Introducing Wild Grace Community, Knoxville, TN
Updated: Feb 14, 2022
Starting some time in 2019, I began to have a sense inside that the church I was attending was not giving me life. That the church overall, in the traditional, institutional sense, was not helping me encounter the living God, but was instead placing barrier after barrier between me and God. At its best, the work of religion is to reconnect us. Sadly, our churches have disconnected us from each other and the natural world around us and, thus, from the God who is the ground of all being.
The church has told us that inside the walls are where the holy and sacred are to be found, but I had the sense deep inside that God permeates all things, all creatures, and all people. The Spirit of God was blowing, calling, beckoning, luring, and yes, even dragging me out of the stodgy, stale, and sterile walls of institutional churches to look for the grace growing wild. I sensed a change was afoot but didn't know what it was. When I talked about it to friends and my spiritual director I would get concerned responses or correction. I desire a connection to the Divine that is true, intimate, and transformational, but what I've gotten in the institutional church is mediated, measured, and muted. I suspect I'm not the only one who has felt this way.
In April of 2020, wrestling with this sense of being called away from the institutional church, I wrote a poem called "Look for the Grace Growing Wild." (You can read it here.) I am not a poet. I can’t remember ever writing a poem before this one. But this poem spilled out onto the page while I was having a quiet day of contemplation. Unbeknownst to me at the time I wrote it that within the week, we would have a difficult, soul-crushing, and painful experience that would force us to leave our church. We were stripped from the friendships and community we had built there in the midst of the global pandemic when we needed them the most. We were betrayed by the very people we trusted with our hearts. Now, I look back and see that God had been preparing me for that experience for years even though it was still incredibly sad and painful.
Over the next two years as I grieved the losses, the Spirit of God comforted me most strongly when I was in nature. I found solace and support from trees, birds, flowers, and creeks. On the one-year anniversary of our exit from the church, at the suggestion of my wife, I spent the day in a state park beside a creek and journaled. As I journaled, all the pain and grief of the losses we experienced in the preceding year came flooding back. Alone in the woods beside the creek, I cried big tears, bigger than I had cried in a long time. As I relayed this experience to my [new and wonderful] spiritual director, she made the insightful observation that the birds and the trees were holding space for my grief. I had so little space to process my grief in the preceding year, so it was as if those beings in the wild said, "We will hold space here for you to grieve and not pronounce any judgement on it. You are safe here." I mark that day as the day when my healing truly began. Since that day I have found the presence of God most closely while in nature.
Now, almost a year later after that experience in the state park I desire to connect with more people who understand the expanse and immensity of God's presence and who want to connect with it outside the walls of a church building. Last Fall I read a book called Church of the Wild: How Nature Invites us Into the Sacred by Victoria Loorz. This book gave me the frameworks, and quite frankly, the permission to "do church" in the way my heart had been longing for. So we are venturing out—literally—and inviting whomever else would like to join us to experience the Divine, the Sacred, God in nature at Wild Grace Community. Learn more about it here.