- This resource was written by James Appleby of Climate Justice for All for the Season of Creation 2021
- This work may be shared freely, with attribution, without modification
This practical idea allows people to gather outside the confines of a permanent building, closer to nature, but with a bit of shelter available. It requires some land and ‘found’ building materials, teamwork and some lifting to complete. Use it for in-person small group meetings or a Muddy Church/Forest Church meeting where an outside space would work well.
Often, we regiment ourselves to the idea that the church exists within a building. Any place in which Christians gather can be a church, however, as Jesus says: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20).
Some churches are fortunate enough to possess land which can be used to develop an outdoor place of worship. Others may need to use common land or purchase space in an allotment.
Building a woodland chapel
Standing at over five metres in height, this imposing structure built entirely from fallen branches and sticks is hard to miss in my local woodland. This is not the work of a fairy-tale piglet, but a creation of my own design – a forest den for quiet reflection and shelter from the elements. Most of the branches were laid during the month of March, but additions have continued at irregular intervals throughout the spring and summer. However, in a group, a shelter of reasonable size and fortitude can be created in a few hours.
- Start by finding a tall, straight tree, with no branches on the lower five metres. This will be the firm foundation for your structure.
- Find long branches and dead saplings to build the walls of your building. The wood must not be rotten, but it also shouldn’t be cut from living trees: use only that which has already fallen.
- You can dig these branches into the ground as well as anchoring them to the higher boughs of the central tree, but don’t use rope or nails – this structure is built to be completely biodegradable and natural.
- Use smaller sticks to fill in the space between the large branches to complete the wall.
- You can continue outwards in a spiral to create an ever-expanding structure, like my own, or you can make a simple round structure with a doorway in the walls. Finish by rolling a few logs into the structure for seating.
Building a woodland chapel of this sort creates a number of opportunities. One is that it is a collaborative project that the community, particularly children, can get involved in. It’s a way to consider the provision of God through creation. There are a number of different Bible stories that this activity can be used to highlight, including Noah’s ark, the Transfiguration, and Jesus’ instruction to build our houses on his firm foundations (Matthew 7:24-27).
If the structure is built on common land such as a public woodland, you may find that other members of the community outside of the church will contribute to it too. In this way, we can share our joy in creation without even directly communicating. The den can provide a space for reflection, prayer, or even just somewhere to be seated to enjoy the sights and sounds of the forest.
The structures you build can even become a shelter for animals! At the centre of the den sits a blackbird nest, knitted together with twigs, leaves and moss. It reminds us that we are not the only animals capable of designing and building. God says that all of nature is good, and delights in his creation. So too should we respect these animals, who are not so different from us. During the period in which the blackbird was nesting, I ensured that the front of the den was boarded up with branches to give the birds the privacy they needed. Always remain conscious of the wellbeing of animals when doing any of these activities.