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Rewilding and mainline churches

Q&A with Rev. Matthew Syrdahl

Question & Answer


Q: By A Reader

How can mainstream churches be more inclusive of  Rewilding?

A: By Rev. Matthew Syrdal

Dear Reader,

As a pastor of a mainline church and as a nature-based human development guide and founder of a Wild Church, I ask myself that question everyday.

In part, your question depends on what you (we) mean by “Rewilding”? There is the sort of “conservation language” sense of rewilding — protecting wild places and letting the land return to its original, undomesticated state. There is also a human developmental sense of Rewilding, which is to say cultivating deeper authenticity and wholeness as individuals and communities, including renewing a deeper connection with the land itself that moves beyond classical “stewardship” of the Creation (still rooted in a separation or split of humanity from nature) toward something like a “participation with” the Creation.

From my own experience with Seminary of the Wild as an edge-walker and bridge between institutional religion and new, emerging visions of eco-spirituality, faith and action, there are many layers of support that can contribute to the larger work of Rewilding.

The first is the conservation layer, or “Creation care” — stopping destructive practices to the ecosystem through education, awareness and advocacy work. This is a really important layer. Many churches never learned (and faith leaders never equipped) or had the language to connect our theology with the greater ecology in a way that produces deep and sustainable change in our congregations and communities – not just change in theology and practice, but a comprehensive change of consciousness. Unfortunately seminaries are still largely geared toward engaging the mind (rather than the body, emotions, natural world, and psyche) to effect change which is really the very upper layer. Mainstream congregations need to create a container of leadership to explore what “rewilding” really means, how to translate it to the congregation in a way that speaks broadly to both conservative and liberal elements, and why it is the greatest and most urgent act of Christian love in our times. From the perspective of Scripture, how is “rewilding” core to the gospel (i.e. Romans chapters 8 and 12), how is it exemplified in Christ and part of the “new wineskins” needed to contain this new consciousness?

The second layer of “rewilding” is how we experience the Self, God and Earth in the first place. This “rewilding” work is deeper than education, sustainability and conservation practices. It is moving into what Norwegian philosopher Arne Ness calls, Deep Ecology. It entails a rewilding of the Self through community and practices that can get at the underlying psycho-spiritual structures while cultivating greater wholeness, aliveness, and leadership capacities. Again, in a mainline church, a small group of thoughtful and dedicated individuals might be tasked with exploring a growing number of organizations that already do this work and plan how to introduce a viable vision to the leadership of the church.

~ Rev. Matthew Syrdal

This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

About the Author
Rev. Matthew Syrdal MDiv. lives in the front range of Colorado with his beautiful family. Matt is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian church (USA), founder and lead guide of WilderSoul and Church of Lost Walls and co-founder of Seminary of the Wild. Matt speaks at conferences and guides immersive nature-based experiences around the country. In his years of studying ancient Christian Rites of Initiation, world religions, anthropology, rites-of-passage and eco- psychology, Matt seeks to re-wild what it means to be human. His work weaves in myth and ceremony in nature as a way for people to enter into conversation with the storied world in which they are a part. Matt’s passion is guiding others in the discovery of “treasure hidden in the field” of their deepest lives cultivating deep wholeness and re-enchantment of the natural world to apprentice fully and dangerously to the kingdom of god. Matt is a coach and a certified Wild Mind nature-based human development guide through the Animas Valley Institute and is currently training to become a soul initiation guide through the SAIP program.

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