WHAT an intriguing idea: to write a book about re-connecting with God and reinvigorating the Church using an extended metaphor drawn from environmental conservation! There are rather too many definitions of rewilding, but, in this context, something along the lines of the following will give you a sense of what is meant: “a progressive approach to conservation, letting nature take care of itself, enabling natural processes to shape land and sea, repair damaged ecosystems and restore degraded landscapes”. So this is a book about reinvigorating the Church in mission.
Steve Aisthorpe is passionate in his life and writing: passionate about nature conservation, and the command of Jesus command to “Follow me.” He is urging the Church to refocus its efforts on following Jesus and ditching any structures or processes that get in the way of that call. He has a compelling style of writing on both subjects, and uses the metaphor implied in the title of the book to draw interesting parallels between them.
This book is, many ways, a sequel to The Invisible Church (Saint Andrew Press, 2016), based on research that he has carried out, surveying and talking to those who have left organised religion, to try to understand why.
I liked this book for the author’s passion and for what I learned about environmental rewilding projects around the world, and for his interpretation of how we can learn from them in the mission of the Church. Just as, in environmental rewilding, fences are removed, intervention is reduced, and nature is allowed to take its course, so in rewilding the Church we should remove institutional barriers, reduce clericalism, traditionalism, and other “-isms”, and let the Spirit blow where it will. That, for Aisthorpe, is how we reconnect with “following Jesus”.
Does the metaphor work for me? In places, yes, but overall, not really. What it does provide is a splendid rationale for a book that draws its readers in on page one and holds them in Aisthorpe’s fascinating bifid world. It is worth noting that some understandings of rewilding focus on reintroduction of apex predators. I suspect that the last thing that the Church needs right now is an influx of bears and wolves.
The Revd James Currall is an environmental scientist and Priest-in-Charge of the congregations of East Sutherland and Tain in the diocese of Moray, Ross & Caithness.
Rewilding the Church
Saint Andrew Press £16.99
Church Times Bookshop special price £13.59