Could we “wild” the church?

Posted: July 12, 2020 in Uncategorized

“Knepp Estate is one of the most exciting wildlife conservation projects in the UK, and indeed in Europe. If we can bring back nature at this scale and pace just 16 miles from Gatwick airport we can do it anywhere. I’ve seen it. It’s truly wonderful, and it fills me with hope.” Professor Sir John Lawton, author of the 2010 Making Space for Nature report.

In 2000 a decision was made to sell the dairy herd and farm machinery at the unprofitable Knepp Home Farm in West Sussex, England and put the 3500 acre estate out to contract. Twenty years on the Knepp Wilding project is a leading light in the conservation movement. The Knepp Wilding website describes “astonishing wildlife successes” and talks about the project offering “solutions for some of our most pressing problems – like soil restoration, flood mitigation, water and air purification, pollinating insects and carbon sequestration.”

It sounds like I’m just reporting on a successful conservation project, but the story goes further. Last year in the Church Missionary Society Pioneer Mission website, Paul Bradbury drew on the achievements at the Knepp Estate and put forward the concept of “wilding the church”.

Bradbury put it like this: “The unfolding story of the Knepp estate might be read as a parable for the church in the UK. We use methods that in many contexts are no longer fruitful or sustainable, and others which are resource intensive and (if not mechanistic, then) programmatic. Yet, in many ways we too are farming in the old ways on land which is now marginal, amalgamating parishes in the hope that perhaps we can find a way out of decline. We too need to stop and deeply listen to our context. When our machines have stopped and the dust settled we may just be able to discern the nature of the soil at our feet.”

As the baseline was changed in the Knepp Estate, surprise was a constant experience. Species that people thought had gone, came back and the soil that had seemed to be unproductive sprang into life. There is a picture here of the surprise that comes from experiencing the Holy Spirit at work in the life of the church and the wider community when we listen and observe his presence.

Perhaps there is a place for a more “wild theology” – a changing of the baseline – a place where we stop trying to organise, manufacture, or programmatise the work of God and to allow the Spirit to move in fresh ways that will surprise us again and again. Perhaps there is a place for us to learn how to participate in the life of the Spirit who is already at work in the world and as Bradbury says to become “observers, enablers and curators”; to be facilitators of the vision of the Spirit. 

What do you think?

  1. Flora Roslyn Robinson says:

    Absolutely agree with the concept of Wilding the church. We have lost many from recent generations. It’s time to stop acting insanely – doing the same things and expecting a different outcome.

  2. Karen Smith says:

    “Wilding” is a fabulous book and recommended reading. It was interesting to read about their journey to productivity and the obstacles placed by bureaucracy and popular opinion that had to be overcome. Abundance came through the mess, at the margins and where diversity was permitted to find its harmonious balance. They were not afraid to try, the Church needs to not be afraid.

  3. Jessica says:

    What a wonderful way to phrase it – “wilding the church”. How indeed do we go about it? Where are the people who will stand up in boldness and step out of the framework that generations have set up before us and listen to where the Spirit is leading? How does a lay person bring influence? So many questions I am wrestling with as I feel my way forwards in this space. I refuse to go back to church as normal but where to next? Thank you for your blog and these articles on a post-COVID church!

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