A set of resources for creating a ‘Forest Church’ style outdoor act of worship.
You can use all the following ideas and resources to make a full act of worship, but you do not need to use them all at once.
Be selective and use just parts of it, according to the time you have and what will work well for your ‘audience’. For example, use only one of the ways into Scripture offered (you can use the other on another occasion). And of course, you can adapt any of it and add in resources from elsewhere too.
This act of worship explores our individual faith journeys – of which there are many different types. It might be a long physical journey taking us to another country. Or a short one, just to the next street. It might be a journey that asks us to do something in faith for God. Or it could be a mental journey. And so on.
Most of the ideas and resources presented here are suitable for children and adults together, though some may be more suited to one or the other. They work best in a space where there are lots of trees, shrubs and plants – places where people can find natural items.
In advance, set up or mark out a ‘sacred space’ big enough for the group to gather in, and with a rough wooden cross as a focal point.
You will need: a travel bag; a large shallow tray of soil; some long nails (enough for one each) – placed beside the cross. You will also need to carry a simple tote bag containing: pieces of string (approx. 20cm), luggage labels and pencils.
Begin by explaining the focus of your time together: our own individual faith journey, and what it has meant to us so far. Suggest that there may be points in our journey that are highly significant
e.g. times when we have stepped out in faith, or when our faith has been particularly challenged or affirmed.
God’s request to journey
Choose one of these two ways into Scripture:
Read Acts 9.1-19
This story tells of Paul’s journey from persecutor to believer through obedience to God; and also of Ananias’ journey, which was only from one street to another, but for Ananias it was still fraught with fear.
After reading the passage, invite people to think about what they have just heard. If you have time, you could read it once or twice more, to give people the opportunity to digest more.
Compare biblical journeys
Look at different examples of God sending people on a journey:
- Joseph and Mary fleeing to Egypt (Matthew 2.13-15);
- Abraham departing for Canaan (Genesis 12.1-5);
- Samuel sent to anoint David as king (1 Samuel 16);
- David appointed as ruler (2 Samuel 2.1-4).
There are also examples throughout the Bible of journeys that are not an explicit or single command from God but are nevertheless God inspired: e.g. those of Paul and the Apostles.
As an alternative to doing this ‘on the day’, you could prepare something in advance to introduce people to the biblical material.
Make a picture
Whichever way into the Bible you choose, follow it by inviting people to make a picture using ‘found objects’ of, or that represents, the message they have taken from what they heard. It could be as simple as a word or a phrase, or as all-encompassing as the whole idea of journeying with God.
Found objects means any natural things lying on the ground in the vicinity – twigs, leaves, stones, etc. Some people find it easier to start with a ‘picture frame’ of sticks. The picture doesn’t need to make sense to anyone except the person who made it!
Allow 10 to 15 minutes. Invite people, if they wish, to share some of their thinking.
Our journey to here
There are plenty of biblical examples of people undertaking journeys and trusting God to keep them safe and fed. The Israelites on their 40-year journey through the wilderness is perhaps the most well-known. God led them by a cloud during the day, and a pillar of fire at night (Exodus 13.21). He fed them with manna every morning, and game birds once a week (Exodus 16).
Ask people to suggest contemporary examples of journeys we take where we need to trust in God. Encourage everyone to think of physical journeys (e.g. a pilgrimage; a hiking holiday alone; even, perhaps, a daily commute by bicycle), but also other types of journey (e.g. going to a new church; starting a new school or job; moving to a new town).
Give everyone a piece of string. Ask them all to disperse, and to look for natural objects to represent significant times in their life. Then to fasten those objects to their string, leaving gaps between them. Ask them to return to the gathering space after about 15 minutes.
When everyone is back, invite those who wish to, to share their thinking. Ask everyone to think about the times represented by the items on their string – when was God most present for them? Where, on their journey string, was God guiding them? Invite them to drape their string over the arms of the cross.
A prayer of trust
We are all travellers and strangers in the world,
just like those who have gone before us,
and those who will come after us –
people whose fears and worries
are just the same as ours today.
