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Toward a Liturgy of the Wild

Victoria Loorz

Victoria Loorz is a wild church pastor and eco-spiritual director and the author of
Church of the Wild: How Nature Invites Us into the Sacred. She is the founder/director of the
Center for Wild Spirituality and a co-founder of the Wild Church Network.

In learning to honor the holiness in the others who are not human, may we learn to honor the sacred within ourselves and in all peoples.

The divine communicates to us primarily through the language of the natural world. Not to hear the natural world is not to hear the divine. —Thomas Berry, The Sacred Universe

The Conversation: Ojai Church of the Wild was the name of the first wild church I started along with a small group of brave souls who were tired of defining church by a building where we meet. After twenty years as a pastor of traditional indoor churches, I had walked out of the chapel doors and into the sanctuary of the oak trees, leading my community in a worship that might reconnect us with the living world as sacred. I wanted to see if we could put the eco-theological work of Thomas Berry into practice as a worship community and remember how to listen directly to God through the language of the natural world. 

I was longing for church to be a place where Mystery is experienced, not explained. Moving church outside under the branches of a giant oak tree and listening for the whispers of the Sacred in the wind through the calls of crows and mockingbirds and in the buzz of gnats offered a pathway to deeper connection with God and with our place. We met under an oak tree near the river’s dry wash on land that had been cherished and cared for by Chumash people for more than ten thousand years. It was Advent 2015, and the group of about twenty-five of us ventured into terra incognita, unknown territory, with a sense of adventure. 

Under the shade of a giant live oak tree, we complete a circle and build a little altar with a cloth I made, along with leaves, stones, and sticks we collect nearby. I set out a glass jar of communion juice made from the wild blackberries and apples someone brought from their backyard tree. The children and teens scramble into the arms of the ancient tree through her ladder of branches. They listen with intermittent giggles from above as we begin the service with silence, listening to the beings who worship daily in this place, a simple invocation that acknowledges with gratitude the ancient native peoples who have tended this land for generations, the sacred presence of the trees and the creatures who invite us into worship with them. We end the prayer this way: 

In learning to honor the holiness in the others who are not human, may we learn to honor the sacred within ourselves and in all peoples. May we honor one another and honor life itself and sacred Mystery, Christ within all things, holding us all together, Amen. 

We create spiritual practices that encourage us to re-member ourselves back into our home terrain as full participants in an interconnected web of aliveness. Reading from the “first book of God”—which is what the ancients called nature—the liturgies include not just the humans and a disembodied God but focus on the incarnated Christ, alive in and between all beings in this particular place, honoring those particular beings themselves.

The core of the service is a forty-five minute time of wandering outside of the circle to contemplatively listen for the voice of the sacred in the sermons of the blue jays and gnats and falling leaves. Then we reconvene to share our experiences and insights, listening reverently to one another. The word of the Lord, Amen.

Contemplating Water, 2015

Contemplating Water, 2015, installation view at the National Arboretum, Washington DC, test tubes, water, wood, meditation cushions, Nicole Salimbene

At first, I was a little uncomfortable. Was I stepping over a line into heresy and just making things up? Within a few months after starting Ojai Church of the Wild, though, I began to meet dozens of other pastors across the continent who were also leaving buildings to develop spiritual practices that would restore sacred relationship with the natural world. Eventually, after more and more spiritual leaders were joining our monthly calls, we recognized that we were part of something much larger than us, that we were responding to a call from Spirit—and Earth herself—to midwife an essential reconnection, performing a role of religios1 with creation.

We called ourselves the Wild Church Network, and now there are hundreds of little church plants growing on the edges of multiple denominations. These wild church leaders are creating a path for the rest of the church to develop liturgies and worship patterns that restore kindred and sacred intimacy with the rest of the alive and sacred world.

