Diocese of Manchester

    Finding God in nature

    Listening to birdsong, watching the sun glint off fresh green leaves, feeling the crumbly bark of trees and seeing a yellow butterfly flutter over a lake. These were some of the delights of spending time in the forests of Finland on silent pilgrimage, under the guidance of Jussi Holopainen, a spiritual director from our link Diocese of Tampere.

    A small group from Manchester was privileged to spend time with Finnish hosts, who opened our senses to nature, and through that experience opened our hearts to God.

    Forest pilgrimate

    On day one we took one of the 23 pilgrimage paths that have been devised by the diocese for people to enjoy around the city of Tampere. Designed for individuals, families or work teams to do together, each ‘well-being’ pilgrimage invites people to listen to themselves in nature.

    How often do we slow down, feel free to explore the space around us, breathe deeply and ask ourselves “How am I today?” The rewards can be rich: “When you listen to yourself in nature, you can hear God”, says Jussi.

    After our silent time we shared with an Emmaus partner what we had learnt about ourselves through the nature, including a spring of fresh water, an old wall, a tunnel and a beautiful ‘fluttering elm tree’. At the end of the day, after a time of prayer, we each shared our favourite moment before extinguishing a candle.

    Sharing thoughts and insights

    The silent pilgrimage continued for two more days, led by Mari Leijo and Jussi. We heard a cuckoo and a woodpecker, foraged for mushrooms, saw deer and touched trees. We heard God speaking to us about ourselves, our work and our worship, and we shared a Eucharist at the Church Rock in the forest. There, we laid down an item we had gathered from the forest floor that reflected something in our lives that was unhelpful to our wellbeing that we no longer needed to carry around with us.

    Our final day was in the city of Tampere itself, with its 200-year industrial heritage, brick mills, water power and modern commercial districts. Here the sights and sounds were of construction projects, traffic, people going to work and children going to school. 

    Tampere city

    As we thought about heading back to Manchester, we listened for the prophetic voice of God in creation, calling us to repentance and action. We asked, “What is Jesus saying to us about our mission in Manchester with Him?” There was a desire to build bridges to connect different factions of our communities (the young and old, rich and poor) and to create a movement that others want to join.

    So, after an uplifting and energising time when we enjoyed the incredible hospitality of our Finnish friends, what are we bringing back home that is useful for Manchester Diocese? Ideas that we are eager to explore further include:

    • Offering similar silent retreats in nature for parishes and clergy, either in England or in Finland, to develop our own spirituality
    • Strengthening parish links between churches in Manchester and Tampere
    • Developing spiritual pilgrimages for people to enjoy, including young people and uniformed organisations, around different parts of Greater Manchester and Rossendale
    • An urgency in caring for God’s creation: continuing our journey to becoming Eco Churches, supporting Eco days organised by the wider community and possibly introducing a ‘cycle to church’ day
    • Creating prayer cards and art guides to help people in church feel what they experience in nature.
    For more information on the Tampere link, please contact Revd Jo Farnworth, 0161 330 4925. For Eco Church please call Revd John Hughes, 0161 872 0500.

The Church of England Diocese of Manchester,
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Manchester M3 2GH

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