Friday, August 7, 2020

Hedgerow Walk

 Usually New Forest Forest Church meet together on the second Sunday of the month. However, during the lockdown we have been producing material on those Sundays for each of us to go out into the natural world around us either alone, or in our household/bubble.

This month New Forest Forest Church will be walking local hedgerow.
Hedgerow is a significantly important aspect of the ecosystem, and is in decline in Britain.

We will each walk whichever hedgerow we find to walk and stop to look at the vast array of life that can be found in it. Not only the creatures, but the plants themselves.
There is a very rough guide which can be followed by which a hedgerow can be aged. This is done by counting the number of woody species, trees and large shrubs, within a 30m length of hedgerow. Each species counted equals around 100 years of age, so the more species you find, the older the hedgerow is!
The second guide to discovery in the hedgerow is "the more you look, the more you see". Take time to pause at points along the hedgerow and just stare into it.
The longer you stand and stare the more life you will discover is there.

Why not record, write, draw, or photograph, the different species and types of plant you discover and guess the age of the hedgerow; and the different species and types of creature you discover and write them out on the Facebook page or blog post?

Below are a couple of websites to give you some more information.

As you walk the hedgerow keep these verses in mind:

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so.
Genesis 1v24

13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
14 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth,
15 and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart.
16 The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 In them the birds build their nests; the stork has its home in the fir trees...
...24 O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Psalm 104v13-17 & 24

After you have walked the hedgerow and contemplated the verses, think of how you might be able, in any little or significant way, to help the growth of hedgerow, and the life of plant and creature within it.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Parable of the.... Rose Family Fruits

July brings the start of the main summer harvest in our garden and, although strawberries and some raspberries have fruited, now there are all the currants, plenty of raspberries, loganberries and tayberries and even the blackberries are starting to turn red, ready for an August picking.

Cherries are safely picked and turned into pie and jam; apples and pears are swelling in the orchard and the crab apple tree is so laden we have to stoop to walk under it. Even our baby plum tree has a few ripe fruit for the first time ever.

This month we are using these summer fruits as a basis for our Forest Church, taking a slightly different angle on the parable of the sower. This time the seeds are not being planted straight in the ground, we are considering their growth even before harvest time, as they are growing to maturity in their parent plant.

Join us as we muse together on how we allow God's word (these same seeds) to grow in us to maturity.

There is a link to an audio file and also a simple video for those who like pictures to focus on.

Please add your comments and thoughts below when you have had a chance to participate in this month's Forest Church - I am only sorry I can't share with you the real fruit from our garden that I had hoped would be part of this session!

Audio Podcast (MP3) of July's Forest Church

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Wind, wind, blow on me...

Image of a crow in a treeThis month's forest church is about getting outside and listening; listening to the wind (or the rain) and the language of air and water.

The Holy Spirit is sometimes described as Living Water and Jesus said of the Spirit  "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." 

So here's a story to get you going and some further instructions based on the story. 

Click here to open the story (mobile-friendly podcast with transcript).
Let us know your own reflections by commenting on this post.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Is Coronavirus healing the Earth?

This month for New Forest Forest Church, rather than a video, we felt that it would be nice to all go out in our local area at 4 o’clock on Sunday May 10th, when we would usually be gathering, so that we are all out at the same time, even if we aren’t together, and as we walk to contemplate how the current lockdown is affecting the planet and the natural environment.

As you walk slowly and quietly and absorb the natural environment near you and the Divine presence within it, contemplate what impact your life has on the planet, and what the current situation shows us about the affect Western culture is having on the earth.

Below is some information to help your thoughts. Perhaps you could find out more information.

Following your time out contemplating, why not come back here and write your thoughts and comments so that we can share together in our experiences?

