Spirit in the Forest…


What is the value of wilderness?

The answer to this question will, of course, depend on whom you ask. A scientist might discuss the importance of wilderness for maintaining the natural diversity of species, while a business owner might discuss the role of outdoor tourism for the local economy and a real estate broker might talk about the importance of beautiful vistas for promoting property values. But wilderness has played a more important role to societies going back to biblical times – prophets, saints and Jesus himself withdrew into wilderness to find a more direct connection to the Creator. Members of the early Christian church, such as Saint Augustine, spoke of Creation as another revelation like the Bible: the book of God’s works to accompany the book of God’s word. But in modern times, the value of wilderness as a teacher and prophet of God has rarely been articulated.

It was the desire to better articulate the spiritual value of wilderness that led Appalachian Voices and members of several North Carolina churches to invite the Opening the Book of Nature (OBN) Christian ministry to a retreat in the Lost Cove and Harper Creek areas last fall. The goal of this retreat was to explore and identify the spiritual values of North Carolina’s wilderness. Lost Cove and Harper Creek are unroaded areas in the Pisgah National Forest, just south of Grandfather Mountain, and have been proposed for protection as wilderness in the past. They are widely seen as some of the best candidates for wilderness protection in the entire state of North Carolina.

To answer this invitation, representatives of the OBN Ministry from Tennessee and West Virginia gathered together with representatives of North Carolina’s churches in the Lost Cove/Harper Creek area during the weekend of October 9-12, 2003. Amidst the lavish red, orange and yellow colors of fall, they camped and fished, hiked trails, spent time in prayer and reflection, held discussions of their insights, and finally reached unanimous agree-ment on a beginning statement regarding the spiritual values and implications of this proposed wilderness area (see page 16).

According to retreat participant and founding member of the OBN Ministry, Fred Krueger, “We come from many denominations and traditions. We are Baptists and Anabaptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Catholics, Methodists, Episcopalians, Seventh-Day Adventists, independent Evangelicals, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutherans.
Despite this theological diversity, we are unanimous in a conviction that creation provides an inspired witness that benefits all of our churches and all of our society.”
Krueger makes clear that the statement developed in October is only a draft statement. He would like for many more members of North Carolina’s religious community to participate in developing a final statement this fall so that the final statement enjoys broad-based support among North Carolina’s churches. The next retreat will be held on October 7-9, 2004. Asked why North Carolinians would want to attend the retreat this fall, Krueger responds, “You may be surprised to find how prayer and reflection when coupled with wilderness produce a more vigorous form of discipleship, regardless of one’s church affiliation or religious background. As this process has deepened us in our Christian walk, so we invite you to take this time to ‘come and see’.”

Before the event this fall, the OBN ministry in cooperation with Appalachian Voices, will be holding three one-day introductory events in North Carolina (see sidebar for information on these events). According to Melissa Gee, Program Coordinator for Appalachian Voices, “The two [OBN] events we held last year were a powerful and motivational experience for those who participated. Participants came away with both a stronger faith and a better appreciation of our responsibility as stewards of God’s creation.”


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