Church of the Wild is not a new, trendy form of church for people who shop at REI and backpack through the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s not just for people who want to avoid buildings. It isn’t even a sneaky way to get religious people to care about climate change. When gathering outside buildings—in parks and on the wild edges of town—nature becomes more than a lovely background for
the more reverent acts of church. Rather, the landscape and creatures of our home places are the preachers, the co-congregants, the choir, and the sacred stories themselves. 

It is a movement (dare I call it a reformation?) led by an unlikely group of nearly two hundred liturgists, pastors, and spiritual leaders from multiple denominations who are taking seriously the call from Spirit and from Earth to restore a dangerous fissure. Spirituality and nature are not separate. 

When I first started gathering people together for Church of the Wild services, I honestly didn’t expect—but was happy to discover—that the effort to reconnect with the whole holy soil and creatures of our place also restored something of a fissure within our own souls. 

The pressure causing this fissure is rooted in a centuries-old false belief system of human dominance, a worldview of separation between humans and other organisms that is opposed to every system of life and has had disastrous consequences. Disconnecting ourselves from a sacred world by imagining that we are more important than everyone and everything else paves the asphalt road for the increasing climate crises we are experiencing. Diminishing habitats and alarming extinctions of wild creatures highlight the profound ecological consequences. What is less obvious (but equally dangerous) are the psycho-spiritual consequences suffered by our own species. A spirituality rooted in human superiority—like any form of othering and superiority—is nearly as dangerous for the dominant parties as it is for those they other. 

What do our souls lose by forgetting that we are part of nature? What is atrophied in our spiritual reality by pretending that we are the only species who really matter to God?

Wild church—a way of approaching church that allures human hearts to reconnect with the rest of the creation—is a pathway to explore these questions by developing spiritual practices, liturgies, and new worship experiences that invite our congregations and our culture to restore sacred relationship with a groaning and glorious planet.

Dominion -> Stewardship -> Relationship 

Thirty years ago, I researched and wrote a comprehensive worship tool kit to encourage churches to “care for creation.” That was the language used to support a shift from a worldview of dominion over nature to a more acceptable stewardship of nature.

Focused on the impacts of global environmental crises on human communities, particularly those suffering from poverty, the tool kit, called Let the Earth Be Glad, was sent to fifty thousand churches. It included all kinds of liturgical and worship resources—from sample sermons, exegetical studies, and scriptural references of nature’s revelation of God (Job 12:7, for example: “But ask the animals, and they will teach you; / or speak to the earth, and [it] will teach you”) to projects for kids to learn about Jesus by considering the lilies and frogs. We even included a cassette tape (it was a long time ago!) with nature sounds that churches could play during worship services. 

While the language was focused anthropocentrically, honoring the inherent spiritual value of the trees and the creatures of Earth was a politically charged line to walk three decades ago, and it remains so in many contexts today. A whole section of the kit was essentially a polemic: “No, we aren’t saying you should worship the creation rather than the Creator. No, this isn’t a liberal agenda. No, this isn’t pantheism. No no no. Don’t you see? Caring for creation is clearly aligned with our own tradition.” I was determined to help church leaders overcome centuries of cultural and religious bias to bring nature inside the worship space to open the hearts of their congregants so they would care about nature outside our doors. 

I think that the kit contributed to an awakening in the church that welcomed the replacement of a dominator-dominion worldview with a perspective of concern for and stewardship of the planet. Seven years after it was released, the 202nd PC(USA) General Assembly adopted a report called Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice that called for greater environmental stewardship. Since then, several initiatives, including Presbyterians for Earth Care, support local PC(USA) churches in their efforts to make creation care a central concern of their communities. I am grateful for the earnest efforts of many who have helped us pull away from a theology of dominion and invest in stewardship efforts with serious action. 

And now, something more is being asked of us, beyond stewardship and creation care. These terms betray their roots in an anthropocentric hierarchy. As if the species that caused the crises of separation in the first place has the capacity to figure out, much less accomplish, a restoration on our own. What we need can’t be legislated or explained or resolved only through reducing waste and getting solar panels on our buildings. What is needed is a shift from stewardship into relationship.

