The church in Ethiopia is ancient, and has many traditions that have evolved separately from wider Christianity. One that I discovered recently is the tradition of the church forest, which is explored beautifully in this short documentary by Jeremy Seifert.
In some places trees have been cleared for agriculture, leaving the church forests as little oases of green. It is here that biodiversity is being preserved, and from here that the forest can potentially be extended and the landscape restored.
It’s an extraordinary place for a community to find itself, both hopeful and precarious. And I’m struck by the contrasting spiritualities of these communities and traditional British churches. Our ancient churches are surrounded by graveyards – a place for the dead, for the past. The Ethiopian churches are very much for the living, a church that is itself alive. It’s a church not just for human beings, but for the wildlife and the plants, and that recognises the relationships between them all.
I am entirely down with this idea, not least because I help to run an outdoor church that meets in the woods. But whatever your personal faith, there’s a metaphor here that I think resonates at our present moment. What are the pockets of life and hope that we want to protect right now, after so many months of erosion? What will it take, not just to throw a wall around them, but to push out and reclaim the wasteland?