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The Somerset 'hedgerow chaplain' using nature as a church building

by Kelly Valencia
Steven Wort.jpg - Banner image

It's been a year since a man in Somerset started using nature as a church building. 

Steven Wort, a lay worship leader from Milverton, was commissioned in 2021 by the Diocese of Bath and Wells as Chaplain to the hedgerows, a role understood to be the first of its kind in the UK. 

Using countryside walks, Wort's job is to help people connect with their faith. 

"The concept of is ever so simply: to take people out to natural church," Wort told Premier Christian News.

"There are a lot of people that are frightened by that big building and they wonder what goes on in there, and when some people do go in, they're not too sure of the language even. It's very archaic. 

"So the idea of the hedgerow chaplain is we are very natural, in God's natural church, talking about the flora, the fauna, the beauty of what we've got, the fact that, if we look hard, we can really see how wonderful it is, we can use our five senses of visual and our smell, our hearing, etc and we can really become at one with God." 

The idea for the role first came up during the Coronavirus pandemic, Wort said. As churches were closed many people started to go on countryside walks and pilgrimages. 

He saw it as an opportunity to bring the Gospel out of the church building and into nature. 

Encouraged by Rev Helene Stainer, the rector of the Benefice of Milverton with Halse, Fitzhead and Ash Priors, Wort went on a course to become a chaplain. Shortly afterwards, Rev Helene suggested the title of 'hedgerow chaplain'.

The walks take place twice a month and are located around the four churches that form the benefice. They are about three to four miles and designed to last for, more or less, the same time as a church service. 

"We say an opening prayer and then as we walk around we stop every now and again and have open prayers. We then do a silent walk for ten minutes or so where we can actually pass and talk to God with our own prayers," Wort continued.

"I also ask them to bring along any little stories, poems, pieces of prose, and then we can stand around in the field and they can recite those to us as well I suppose using ordinary everyday language without getting too complicated. But by doing what we do in saying what we do, we really are appreciating creation." 

Around 35 to 40 people regularly take part in the walks sparking interest among those with and without faith.

"They actually cover those that are frightened to go into the church. I've got several people that actually go to church regularly but see this as another way to deepen their spirituality and there are people that simply come for the walk. 

"There's been a few that have started to go to Church because of it, but that's not necessarily my intention." 

For Wort, it is all about Jesus' so-called "golden rule": "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". 

"If we can go out in a mixed bunch of people and we can listen and we can understand, then maybe we'll treat each other much better when we go home. We'll look after our neighbours better. We'll listen out for any problems or troubles and just generally make a better society."

You can find out more about Wort's hedgerow ministry here

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