Beyond caring for creation or stewarding Earth’s “resources,” what wild church could offer the church at large is an invitation to risk entering into actual, intimate, I-Thou, subject-to-subject, reverent relationship with the particular places and beings of the living world. Restoring relationship with a sacred world.

Into the Mountains to Pray

Every time Jesus went to pray, he went to the mountains or the wilderness, or at least the garden. So it makes sense that learning to pray is an important agenda for churches. Centering prayer. Taizé prayer. Silent prayer. Petition prayer. Liturgical prayer. Confession prayer. Prayer-without-ceasing prayer. Prayers of the people prayer. But when was the last time we encouraged people to go to the mountains to do it? Jesus didn’t go to the buildings to pray. Jesus went to a mountain—or along the lakeshore, or to the wilderness. Every time.

And he didn’t just go to the mountains or garden or wilderness to pray. The Greek term is eis, which is not a locational term. It is a relational term meaning “into, penetration, union with.” This is a mystical, relational and even erotic preposition suggesting deep connection, a small linking word that takes seriously the call to enter into relationship. For Jesus, his prayer connected him relationally with a particular place. Every Gospel reference of Jesus praying uses this intimate preposition of union and relationship: Jesus went into the mountain, the lake, a garden beyond a particular winter stream, the wilderness, and a solitary place to pray. His prayer place was the wilderness, yes. But he went there to enter into a union with the sacred, speaking through the wild elements there. 

This is precisely why church of the wild is not called church in the wild. We aren’t just meeting outside in a lovely location. When we gather as wild churches—among the cedar trees, oak groves, city parks, or desert shade—we are entering into relationship with our place. We are expanding our experience of prayer, and we are also learning how and why Jesus went into the mountain to do it. There is an unmediated presence of God that can only be experienced outside the human constructs of civilization when we enter into reverent relationship with the natural world. 

It’s almost as if you can’t understand prayer or mountains without practicing both together. Church of the Wild is not just about changing the location of prayer as you know it to the outdoors or about doing church the way it has always been done, just outside. It is a reorientation of focus and perspective, a theological shift as much as a physical one. 

We aren’t used to this kind of intimate relationship with the living world, where the Creator still speaks in the dialect of desert and dandelion and deer. But our spiritual ancestors were intimately familiar with it. This idea of conversation with nature is even embedded in the Hebrew language. I recently learned that the Hebrew word midbar, usually translated as “wilderness,” is rooted in the verb dabar, which means “speaking.” Ba-midbar, translated in most cases as “the wilderness,” also means “the organ which speaks.”2

Understanding wilderness and Nature (which includes us) as the organ which speaks in the voices of trees and wind is also an invitation into sacred conversation. To listen to birds is to listen to the whispers of God. It is an invitation into intimacy, love, kinship. There is something about slowing down to be present in a wildish place for an extended time. First the silence allows you to hear your own voice beneath the chatter of distractions and to-do lists and self-evaluations. Then even that fades, and you can hear the voices of the wind and the rain and the chickadees. Eventually you can hear it: a deeper silence, the invitation to listen to the voice of the sacred, a voice that is deeply your own and also the trees and also God. 

Recent science, along with movements such as Japanese forest bathing (shinrin-yoku), demonstrates that the act of immersing yourself in a forest, in the desert, or in the grass in your neighborhood park leads to lower blood pressure, calmer nerves, and a more focused mind. It is good that people are waking up to the benefits of connecting with nature for their own health and well-being. But it is more than that. The living world can open us up, making us receptive to a conversation with the Divine that begins by listening.

There is an invitation here to pastors, liturgists, and worship leaders: how can we invite congregations to listen to the land, the waters, and the beings of our places as if they were carriers of the Sacred, just as we think about the human members of nature? 