We know our destination,
but we don’t know the route we have been given.
We know only that every journey we dare to take
comes with adventures, possibilities, new opportunities.
All we need to do is remember to turn to God in trust,
and expect God’s care.
We ask for courage to hear and obey,
and to trust it is God’s voice we hear.
Help us, O God, to dare to say ‘yes’ to risky living.
Our paths take us through landscapes we do not know,
but we do know that you have a map, O God.
So, we will trust you with gladness and with confidence,
wherever you send us.
As we journey through life, and journey through faith, there are times when we have to leave things behind. People, places, houses, and sometimes family. Brendan, a Celtic saint, well-known for the precarious journeys he took in a small boat at God’s request, left behind all that he held dear. In our faith journey, what might we have to leave behind if we are to journey with God?
Give everyone a luggage label and a pencil. Suggest that people find a ‘sit spot’ – somewhere quiet and on their own – to think about what their own current answer to that question, writing (or drawing something to represent) their thoughts on their label. When they have finished – after about 15 minutes – they should return to the main space, keeping hold of their labels. Again, you can invite those who wish, to share their thinking.
God’s travel insurance
A way to evoke the sense of journeying. Say:
Throughout all his journeys, God always kept Brendan safe. In our own journey – whatever that may be, whatever we may have promised to undertake – God will keep us safe, too.
The wooden cross is placed within God’s creation, and we have decorated it with our journey strings and all the natural items on them. The tray of soil represents us, our home, our place of worship (whether building or outdoor space), our faith and our journey here on earth.
There are also iron nails here. In many cultures, including our own, iron has been long thought to be an element with strong protective qualities. The nails are here to represent the love of Christ for us.
A prayer for safety
Print this prayer, or part of it, on one side of the luggage label, and say all together.
We stand here on our earth, the core of all God’s creation.
We ask for peace and harmony in our homes and our lives.
We ask for a peace and harmony that we will want to share with others.
We ask that our friends and families be well;
that our house be a haven for all comers,
and our table be one of hospitality for all who need it.
Just as we try to protect the earth, the soil, the land,
we pray that it will, in turn, ground us and protect us
in imitation of God the creator.
May our earth and its creator protect those we love,
and those we are yet to meet.
Let our homes be a safe place,
a secure place,
a harmonious place,
for all those who come to our door.
And let the love they encounter within our walls
go with them when they leave.
Next, invite everyone to:
- put their luggage label into the travel bag, – thinking, as they do so, about how they will journey in obedience, and recalling what they may have to leave behind.
- take a nail (representing Christ’s love and protection) and push it into the soil in the tray – as a sign of commitment, a promise, to love and protect God’s creation, even as God looks after us in our journeying.
A prayer of commitment
We place these iron nails in the soil,
a symbol of Christ’s love for us.
We ask, O God, that you protect our homes, our families and ourselves,
as we will seek to protect and care for the environment that surrounds us.
Help us to be open to your still, small voice,
and obedient, even as Christ was obedient.
Continuing on the journey
End your Forest Church Act of Worship by reminding people that what we have explored and discovered, what we have experienced and promised, is meant to make a difference to our lives, to our journeys. It may be convenient and helpful to talk about our journey in terms of discrete steps (e.g. to here, from there, past, future), but our journey of faith and living continues all the time. We leave this space now, but we never stop journeying.
A prayer for journeying
When the path you walk is full of pebbles and thorns,
God will be walking with you and will ease your feet.
When you can’t quite figure out where the road you are following is going,
and you can’t see its edges,
God will be there with you, lighting your way.
When your journey is so difficult you can’t see how you will complete it,
God will hold your hand and give you courage.
When your destination seems so far away
that you wonder how you will ever reach it,
God will stay by your side until you do.
Remember that in the darkness,
God will be your light;
that when you fear the future,
God will protect you;
that when all seems just too hard a battle to undertake,
God will give you strength.
Remember that when you feel alone, afraid and uncertain,
God is nearby,
ready to hold you close whenever there is need.
God will never let you go.
Wherever you go for God,
God will always go with you.