Faith in nature: young people, religions and the great outdoors
August 6 2007:
"An activities teacher once came to my school and asked: What do the religions all have in common. We came up with various answers - belief in a divine being, places to pray. "Yes to almost all," he said cheerfully. But there's something else... what all the faiths have in common is camping."
* Christian groups in the US have been organising summer camps in the outdoors for many decades. Many groups, including the Methodists, have their roots in pilgrimage preaching, and in the early years had few buildings. Preachers would ride around the countryside preaching from rough-board tabernacles. Projects and events include Camp Fowler in the Adirondacks in New York State, and the ever-popular Creation, Wilderness and Technology camps outside Vancouver, run by Regent College. Also the US National Council of Churches' Eco-Justice programme has run wilderness initiatives for some years.
A few months ago ARC's Victoria Finlay was asked by UNEP's popular Tunza youth magazine to write a story for their summer 2007 edition on the subject of Faiths and outdoor activities for young people. At first it seemed like a challenge. But the more she asked questions, the more projects she uncovered.
After all, Muslim pilgrims have been going on the Haj for many centuries, camping and staying in simple accommodation on the way; Christian pilgrims would stay in simple places on their way to Santiago de Compostela; Hindus sleep in tents and outdoors when they make their great pilgrimages to the source of the Ganges and to caves in the Himalayas.
* The Scouting movement worldwide includes many Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu and other faith-based troops. The scouts increasingly experience outdoor activities and skills in the context of learning more about the environment.
* Jewish groups in the US are also taking young people on outdoor adventures in order to teach them about nature, and the importance of God's presence there. Link here for the Teva Learning Centre Jewish Wildlife Adventure. Or here for details of the Isabella Freedman Centre's Adamah Wilderness Fellowships. Or here for Hazon with its vision of Jewish environmental bike rides.
* Muslim groups in the UK are organising clean-up camps to clear up their community streets.
ARC is intrigued by all these projects, and would be interested to hear from any faith-based groups which have programmes helping teach young people - or indeed older people - about nature through encouraging them to camp or stay in the great outdoors. We will compile a register of such activities, in order to work with the United Nations and other bodies to expand this area of outreach.
LinksLink here to read the full article.
Link here for the August 2007 edition of Tunza Magazine (3MB pdf file).
Link here for the UNEP publications website.