While the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, the slowdown in human activity is having some unexpected, but positive impact on our planet. To combat the rapidly spreading virus countries have put a lockdown resulting in limited travel and industrial activity.
Across the globe wildlife and plant life and aqua-life has been reported as increasing in its health and activity. Limiting travel has led to a reduction in vehicle emissions and cutting the amount of industrial activity has led to a drop in the number of harmful particles put in the air and water.
According to Lauri Myllyvirta, an analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air in Finland, the restrictions contributed to a 25 percent drop in China's carbon dioxide emissions over four weeks beginning in late January, compared to the same time last year.
Myllyvirta's analysis also found that industrial operations were reduced by 15 percent to 40 percent in some sectors and that coal consumption at power plants fell by 36 percent.
In San Francisco, which is under shelter-in-place orders to control the spread of the coronavirus, the average concentration of fine particulate matter — tiny particles in the air that are dangerous because they can be breathed deeply into the lungs — over five days was almost 40 percent lower than the previous year; in New York City, there was a 28 percent drop over the same period of time, and the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue saw a 32 percent decrease.
Air pollution levels in the UK dropped significantly in the first two weeks that the country went into lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus. Some UK cities saw nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels fall by up to 60%, analysis shows. NO2, released from car exhausts, is a serious air pollutant and also indirectly contributes to the warming of the planet.
Researchers who study the Earth’s movement are reporting a drop in seismic noise — the hum of vibrations in the planet’s crust — that could be the result of transport networks and other human activities being shut down. Data from a seismometer at the Royal Observatory of Belgium in Brussels, show that measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Brussels caused human-induced seismic noise to fall by about one-third.

Watch this video to learn more:

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Easter Sunday Special

During the national lockdown due to the Coronavirus we at New Forest Forest Church (NFFC) are following the Government guidelines and have ceased to meet as a group until further notice.
However, many folk were looking forward to our Easter Sunday gathering and so I recorded it and posted this video on the NFFC Facebook page on Easter Sunday afternoon.
For those who either didn’t see it or don’t have Facebook, here it is on our blogsite as well.

Obviously there would have been some discussion and interaction if we had gathered as a group, so please feel free to comment with your thoughts about the poem which I read, and any other related thoughts you have. 

I hope you enjoy it.

Continued Easter blessings to you!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Be More Snail

On March 8th, we met at Minstead to consider our friends the gastropods, and what we might learn from their way of life. As it turns out, that was the last time we were able to meet face to face for a while, due to social distancing requirements in the coronavirus pandemic. I wonder how we might reflect on the themes we introduced then, in view of what we are experiencing now, only 3 weeks later? In red, I have added to our original themes some additional questions for reflection. We took three angles -

1. Make your home where you are 

2. Move slowly

3. Leave a trail of crystal behind you

1. Make your home where you are

A snail can withdraw into its shell to protect itself, and to hibernate. Imagine trying to carry our homes on our backs! What can we learn from snails about the nature of home?

In the first phase of our walk, we were invited to have a conversation with another about what it would be like if what we happened to have with us today were all we had, connecting in some tiny way with the experience of refugees. We reminded ourselves of Jesus' words – ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ (Matt 8, v. 20).

We are now in a phase of withdrawal into our shells to protect ourselves and those who are vulnerable in our society. David showed us a photo when we were together of snails, all hibernating in their shells, but located side by side in a crevasse. How is this enforced hibernation increasing our sense of connection to others who are hibernating?

2. Move slowly

We then spent some time moving slowly around a small area, seeking out some slugs and snails to observe. 

We were offered this poem from Rob Bell -

Walk, don’t run.
That’s it.
Walk, don’t run.
Slow down, breathe deeply,
and open your eyes because there’s
a whole world right here within this one. The bush doesn’t suddenly catch on fire, it’s been burning the whole time.
Moses is simply moving
slowly enough to see it. And when he does,
he takes off his sandals.
Not because
the ground has suddenly become holy,
but because he’s just now becoming aware that
the ground has been holy the whole time.
Efficiency is not God’s highest goal for your life,
neither is busyness,
or how many things you can get done in one day,
or speed, or even success.
But walking,
which leads to seeing,
now that’s something.
That’s the invitation for every one of us today,
and everyday, in every conversation, interaction,
event, and moment: to walk, not run. And in doing so,
to see a whole world right here within this one.

How are we using this opportunity to slow down? What might we be learning in the process? 'There's a whole world, right here, within this one' - how might we allow ourselves to see the 'holy ground' within our homes and relationships?

