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The Commons: Quest for the Sacred

​Walk in the Church of the Woods

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illustration of animals

The Glass Menagerie by Pete Sandker

On Sunday mornings, the Reverend Stephen Blackmer sends his congregation of many faiths to wander in the woods—106 acres of rolling hills and wetlands in Canterbury, New Hampshire. Blackmer places such a high value on individual contemplation of outdoors that 20 minutes of sacred aloneness in the wilds replaces the homily part of a service, which involves prayer, reading from the Bible or other texts, and singing—but no sitting in pews. He offers the morning’s ideas for contemplation, and when the congregants return to the central spot, they have the opportunity to share what came to them. In this sharing, Rev. Blackmer says, it’s the Earth speaking, and people are listening to each other. “The biggest part of the service is time in the woods and then time with each other. It is so central.  “Let’s change what church means,” says Blackmer, and that’s what his Church of the Woods (“not in the Woods”) is doing. At the end of the service is communion, and the first bit of bread and the last drops of wine are offered to the Earth. Thus, the congregation expands to include the moose, fox, t …

As Deputy COO of Spirituality & Health Media, Meggen Watt Petersen contributes her expertise across the board, including to the editorial team. She has written on matters of interfaith or international relations throughout her career.


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