9/6/2019 10:01:00 AM Nature calls for Maryland Church of the Wild
By JANET HEIM, The Herald-Mail undefined
SHARPSBURG, Md. (AP) — When Leah Rampy and her husband moved from Washington, D.C., to Shepherdstown, W.Va., last August, she was interested in building community.
For Rampy, that included a spiritual connection. While living in D.C., she participated in a Church of the Wild, which she said is loosely affiliated with the Wild Church Network.
She described the practice as "deepening spirituality through nature."
Rampy met a woman in Shepherdstown who was interested in starting a similar group and invited her out for coffee. She learned the woman had too much going on to consider founding the group, but said she would participate if someone else started a group.
Rampy said people she talked to were very interested in the idea and she kept "mulling this over."
At an interfaith retreat she was asked to facilitate in February, Rampy asked if there was any interest. The four people who came forward became the steering committee for Church of the Wild — Two Rivers, the name reflecting the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.
Rampy agreed to be the convener/guide, although that wasn't her original intent.
Since May, they have gathered, usually on the first Sunday of the month, to commune with nature in a spiritual way.
Church of the Wild — Two Rivers has met at Yankauer Nature Preserve in Martinsburg, W.Va., or Shepherd's Spring Outdoor Ministry and Retreat Center in Sharpsburg.
"We had a fun time in May. It was really rainy and the main road to Shepherd's Spring flooded out," Rampy said by phone.
Despite the weather, 16 people met in the open-air pavilion.
"It was gorgeous. The trunks of the trees were black from the rain. . . . It was just gorgeous," Rampy said.
For the second gathering, Mother Nature provided thunder claps in the distance. And the late June date, in lieu of the July 4 holiday weekend, and early August gathering provided lovely weather. "It's been a wonderful adventure," Rampy said.
She cautions that the group will not meet if conditions are dangerous but will continue to meet in the winter when the group can gather around the fire pit.
"Part of this is getting us out of our homes and into the beauty in all this variability," Rampy said.
Rampy served as executive director of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in Washington, D.C., for six years. She is still on the staff for its program "Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats," and she offers an online class on contemplative leadership.
"I come from a Christian contemplative tradition but am open to other traditions that invite sacred all around us," Rampy said. The nondenominational gathering begins with a welcome song and introductions, followed by Notes from Nature or a scientific fact.
Rampy does a five- to eight-minute presentation on the month's theme with a poetry or Scripture reading and a question to ponder. That sets the stage for 30 minutes of silence, where participants are encouraged to stroll around in nature or be seated, if preferred. "Silence in nature is the point of what we're doing," Rampy said.
Group sharing follows personal reflection, then a closing circle where gratitude to the earth and each other is expressed. The final element is a potluck, where participants share food and spend time together in the outdoors.
Different music is offered each month, from guitar to flute to a drum circle, depending on who has volunteered in advance.
Rampy said the midafternoon meeting time is designed to interfere as little as possible with traditional worship experiences. Rampy finds great satisfaction when people linger, sharing conversation and each other's company.
"I feel immensely grateful. This is a spiritual practice for me and it is enriching," Rampy said.