3. Leave a trail of crystal behind you 

The silver trail is a very special substance – it is not liquid, not solid, it is in fact a form of crystal – it protects the slug or snail from bacteria, and enables it to climb different surfaces. It is a means of communication – leaving messages for other gastropods. 

Our final phase was an invitation to reflect on what it is we leave behind us – not just when we die, but when we leave a space – how do we leave people feeling, do we think? What are the effects of our actions on other people? Even our desires to be helpful – what effect may they have on others? 

I don't think I am alone in hoping that there might be some long lasting positive effects on our communities and relationships from this sense of lockdown. However, there will also be grief, loss, and broken relationships. May we continue to look for ways to share Love, which will protect us and our loved ones from harm, enable us to navigate tough terrain, and communicate God's ongoing nature of care.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Brigid's Blessings - February

On this stormy evening we were so thankful for the gift of a warm and welcoming home to meet in, it isn't often that Forest Church takes place completely indoors.
Today we learned about Brigid, of whom many tales are told, she has a significant place in Irish culture as a Patron Saint of many things, but remembered particularly for her hospitality and reckless generosity that drove her family to distraction!
One story goes that she was taken to a local king by her father who was frustrated with her giving away so many of the family's possessions, he begged the king to buy her! While her father was speaking to the king, Brigid gave a passing beggar her father's sword, when the king learned of this he exclaimed "She is too good for me - I could never win her obedience!"

Another story speaks of her being called to the death-bed of local Pagan chieftain. As he was too ill to speak, Brigid gathered up reeds from the floor and started weaving them into the shape of a cross. The chieftain asked what she was doing so Brigid was able to share the story of Christ and the cross - the chieftain believed and asked to be baptised before his death.

A Brigid's cross is often given as a housewarming gift, they are traditionally made on 1st February, Brigid's feast day. House blessing prayers are said (sometimes a group of friends or neighbours may go round from house to house) and the cross is fixed to a doorway or on the wall.

"May God give His blessing to the house that is here.
God bless this house from roof to floor,
from wall to wall,
from end to end,
from its foundation and in its covering.

In the strong name of the Triune God
all evil be banished,
all disturbance cease,
captive spirits freed,
God's Spirit alone
dwell within these walls.

We call upon the Sacred Three
to save, shield and surround
this house, this home,
this day, this night,
and every night."                                        From Celtic Daily Prayer, Book One

 We spent time making our own crosses, and some people wrote their own home blessing prayers.
This is a prayer from the Lindisfarne Scriptorium.

"This home is yours my God, may it be comfortable and filled with love.
     Let there be light.
This home is yours my God, may it be blessed and filled with laughter.
     Let there be joy.
This home is yours my God, may it be safe and filled with peace.
     Let there be hope."

We finished with some Brigid bread which was delicious with a little bit of butter and jam.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

9th Feb - Last of the House Based winter venues

In December, January and February the New Forest Forest Church meets at Fairwinds, Stonehills, Fawley, SO45 1DU. This gives the twin benefits of nearby coastal walks, a wild-ish garden overlooking woods and water yet all a few steps from a log burner!

However, parking isn't abundant and with a care home nearby the narrow lane has regular visits from ambulances. The map below indicates some of the best parking nearby. If walking is difficult let us know in advance and we'll ensure there is space on the drive. 

There's lots of parking at Ashlett Creek - 6 mins walk away; There's normally one or two spaces half way between Fairwinds and Ashlett Creek where Stonehills lane splits into two and a grass verge lies between the two. There's quite a bit of parking in Calshot Close just before the turn off from the main road to Stonehills. You can then walk down Stonehills to Fairwinds or via a small wood (pick up the the footpath that runs between a tin garage and a house called Armadale).

Map of Stonehills area with parking spots marked - see text for details
Map to show location of Fairwinds and best parking.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Saturday special - 25th January. "Living till the day we die"

View of a reconstructed Iron Age round house with bare winter trees around.
The Round House at Minstead Study Centre - site for January 20th Forest Church activity

This 'extra' session, based in the Minstead Study Centre, was to accommodate the BBC's filming of The Good life. We were pleased to welcome several people visiting for the first time; including the Reverend Kate Bottley who interviewed several people. Alistair led the session and provided the notes below. 

