From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister - Congregation Futures
Steve Aisthorpe is author of a recently released book: “Rewilding the Church”. You may have come across the term ‘rewilding’ as it is applied in ecology. It is the idea of letting nature take care of itself – allowing what is innate in nature to form it. An example of rewilding in nature is the reintroduction of keystone species. This is what happened with the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park. Even with small numbers of wolves at first, the wolves changed the behaviour of deer so that they avoided feeding in areas along waterways where they were more vulnerable, which allowed revegetation of these over grazed areas. These effects cascaded and rolled on through the ecological system to eventually change the course of rivers. You can get more of this story of rewilding by viewing the short video at this link: https://youtu.be/ysa5OBhXz-Q
Steve was inspired by this practice of rewilding and sought to see how the metaphor of rewilding could be usefully applied to the church. In his book “Rewilding the Church” he follows the pattern of authentic sustainable landscapes emerging when natural processes are allowed to have their way to then see what might emerge for the church as we focus on following Jesus and using our gifts together. In this pattern Steve sees God reversing the domestication of the church. He sees God ‘rewilding the church’, and asks how we might join in. For further introduction to the book, you can view a conversation with Steve at this link: What does Rewilding show us about God, the Kingdom and the adventure of faith? - YouTube
In applying the rewilding metaphor to the church Steve uses the example of reintroducing keystone species (like the wolf to Yellowstone). This kind of reintroduction has profound and extensive environmental impacts. He asks the question: What might ‘reintroducing Jesus’ (the keystone) into our lives and the Church involve? He is quick to say that it is not that Jesus is absent from our churches, but that we have domesticated Jesus. He urges the church on to invite Jesus to reshape and recreate us. It will be interesting to see how this aspect of rewilding connects with the theme for Synod this year: “Where the Wild God is”.
Rewilding also speaks to our approach to leadership. It involves releasing and affirming leadership to pave the way for a flourishing of biodiversity in the church. This will lead to multiple expressions of church that are shaped by the gifts of the people God brings together as they discern together what God is doing. In this way Steve pictures the church as being more like a meadow of wildflowers, rather than a manicured lawn.
Another application of the metaphor that Steve makes to the church is based on removing invasive species. He asks: “How might the liberating impact of removing ‘invasive species’ from ecosystems shed fresh light on the calling of followers of Jesus to ‘throw off everything that hinders and entangles’?” As he looks for parallels in the church, he posits one candidate being the busyness and frenetic activity in the church that comes when we fail to discern our particular part in the church, and instead try to do everything.
In his book Steve draws on other parallels to help us explore how else the rewilding metaphor might stimulate our thinking and acting as church. If you are interested in purchasing the book, one of places it is available is Book Depository: Rewilding the Church : Steve Aisthorpe : 9780715209813 (bookdepository.com)