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Last updated April 10.

April 16, 2012 issue

London congregation takes worship outside with ‘walking church’

By Sheldon C. Good Mennonite World Review

The last Sunday of every month since January, Wood Green Mennonite Church in London has been worshiping outdoors and on the move. They call it “walking church.”

Sue Hazlehurst, right, an elder at Wood Green Mennonite Church, leads the walking church group on March 25 in London.

Sue Hazlehurst, right, an elder at Wood Green Mennonite Church, leads the walking church group on March 25 in London. — Photo by Will Newcomb

Each time, the two dozen or so people blend together traditional worship elements such as prayer, liturgy and meditation with the more unconventional practices of walking, conversing and exploring the local community.

Though walking tours are common in London, the walking church group aims to do more than just get exercise, enjoy the outdoors and learn something: They seek to be invitational.

They carry a little sign that says, “We’re walking church. You’re welcome to join us.”

“We’re trying to contact a constituency that wouldn’t necessarily be at all interested in a standard church setting,” said Philip Wood, a Wood Green Mennonite Church member.

Sometimes the “walkers” stop and have a picnic, or visit someone’s home, or try out a new café or pub. The walks, which occur on trails, start at 10:30 a.m. and cover two to three miles in about two hours.

BBC Radio London recently broadcast a four-minute story on the group.

So far about three-quarters of the regular walkers have been connected to the Wood Green congregation. New people participate every time; they may or may not come back.

Wood imagines walking church as a metaphor for a journey.

“The relationship between the road, mission and hospitality gives me a sense of being on a journey, a pilgrimage, so it’s not a novelty,” he said. “The people of God have been doing this for thousands of years in one form or another. The challenge is whether or not we can be gently evangelistic in a way that doesn’t ring the coercive bells of church.”

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