The introduction - how old are you?

We are so used to misinterpreting the question that we invariably give an entirely false answer based on an arbitrary date when we left a womb.

The answer to the question is far from simple. It is also somewhat encouraging...

The reality is that the vast majority of our body is constantly renewed. There are some patterns to it - for example cells living in a harsh environment (like the lining of your stomach or colon) need replacing every week or so. Skin cells up to a month. Fingernails and red blood cells are usually replaced within a year. Liver and white blood cells can be as old as 5 years. Hair and bones from 6 - 10 years. Only brain cells and the lens cells in our eyes are likely to be with us for most of our lives.

The implication? We are being constantly renewed and our bodies are a kaleidoscope of different ages. Most of a ten year old's cells are the same age as a 60 year old. The sixty year old just went round the sun an extra fifty times...

Just as our bodies are in constant cycles of renewal, so our faith is also subject to growth, decay, revitalisation. We are (literally) never quite the same person two months in a row. 

The activity 

After a quick collaborative exercise, matching cell types to timescales, people read out the following verses about renewal and renewing. Then the challenge was to reflect on the concept of renewal by creating something artistic from the natural materials around us. 

The verses

Renewal is not a single thing - there can be different aspects and nuances as shown below:

Lamentations 5: 20. Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long? Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old. unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.

Job 33: 23. " Yet if there is an angel at their side, a messenger, one out of a thousand, sent to tell them how to be upright, and he is gracious to that person and says to God, 'Spare them from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom for them — let their flesh be renewed like a child's; let them be restored as in the days of their youth'— then that person can pray to God and find favour with him, they will see God's face and shout for joy; he will restore them to full well-being.

Romans 12: 2. Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Psalm 51: 8. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

2 Chronicles 34: 31. The king (Josiah) stood by his pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, and to obey the words of the covenant written in this book.

2 Corinthians 4: 16. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal

The results

People participated in a range of ways - some simply sharing something that had struck them from the time, others created spirals, circles, abstract shapes or poetry. Unfortunately, I didn't get any photos. If anyone reading this would like to describe what they did (and what it meant to them) in the comments below we'd be delighted to hear from you. 

A response

I didn't create any artwork (it's not my best skill!) but I did play around with some words around the theme. Here they are:

Not entirely me 

Today I'm not entirely me;
a billion cells have upped and gone 
another billion came along...
I hope we still get on.

It gives me cause to pause and think:
if Life is gone in but a blink 
how many 'me's have known 
this body that I call my own?

And as I ponder in the pause, 
I know that every cell is Yours
and all the things I thought were mine 
are merely loaned, a gift divine.

Thanks to...

We'd like to extend a special thanks to Minstead Study Centre and - in particular - Zebi who did so much to help everyone get to the right place at the right time and feel welcomed in the process. It was a Forest Church First to serve up refreshments in an Iron Age style round house with a welcome fire blazing in the middle. Big thanks also to Terry for catering  for so many and Mike and Julie for their help with getting everyone fed and watered (and tea'd and coffee'd). 

Finally, thanks to Kate, Sam and Kara from the BBC - you were wonderfully unobtrusive and blended in beautifully. 


Sunday, January 12, 2020

Pine cone parables

Pine cones - image source
I'm a compulsive collector of pine cones. It's almost impossible for me to walk through a pine wood without picking up cones. For this session I wanted to use pine cones as a way of reflecting on the nature of God and the nature of our pilgrimage of faith.

There were three parts to the session:

  1. getting to know pines - we walk past them, we pick up the cones but rarely realise the elegant intricacies of their life cycles.
  2. finding some Parables of the Pines - reflecting on different aspects of the pine and how that might influence our own journeys.
  3. acting and reflecting - actively meditating on a specific pine cone of your choice.

