According to recent polls, nearly a quarter of Americans are religiously unaffiliated, including atheists, agnostics, and those who don’t identify with any particular religion. However, just about as many people identify as “spiritual” but not religious. For as far back as history can show, humans have been seekers, looking for a spiritual connection to a divine something. For millennia, they’ve gone out into nature to contemplate and seek that connection.

To that end, Church of the Wild – Two Rivers is a new Panhandle spiritual community formed with the aim of bringing people together in nature to find a deeper connection with the divine. It is loosely affiliated with the Wild Church Network in the U.S. and Canada.

“I think we are deeply connected to nature but we have severed or strained some of those ties,” said founder Leah Rampy. “People haven’t found what they are looking for. There’s a deeper connection with the sacred in nature, a portal that sometimes is not accessible indoors.”

Rampy, grounded in contemplative Christian tradition, served as executive director of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in Washington, D.C., and led retreats and pilgrimages. She and her husband moved to Shepherdstown last year to become part of Shepherd Village. She’d participated in Church of the Wild in the Shenandoah Valley and in D.C., and heard that someone was going to start one here. When it didn’t happen, she decided to do it herself.

Rampy stressed that traditional churchgoers, those from other faith traditions, and those who failed to find a home in any organized religion are all welcome. “It’s not meant to supplant traditional religious practices, but to supplement them.”

Alive and Connected

There will be no pastor preaching a sermon, but simply a group of like-minded people with blankets and camp chairs, celebrating the sacred in nature. The group will meet outdoors once a month, and each meeting will have a different theme—including singing, listening, sharing, and silence. The first meeting’s theme will be spring—listening to spring’s invitation to awaken, alive and connected to what’s going on. Later, there will be a theme on listening to Earth’s rhythms—the seasons, light and dark, life and death.

Several sites will be used, including Shepherd’s Spring Retreat Center in Sharpsburg, and Potomac Valley Audubon Society’s Yankauer Preserve outside Shepherdstown.

“We will learn what works for people—central location, ease to get to, accessibility,” Rampy explained.

Asked whether the Church of the Wild plans to do any “good works,” Rampy indicated that they hope to give back to the organizations that are allowing use of their facilities, either by donations to the organizations or by asking people to be part of work days at the facilities. “But we’ll have to see what people think about this.”

Meetings will be held rain or shine—unless the weather is really threatening. Rampy added, “We’re planning an advisory team—a small group of people will go out to every site before the meeting, so that if we need to change it, we can.”

Church of the Wild will meet on the first Sunday of every month. Children are welcome. Dogs are not permitted. Bring chairs or blankets.

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