UP Wild Hosts Outdoor Church Service in Rapid River | News, Sports, Jobs


Courtesy photo Service attendees at UP Wild Church in Rapid River take a moment to fellowship.

RAPID RIVER — For many, the word “church” evokes images of stained glass, the sound of hymns and the smell of candles. But for people who attended UP Wild’s nature prayer service in Rapid River, the church was the surrounding trees against an UP sky, the whisper of wind in the leaves, and the smell of grass and earth.

The gathering at the Masonville Recreation Area on Sunday, Aug. 15, was the most recent service hosted by UP Wild, a nonprofit collaboration with support from the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan and ELCA Northern Great Lakes Synod. It is part of an ongoing effort to meet the spiritual needs of those outside of the traditional church structure who seek a deeper connection with nature.

“UP Wild was born out of the need to create a space for the many young adults in the Marquette area who no longer fill the pews of our churches,” said Lanni Lantto, the curator of UP Wild.

The setting also appeals to a younger audience for a variety of reasons.

“Young people who are spiritually motivated and have left traditional churches find a deep and loving connection with Wild Church as it speaks to deeply held beliefs,” Ken Kelley, member of UP Wild.

Although the initiative was designed to engage young people in new and creative ways, it attracted a wide range of participants.

“Our services are always a mix of people,” Lanto said. “We have interfaith participation. Some of the participants are pastors; some avoid the traditional church; and some just want a new experience.

A family came from as far away as Traverse City. People have many different reasons for participating. The Wild Church welcomes them all, without exception.

The service began with a meditation called “Why is nature important?” followed by a reading from the Bible. Then the participants were encouraged to go out into nature to pray, meditate and meet God.

“We need to disconnect from the distractions and noise of this world – we need to turn off our TVs and phones for 15 minutes to hear God’s silence again,” Lanto said.

One of the attendees was Bishop Rayford Ray of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan. When he walked through the woods, he said he had seen the hand of God in every leaf, every branch and every tree. This made him think.

“There was a place where the roots of a number of trees were interconnected and growing together. It illustrated how we are all interconnected in this world: people, animals and nature. We are all part of the creation of God, he said.

When participants returned, they were encouraged to share their experience. Kelley observed that, as in past services, the conversation focused on the spiritually moving experience of encountering nature and was both moving and empowering. The rally ended with prayers from the people, a call to action and a poem by Henry David Thoreau.

The service lasted approximately 45 minutes and a number of attendees stayed behind to chat. They were happy and smiling.

“In Scripture, the desert is a place of reflection, revelation, and prayer. It is there that God speaks to us, in the heart of ourselves and in the heart of the desert”, Lanto said.

UP Wild is based in Marquette, but offers services in many parts of UP. Upcoming events include a nature walk to Lake LaVasseur on Aug. 21, a nature prayer service on Aug. 29 at Près Isle Park in Marquette, and a blessing of the monarch butterflies on the Stonington Peninsula in the fall. Go to UPWild.org for more events and information.

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