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Rewilding the Church

Steve Aisthorpe

Saint Andrew Press,2020, £16.99. ISBN 978-0-715-20981-3

Review by Margaret Roberts, Green Christian Companion and trainee Reader in the Diocese of Derby

Rewilding the Church

The arresting title of the book drew me to its contents. Knowing how important rewilding is to the preservation of our ecosystems, I was intrigued to find out how this could be applied to the church.

This is a book with two strands interweaving and connecting fascinating information about rewilding with insights into church growth.

Although the rewilding metaphor may at time be overstretched, the author for the most part successfully segues between success stories of rewilding, and the consequences of not doing so, and examples of the types of natural environment in which church can flourish. Examples such as the successful rewilding of the Knepp estate in West Sussex, where working with the land, rather than against it, is compared to listening to God for our particular place and time. As watchers drawn together at Chanonry Point to try to catch a glimpse of dolphins, we look with the same attitude of attention and expectancy to find with others ‘thin’ places and practices where it is perhaps easier to have sight of Jesus.

Rewilding does not try to preserve the current status quo. George Mobiot said that to keep an ecosystem in a state of arrested development, is to preserve it as if it were a jar of pickles. To move away from ‘jar of pickles’ churchmanship, we need to follow the light touch management of rewilding, not working towards a predetermined blueprint but watching for where God is already at work in and outside of the church.

There will need to be other ways and means to get to grips with the question of accelerated change. The concept of rewilding may not resonate with churches in all settings, but for many churches, particularly rural and semi-rural ones, who are having to face painful changes, the language of rewilding, expressing the necessity of loss before gain, may be the helpful analogy they need at this time.

In the natural world, land regenerates, life bounces back something we witnessed in the early days of lockdown with a powerful innate tendency towards biodiversity and abundance. But first there has to be a letting go of what was there before. Rowan Williams spoke of the ‘principled and careful loosening of structures’, made more relevant in the covid-accelerated growing need to empower laity. The church with a resurrected Jesus at the helm has unlimited capacity for ‘bouncebackability’.

An important aspect of rewilding is biodiversity. It is the lifting of the heavy handed and ultimately destructive approach of one method fits all. This book takes data from Aisthorpe’s previous book The Invisible Church. Learning from the Experiences of Churchless Christians and reworks it to explore how the gospel has not lost any of its potency but is being accessed differently beyond the structures of the church.

Rewilding is reorientating, a throwing off of the depleting methods of church growth in the past. Mission is not a thinly concealed recruitment drive but the product of knowing that we are deeply loved and following authentic ways of anchoring our roots deep in Christ.

Good soil is the legacy of careful cultivation. We need to have self-awareness of the ways that we thrive in our own spiritual eco system and to discern by corporate listening how to best cultivate the soil of our community.

Rewilding is a timely concept to consider during and in the aftermath of lockdown. The church structures were taken from us and yet we discovered new ways of being disciples and were able to ‘do church’ in diverse ways with geographically scattered seekers. It is refreshing to read a book in step with a concept that, although new, is gaining traction fast. It’s the kind of thing Jesus did: drawing analogies with the current world around to talk about the Kingdom. As such it holds great relevance for us.

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