Getting to know pines:

Having been banished from the house back into the garden, the potted Christmas tree was brought back indoors and around its base we had the life cycle from 
  1. the male cone at the base of the tree producing pollen to 
  2. the pollen spore (complete with 'air bags' to help buoyancy) floating off and hoping to find a female cone,
  3. the unfertilised female cones high up in the tree (to reduce self fertilisation since wind rarely blows upwards!) receiving pollen from nearby trees,
  4. the tiny pollen grain building a pollen tube from the cone surface, drilling down to find the female egg cells,
  5. the fertilised egg cells growing into seeds behind the pine cone scales, 
  6. the pine cone scales opening (when the conditions are right) to let the winged seeds blow in the wind to start a new seedling.

The Parables of the pines:

These are the three parables we told - the misfit, the benefactor, the architect.

Parable 1 - the misfit

The first conifer fossils date back to around 300 M yrs ago – a time when the earth’s oxygen levels were higher and huge areas of land were bordering the warm tropical and equatorial regions.
Most plants at the time were fern-like – including tree sized ferns – all adapted to warm moist conditions and all able to reproduce quickly and effectively.
The conifers were slow and ponderous in comparison. They took 2 or more years to create the next generation and even then it was only a seed rather than a proper plant like the ferns produced. True, the seed could sit out drought and even fire but there are few droughts and fires in continents bordering tropical oceans.
But things change. A hundred million years later the continents had slowly drifted together and instead of thousands of miles of coastlines, a supercontinent meant most of the landmass was far from the sea. Many areas were desert or semi desert. Water was in short supply. The age of tree ferns had gone but the slow, plodding conifers with their wind blown pollen and resilient seeds that could sit out a few bad seasons began to take over the world.
In time, the other plants would arrive that enclosed their seeds in fleshy food stores – berries and fruit – to give them a better start in life but the conifers were here and would dominate the landscape wherever tough conditions and strong seasonal changes were to be found. Many are fire adapted and wait for years until a fire has reduced competition and fertilised the soil. Then they release the precious seeds into this optimum environment.

 Parable 2 – the benefactor

Each male pine tree cone annually releases an estimated 1-2 million pollen grains. As well as benefitting female cones, pine pollen is regarded as a superfood (rich in vitamin D and anti-oxidants) with anti-aging and analgesic properties.
Native pines support a wide range of insects, birds, mammals, moss and lichens. Many types of pine needles (NOT Yew!) can be used to make a tea rich in vitamin C. Simply steep a handful of needles for 5-10 minutes. Pine nuts from all varieties of pine are edible, although some are small and not typically harvested.
Native Americans chewed pine resin as sort of a natural chewing gum. The inner bark of large pine trees is edible, and the bark from young pine twigs can be eaten as well. The inner bark can be eaten raw -- it can also be boiled, fried or cooked over a flame.
Pine resin is a natural antiseptic and disinfectant. It also has antimicrobial and antifungal properties. It can be directly applied to wounds or sores and helps keep germs out. Pine resin can also be used to staunch the flow of blood. The resin and needles of the Scots pine have traditionally been used to treat respiratory problems. 
The resin can also be used to extract splinters -- just dab some on the skin where the splinter is embedded and within a day or two the splinter should come out on its own.
Pine resin makes a great fire starter, particularly in damp settings.

Parable 3 – the architect

The pine cone structure follows the Fibonnaci sequence with 5, 8, 13 or 21 spiral sets.
When St Boniface felled the Thor Oak in Germany in front of disbelieving pagans, he saw a small fir tree sticking up through the broken boughs of the felled oak.

“This little tree,” he said, “a young child of the forest, shall be your holy tree tonight. It is the wood of peace… It is the sign of an endless life, for its leaves are ever green. See how it points upward to heaven. Let this be called the tree of the Christ-child; gather about it, not in the wild wood, but in your own homes; there it will shelter no deeds of blood, but loving gifts and rites of kindness.”

 The reflections

Some people sat with their cones, exploring and examining them. Some took them outside to look at them in the twilight. Some people wrote about them, some drew them. 

I drew my cone's shadows from different angles, reflecting on how differently something as complex as a cone appears depending on where you view it from... and reflecting that the shadows were only visible in the proximity of light. There were many thought provoking, even moving, reflections people offered. We'd encourage people to use the comments below to add their own reflection.

Alistair McNaught - January 2020