Church of the Woods USA Peacemeal Creation

Church of the Woods, USA

‘Gifts of God’ – a Church of the Woods eucharist

Thanks to Rev. Stephen Blackmer for this story.

The congregation is standing in a rough circle on the uneven, holy ground of the forest that is our church. In the center is our altar – today, a small table in the clearing, other days a decaying stump up on the rocky knoll.

On the altar, in addition to bread and wine, is an assemblage of bits of Nature: broken-open acorns, British soldier moss, a posy of woods violets, flashing bits of mica, curling white birch bark, newly opened beech leaves.

All gathered by members of the community during our woods-contemplation.

We are a joyful assemblage of young and old, near and far, regulars and visitors. Today, we are welcoming a delightful couple who happened to be driving down our little dirt road in Canterbury, New Hampshire, past our even littler dirt driveway and flapping plastic-laminated sign.

“Church of the Woods…” Liz said, “isn’t that the church we read about in Harper’s magazine?” They pull over and walk the 200 yards into the woods to see. Preparing for our morning service, I see them, wave, and say hello.

“We’re Liz and Don. We were just driving by… We used to live near here, but now we live in North Carolina.” When I check, I find that they have traveled 988 miles to be here. I welcome them and they stay for the service.

We worship in a Hundred Acre Wood. One hundred and six, to be exact. This is where we go to pray, to play, to be in community with each other and with all the beings and creatures: pegmatites, deer, black birch trees, cinnamon ferns, sphagnum moss, pileated woodpeckers, yellow bellied sapsuckers, chipmunks, fairy cup lichens, black flies and mosquitos, deer and moose.

Before we were here, it was logged very heavily. We come here to pray, restoring ourselves and the land to life.

Church of the Woods USA Creation Peacemeal

Throughout the Gospels, whenever Jesus is portrayed as praying (when he is direct communion with God, his Abba) the gospel writers tell us that, “Jesus went alone up the mountain to pray.” (Matthew 14:23) Or Jesus went into the desert, or to a lonely place, or into the wilderness. Alone.

He is never – not once – shown as going into the temple to pray. We follow his practice; walking in silence in the woods, by the stream, in the clearings, to listen to what God-in-Nature has to say.

We follow Jesus’ practice; walking in silence in the woods, by the stream, in the clearings, to listen to what God-in-Nature has to say.

If we are so moved while we are out in the wild woods, we find a token of our experience and bring it back as part of the offering placed upon the altar; giving back to God the gifts we have received, including bits of the woods.

Church of the Woods USA Peacemeal Creation

Around the altar, we recite together the prayer of consecration that asks God to pour out his Spirit upon the bread and wine on the altar – and equally upon these gifts of the land.

Recognizing that each of these gifts is filled with Christ, we pray to God to help us see the sacred that is eternally within, around, and amongst us: “Open our eyes and renew us in your love.”

“These are the gifts of God for all the creatures of God…” With these words, I break the communion bread – a small unleavened disk of wheat, oil, milk, and honey – into bite-sized pieces.

“It’s our practice at Church of the Woods to offer the first morsel of sacred food back to the Earth from which all life comes.” With these words, I give the small chunk of bread to the ground in front of the altar.

Church of the Woods USA Creation Peacemeal

If woods-contemplation is the center of our service, this meal is the culmination. We have entered body, mind, and spirit into God’s woods, brought to the altar holy gifts from the land, and offered “our own bodies – our own living sacrifice.”

Now, completing the exchange, we are taking God’s body into our own that we “may be made new and sent forth in love to heal the world.”

After feeding the Earth and creatures of the woods, we pass the bread of life around, each of us offering the sacred bread to our neighbor. Wine – the cup of love – follows.

When both have circled around and everyone has been fed, the final sip of wine is given to the Earth that it, too, may be re-filled with God’s spirit.

“God of abundance, you have fed us with the bread of life and the cup of love. You have reunited us with Christ, with the Earth, and with one another.

Now send us forth in the power of your Spirit that we may proclaim your love and continue forever in the risen life of Christ.” Amen.

More about Church of the Woods

Church of the Woods USA Creation PeacemealRev. Stephen Blackmer, priest of Church of the Woods, has kindly shared the Eucharist liturgy quoted in this story with us. You can download it as a PDF from our Liturgies page.

Church of the Woods describe themeselves as ‘a new kind of “church” on 106 acres of wild woods and wetlands in Canterbury, NH.’ Church of the Woods is a central part of the work of Kairos Earth.

Find out more on the Church of the Woods website.

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