Toward a Liturgy of the Wild

The wild church movement is not really a charge to leave buildings to worship in nature. Rather, it is an offering to the church at large to co-create a new, more compassionate and interconnected story. To do so requires listening and restoring the great conversation. 

Whether people recognize it or not, the groaning of a suffering Earth impacts us not only at an increasingly obvious physical level, but also at an emotional and spiritual level. Psychologists have coined a new term, climate anxiety, to describe the psychological distress that arises from concerns about the impacts of climate crisis. It is an existential anxiety. Though few are looking to the church to address it, this is more than a psychological problem. It is a spiritual one. 

Gus Speth, environmental attorney, naturalist, and founder of the NRDC (National Resources Defense Council), has said, 

I used to think that top global environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and climate change. . . . But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy, and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.3

He’s right. It is not the scientists or the activists or the politicians who can do that. It is the liturgists, the worship architects, and the spiritual leaders who are uniquely equipped to midwife spiritual transformation. And only spiritual transformation can allow the urgent cultural change needed at this pivotal time on our planet.

Liturgies of the wild are needed to re-member us back into loving relationship with the whole holy world. Wild church isn’t just about doing regular church outside, nor is it interested in convincing churches with buildings to abandon them. Liturgies of the wild honor a needed worldview shift of reconnection, which reflects the true meaning
of religion. 

Liturgy, the structure of public religion and worship, facilitates relationship so that we might commonly remember our original interconnection. Liturgies of the wild invite us to re-member ourselves back into vibrant relationship with God who is both transcendent and also immanent in all of creation. Through the Holy Spirit, we are called to expand our vision of inclusivity and reverence for people who are not like us, for human beings in other countries, from other races, and with other identities. Liturgies of the wild remind us, as well, that there are more than human beings in the world. The beloved community is larger than our species.

Religios: the sacred practices that reconnect us. Humans have created spiritual practices of religion/reconnection for as long as we can measure. We must know deep inside that the journey toward reconnection is essential and difficult. We must know that we need the support of ritual, ceremony, liturgy, and worship to help us remember that we belong to a greater story and to a greater beloved community, especially in times of disconnection. 

Liturgies of the wild re-places a human power paradigm of kingdom marked by hierarchy, monarchy, and inequality with the power systems of Earth, which can be described as a “kin-dom” of cooperation and kindred reciprocity. Liturgists of the Christ tradition are ones who might have the specific capacity to help transform a worldview of kingdoms and empires into a worldview of kin-dom and compassion. Where else can a disconnected society find the support to live into a new story of kin-dom through the story of a God who became human, a God who regards all humans, species, and life systems as inherently good and valuable? In the story of Christ we can imagine a kin-dom than where we are called to love neighbors—all neighbors, human and more than human—as ourselves, where we do unto others—all others—as we would have them do unto us. 

Samples of Wild Liturgies from Wild Church Leaders

A Call to Worship
We begin in silence, 
Listen to your breath. 
Listen to the wind. 
We are connected through the breath of God. 
Take deep, grateful breaths, 
with an awareness that the presence of God 
is often described as the ruach—the wind,
the breath.
Your own breath is dependent on the breath of the tree. 
Slowly allow yourself to relax into this welcoming place. 
You belong here with this oak tree 
and the stones and the flies and scrub jays and poison oak. 
Listen for the water, 
arteries of life flowing throughout the planet 
mirroring the arteries of blood flowing through your own body. 
You are a welcome part of this ecosystem. 
They welcome us because they have not forgotten 
that we are related, 
that we come from the same dust 
and return to the same dust. 
Take another deep breath of gratitude 
to acknowledge that our lives 
are fully dependent on the healthy functioning 
of this particular bio-system. 

Victoria Loorz, Church of the Wild:
How Nature Invites Us into the Sacred
(Minneapolis: Broadleaf Books, 2021), p. 221.

