Want Liturgical Innovation? Take a hike…

“In wilderness is the salvation of the world.”  Henry David Thoreau


CDSP Alum Jon Anderson ('02) founded Worship in the Widerness in 2008


Some of my earliest and most fond memories are of being outdoors, and I have had many a grand adventure exploring beyond the realms of civilization, whether that be my own backyard growing up or in the wilderness of the back country in Yellowstone National Park. These foundational experiences cause me to consider myself a naturalist, a conservationist, an ecologist, an environmentalist, an outdoorsman. At the same time I have had a growing sense of and call to the Holy over the course of my life that has been nurtured – mostly – in the Church.  One of the places that I am most consistently aware of the continual presence of the Holy is when I spend time outdoors in the natural world, especially in wilderness.  And so it was that two major pieces of my life, a love of the outdoors and a budding sense of the presence of the Holy, lived together quite well.  Along the way, that growing sense of the Holy led me to discern a call to the priesthood and later still to CDSP to continue that discernment and to drink deeply from one of the great springs of Holy knowledge and of “priest craft.”

Still, much of the ministry with which I have been engaged and the time that I have spent doing it has been indoors. While those indoor spaces have been beautiful and inspiring in their own ways, I couldn’t help but wonder what a nature-loving, outdoors-oriented priest like me was to do with these two, often separated, pieces of my life and work. I found the answer slowly by freeing myself to think outside the box—a gift I like to think I possessed before coming to CDSP but which was certainly nurtured during my time as a student at and since as an alumnus.

Many WitW hikes take place in the Sangre de Cristos range


The concept of Worship in the Wilderness (WitW) began to take shape in my mind when I had a blinding flash of the obvious: that I was far from alone in my sense of the Holy in nature, in wilderness. Why not stretch the understanding of the physical space that some consider to be “church” to include the great outdoors in a variety of places in and around my current home base of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Now, the idea of “doing church” outdoors is nothing new, but the idea of founding a ministry, maybe in time even a congregation, that is always outdoors might be.  As spring 2008 unfolded in Santa Fe—precisely where the high deserts of the Southwest meet the southern end of the Rocky Mountains at the Sangre de Cristos (“Blood of Christ”) range—the idea of crafting a Eucharistic liturgy for use while hiking took shape. In May 2008 WitW formally began with a small band of sojourners. We have hiked liturgically every month since then, rain, snow or shine, and we have continued to grow and explore both the wilderness around Santa Fe and our awareness of and our worship of the Holy in those places.

WitW has developed a small, but faithful congregation that meets once a month, no matter the weather.


It’s really quite simple on the one hand, and yet there are elements of complexity during every hiking liturgy, especially if the group is large and/or there is a degree of difference in hikers’ physical abilities, if the weather is challenging, or if any number of other variables comes into play. Currently we meet on the first Saturday afternoon of the month, and plans are under way to expand to some kind of outdoor worship experience weekly come spring.

I am grateful for my long relationship with CDSP as a student and now as an alumnus and for the ways in which CDSP goes beyond “training” one for ministry in all its various forms to educating, forming and challenging us to see beyond that which has been to what can be, all while remaining true to the foundations of our Christian faith and heritage.

Blessings, and I’ll see you on the trail!

The Rev. Jon Anderson is a 2002 graduate of CDSP, a member of the CDSP Board of Trustees, and president of the CDSP Alumni Council. To see and read more about Worship in the Wilderness, visit the WitW weblog at http://WorshipintheWilderness.org. Jon will be leading a liturgical hike in Tilden Park in the Berkeley Hills during Epiphany West 2010. For more information and registration, visit the CDSP website.

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One Comment on “Want Liturgical Innovation? Take a hike…”

  1. Anne Miller Says:

    I was so excited to read about this! Our daughter Sylvia is a student at CDSP and we live in ABQ. WE know of many folks who would like to join you! Mark and Anne Miller

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