morning rides for years, two or three times per week from mid March until November. The early start allows me time to get home, walk the dog, and get ready for work. During the pandemic, when I was working at home, I continued my ritual. The streets I ride on Chicago’s North Shore were mostly deserted. In a time of turmoil and uncertainty, my this stress-free hour offered me peace.

 During Covid, I began to think of my morning ride as a form of prayer. I’ve always felt more comfortable with unspoken prayer that comes from my heart and soul rather than words that come from my head. While Covid brought the world almost to a stop, my thoughts receded and God’s presence came forth. 

I roll north and spot other cyclists out for training rides. A few cars and delivery trucks add to the mix, but nothing like this road will see in an hour as the morning commute begins. Lake Michigan is off my right shoulder. I sense its magnificence even though I can’t see the water through the houses and parks along the route. Some mornings, I pause partway through my route to ride down a steep hill to a deserted beach. The sun rises over the lake and I take a few moments to contemplate the wonder of nature.

Riding back up the hill, I continue on even quieter streets. Birds sing to me overhead and occasionally I spot a deer ambling across the road. I turn and pick up the bike trail that runs along the commuter rail for my return trip. Occasionally I spot a runner or a train roars past, momentarily disturbing the peace.

“The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” (Mark 6: 30-31)

I suspect that Jesus retreated to the desert or some quiet garden more often than reported in the gospels. Ministry is hard work and solitary contemplation is as important as engagement. As Christians, we need to be in fellowship in the pews, and in service outside the church doors. But we also need to connect with God in creation, and where better to find the Divine than in nature’s quiet embrace?

I reach the end of the trail and roll back onto city streets. The traffic is starting to pick up as the rest of the world begins its day. I’ve ridden these streets so many times I know every busy intersection and my mind continues to relax. When I arrive home, I’ll continue my own day in a state of grace thanks to the nourishment of the natural world. Hopefully, that feeling of peace will linger in my soul long after my ride has ended.


Eric Diekhans is an award-winning author, television, and podcast producer, and a member of Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago. If he’s not on his bike, you can find him at

Nurturing Spirit and Body; Seeking to Nurture Earth


JOY’s 7-circuit canvas labyrinth

By Diane Waddell

 The Justice, Outreach and Yoga (JOY) New Worshiping Community is a part of the 1001 NWC program of the PCUSA. The group gathers in St. Joseph, Missouri, in a sacred, beautiful space where the prairie has flourished, offering solace and quietude for the restoration of body and soul.

 JOY was birthed from a Laudato Si understanding of seeking equity in both environmental and social justice. Leaders and others who are part of the community share opportunities for sacred connection. We are a Matthew 25 community, seeking justice, and are particularly grateful for the three recently added intersectional priorities” to Matthew 25, including the importance of working as faithful stewards of God’s Creation to respond to Climate Change.

 Our Community meets at least three times a month. Our spiritual gatherings begin with candle or sage burning, prayer vigil for local or global needs, and the music of singing bowls. Our themes have been based on Celtic spirituality which keeps us grounded and centered in Creation. Alternate months we share and are amazed by the work of the mystics such as Hildegard of Bingen, who offered an essence of “greenness.”

 We have been gifted by one of the members, Rev. Dr. Krista Kiger, with a 7-circuit canvas labyrinth, and have been able to share a special sacred time of a labyrinth walk at least twice yearly. Our hearts, minds, and spirits are enriched by the sacred walk.

 We are strengthened and nurtured in our space and through our community. Our next steps are those in which we reach out to the wider community — our neighborhood and the wider region to advocate for the healing of the Earth. (Refuse, reuse, recycle; limit or refuse single-use plastics; plant native flowers, shrubs, trees; care for our gift of water, air, earth…)

 Indeed, for we ourselves to be healed and whole, we must nurture and care for this beautiful home called Earth.


Diane Waddell is Leader of JOY New Worshiping Community.