A Wild Invocation
We gather together in this wild cathedral
where there are no walls or windows
to separate us
from the land on which
trees breathe and plants transform
the sunlight
where the spirited elements dance and desire,
tousle our hair
and play on our skin,
where everlasting cycles of birth and death,
and birth again,
are engraved in the seasons’
With abundant gratitude and openness,
quieted hearts and wandering souls,
we pay attention
as our senses reveal their ancient knowing,
and call this

Mary Abma, Wild Edge Offerings,
leader of Sarnia Wild Church,
Used with permission. 

A Wild Communion Liturgy
(Place bread and wine on your altar, which could be the earth, a stump, or a rock.) 

From before time, God made ready the creation. The Divine Spirit moved over the deep and brought all things into being: sun, moon, and stars; earth, winds, and waters; rock, fire, and every living thing. 

Today we join with all the earth and heavens in a chorus of praise that rings through eternity. We remember our oneness with all that exists and all that has life, and that it is a joyful thing to be in God’s presence with each other, with this land, and with all creation. 

This meal we are about to share is a miracle and a mystery—a gift of earth, water, wind, and fire, and of seeds buried in the earth and cracked open. This bread and this juice, with their many meanings, are gifts of life to the living. 

For followers of Jesus, these gifts assume particular meaning. Jesus broke bread with outcasts, healed the sick, and proclaimed good news to the poor. He yearned to draw all of the world into the heart of God. 

When Jesus’ life was nearing its end, Jesus was eating supper with his friends. He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and shared it saying, “Take, eat: This is my body, offered to heal the whole world. Whenever you eat it, remember me.” 

(Break bread.) 

And as supper was ending, Jesus took a cup of wine. Again he gave thanks and offered it to his friends saying, “Drink this, all of you: This is the cup of the new covenant—a promise of eternal love poured out for you and for all beings. Whenever you drink it, remember this.” 

(Pour cup.) 

Here, with the Earth as our altar, we savour God with all of our senses. As we eat and drink together we get to taste, smell, and touch the sacred. We are reminded that we are one with God, with each other, and with all creation. Before we eat and drink, let’s pray:

Divine Love, pour out your Spirit upon these gifts. Fill us with your breath, O God, opening our eyes and renewing us in your love. Send your Spirit over this land and over the whole earth, making everything a new creation. Amen. 

(Hold a piece of bread and cup of juice.) 

These are the gifts of God for all the creatures of God. 

Remembering that Jesus came to renew us and the whole world, we will offer the first piece of bread and the last drops of juice to the earth. 

(Place the piece of bread on the earth.) 

Come, eat and drink, one and all, whoever hungers and thirsts for renewal. All are welcome. 

(Invite people forward to receive a piece of bread and a cup of juice. Ask someone to help with serving the bread and/or cup.) 

(After all have been served, pour some juice onto the earth.) 

Our God of abundance has fed us with the bread of life and the cup of love. With deep appreciation and thanks for the communion we share with each other and with the earth, we pray: 

Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Life-giver, Pain-bearer,
source of all that is and ever shall be,
you have showered us with abundance.
With the food we need for today, feed us. 
For the hurt we cause, forgive us.
As we lose our way, restore us.
Enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living creatures,
all part of the family of God.
Tune our hearts to live in harmony
with Christ, with the Earth,
with all creatures,
and with our human neighbours too.
Now and forever.

Wendy Janzen, Burning Bush Forest
Church in Kitchner, Ontario, copyright: Creative Commons. 


    1. The Latin etymology of religion can be understood as re-ligios: re meaning “again,” ligios meaning “connection” (like ligament). Religion has always performed an essential societal role of re-connecting humans back into relationship with God, with one another, with the land.

    2. Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: “midbar.” Noun Masculine. Definition: mouth. 1. mouth, the organ of speech. 2. wilderness.”

    3. Gus Speth, quoted in Monty Don, “Religion and Nature,” in Shared Planet, October 1, 2013, BBC Radio 4, MP3 audio, 0:41,

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