Church on the Hill – Taking Church outside with St Michael’s, Bishops Cleeve

In the aftermath of the pandemic lockdowns, in July 2021, we recognised that some people still felt uncomfortable coming into the church building. As our Benefice is surrounded by beautiful hills, with many opportunities to get outside and walk, it felt not just appropriate to gather outdoors but entirely natural. This is how Church on the Hill started. 

The gathering is as simple as the name. We usually meet on Cleeve Hill one Sunday a month or occasionally at other suitable outdoor venues across our Benefice. 

The informal service is open to all, and there is a mix of ages who attend. We usually start with a question or observation challenge for the group to discuss as they journey together.  We walk at varying paces before stopping for a short time of prayer and reflection linked to faith, life and often the created world that we are surrounded by. The children are usually found running around, finding treasures to share as part of our reflections. 

We originally intended to run Church on the Hill just through the summer of 2021, but when we got to October, the group decided it must continue, and two years later, it is still going strong. We have kept going in all weather, missing only one morning because of a wild storm. There was one snowy December walk, which was only attended by four people, but they still had a brilliant time. It has been amazing to see how the seasons and weather have influenced our reflections, and although it can be cold and wet at times, there is plenty we have learned about ourselves and God through this. In fact, there are so many lessons that we can learn about God from creation, as we know from the many references to it within the Bible. After two years of meeting in this way, we are not even close to running out of options.

One regular attendee of Church on the Hill shared:

“I appreciate these mornings because they appeal to people who wouldn’t normally go to into a church. I can be with the church family in a lovely, relaxed way. I find it is easier to chat, but at the same time am reminded of God’s goodness and His amazing creation.”

I have noticed that the more we have intentionally worshipped in creation, the more our reflections have moved towards the importance of this connection in our lives. Over the past 6 months, many of our sessions have focused on our care and connection to the created world, considering the ways we might have neglected or lost that link and the damage that this has caused the world and ourselves. 

We are hoping to develop this expression of Church in new and exciting ways over the coming year. For example, we hope to bring “Church on the Hill” back down the hill for significant times a year, where we can join with our indoor congregation in a gathering in the natural world directly outside our Church buildings. 

Church on the Hill stands as a testament to the impact that being in God’s creation can have on our physical and spiritual well-being. It has brought people closer together after a number of difficult years and has helped to remind us of the sheer abundance that surrounds us and our connection to it.

With great thanks to Lucy, who coordinates Church on the Hill, for writing this inspiring reflection.