A Place of Reflection, Revelation, and Prayer
August 11, 2021
For many, the word church brings up images of beautiful stained glass, the sound of hymns, and the smell of candles. But for the people who attended UP Wild’s Nature Prayer Service in Rapid River, church was the surrounding trees set against a UP sky, the murmur of wind in leaves, and the smell of grass and soil. It was the perfect place to seek a deeper connection with God, God’s people, and the world in which we live.
Sunday’s gathering at the Masonville Recreation Area was the most recent service put on by UP Wild, a non-profit collaboration with support from the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan and the ELCA Northern Great Lakes Synod. It is part of an ongoing effort to respond to the spiritual needs of those outside of the traditional church structure who seek a deeper connection with nature.
Lanni Lantto, the curator of UP Wild, explains, “UP Wild came out of the need to create a space for the many young adults in Marquette area who no longer fill the pews of our churches.” In the words of UP Wild member Ken Kelley, “Young people who are spiritually driven and have abandoned traditional churches find a deep and loving connection with Wild Church as it speaks to deeply held beliefs.”
While the initiative was designed to engage young people in new and creative ways, it has attracted a wide range of attendees. “Our services are always a mix of people,” said Lantto. “We have cross denominational attendance.” Some of the attendees are pastors; some avoid traditional church; and some just want a new experience.” One family came from as far away as Traverse City. People have many different reasons for attending. The Wild Church welcomes them all, no exceptions.
On Sunday in Rapid River, the service started with a meditation called “Why Wilderness Matters” which was followed by a Bible reading. Then, the attendees were encouraged to go out into nature to pray, meditate, and encounter God. Lantto explains, “We need to disconnect from the distractions and noise of this world–we need to turn off our TVs and phones for 15 minutes to hear the silence of God again.”
One of the attendees was Bishop Rayford Ray of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan. When he walked through the woods, he said that he saw the hand of God in every leaf, branch, and tree. It caused him to reflect, “There was one place where the roots of a number of trees were interconnected and growing together. It illustrated how we are all interconnected in this world: people, animals and nature. We are all part of God’s creation.”
When the participants returned, they were encouraged to share their experience. Kelley observed that as in past services, the conversation focused on the spiritually moving experience of encountering nature and was both moving and thought-provoking, The gathering ended with prayers of the people, a call to action, and a poem by Henry David Thoreau.
The service lasted about 45 minutes, and a number of attendees stayed afterwards for conversation. They were happy and smiling. Ken Kelley expressed what seemed to be the general feeling, “I didn’t want it to end!” People seemed to have found something unique here, something that others such as Thoreau and Merton have discovered before them. Lanni Lantto summed it up nicely. “In scripture, wilderness is a place of reflection, revelation and prayer. It is where God speaks to us, in the heart of ourselves and in the heart of the wilderness.”
UP Wild is based in Marquette, but they conduct services in many parts of the UP. Upcoming events include a wilderness walk to Lake LaVasseur on August 21, a Nature Prayer Service on August 29 at Presque Isle Park in Marquette, and a blessing of the Monarchs on the Stonington Peninsula in the Fall. Go to UPWild.org for more events and information.
Interested people are encouraged to attend. You will be welcomed, and you may discover what Ken Kelley discovered, “Wild Church fills a need and longing among people to be reunited with the Earth.”