BY JOSIAH NEUFELD
ILLUSTRATION BY PETE RYANUpdated 12:26, Mar. 17, 2020 | Published 9:43, Mar. 9, 2020
LAST JUNE, under a spreading maple tree on a hill in the southwest corner of Wisconsin, twenty-five people sat around a bonfire to mourn. To the tempo of a hand drum, they called out recently extinct species, tossing scraps of paper inscribed with animal names into the fire: Caribbean monk seal, Eiao monarch. White ash settled like snowflakes on knees and shoulders. Dusky seaside sparrow. Bulldog rat. Western black rhino.
Ordained ministers and lay leaders, they had come to this hill from across North America, from churches in Texas, Washington, West Virginia, New Hampshire, British Columbia, and Ontario, for the first in-person gathering organized by the Wild Church Network. The network is a loose affiliation of congregations, mostly from different Christian denominations, that belong to the Wild Church movement and meet for worship in the outdoors—surrounded by a New England beech grove, say, or in a forest of cedars along the BC coast, or on the grasslands of Colorado. These worshippers aren’t just seeking picturesque settings: sometimes they gather beside a stream choked with logging debris, or a bleak asphalt parking lot, or the charred skeleton of a burnt-out forest—places where they can face the destruction humans have wrought.