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Volume 30 Issue 1
May/June 2024

Blessing the Trees with Love: Introducing the Saskatoon Forest Chaplaincy

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Blessing the Trees with Love: Introducing the Saskatoon Forest Chaplaincy
by Rev. Shawn Sanford Beck
Stacey Wiebe

The Saskatoon Forest Chaplaincy may very well be the first of its kind in all the world … and it all began with the burning question: “What are humans for?”

Over the ages, there have been many answers given to that question, expressing a wide variety of cultural and religious contexts and traditions. But in the modern “western” world, our reflections on the place of humanity vis-à-vis the planet (or even the cosmos) has largely been one of domination. We have been indoctrinated to understand human purpose through the dual lenses of a mistranslation of the biblical Genesis account (where we were apparently given divine mandate to subdue and dominate the rest of creation for our own benefit—again, this is a gross misreading of the text), combined with the scientific-industrial hubris of human examination, exploitation, and control of the world as “natural resources.” This combination of religious and scientific discourse has proved disastrous for the rest of creation … all the more-than-human persons of our planet.

What if there were another way to look at things? What if, rather than seeing humans as masters and exploiters of the world, we remembered ourselves to be something other, something gentler, something more in harmony with all our relations? One such possibility would be to imagine ourselves as chaplains of the wider creation around us. A chaplain is someone who does not stand above, trying to control, but rather walks beside, offering an open heart and a caring hand. Can we imagine ourselves as humans relating in this way with all our more-than-human neighbours—the trees, the plants, the animals, the insects, the waters, and the winds—offering prayer, blessing, magical healing, good energy? This is the foundational principle of the Saskatoon Forest Chaplaincy.

In early February of 2024, a small group of Saskatoon residents gathered to launch this project, and interest was kindled among others as well. These fine folks are truly tree-huggers, people from many walks of life who are connected by the shared desire to offer spiritual care to the urban forest and greenspaces of Saskatoon. It is a deliberately multi-faith group, open to those of any spiritual or religious perspective, or none! What is important is the desire to send loving care, in an intentional way, to our more-than-human community.

More concretely, this is what members of the Saskatoon Forest Chaplaincy commit to do:

  • daily spiritual care (whether that be prayer, blessing, good vibes, affirmations, etc.) of a particular portion of Saskatoon’s urban forest which you feel called to “adopt” as chaplain
  • occasional (as you feel led) ritual action within and on behalf of your particular green “parish”
  • informal gathering eight times throughout the “wheel of the year,” as we share how our experience of “forest chaplaincy” is going, explore the areas we have adopted, and offer community and support for each other

In many ways, this is an experiment in the power of Love. We know from experience that plants in general respond well to care and heart-blessings sent to them on a regular basis; the Forest Chaplaincy simply amplifies that principle and extends it to trees, wildlife, soil, water, and all our more-than-human neighbours. In this way, we don the mantle of chaplain to become ministers of Grace and priest(ess)es of Love to all our relations.

Is this a calling for you? For more information about the Saskatoon Forest Chaplaincy, or to find out how to start a Forest Chaplaincy in your own community, please contact Shawn at greenpriest@hotmail.ca.

The Rev. Shawn Sanford Beck is an ecumenical “green” priest who has been sowing the seeds of ecological spirituality for many years. He is author of Christian Animism and co-author of A Prairie Rune, and blogs at https://ecosophian.wordpress.com/. Shawn lives in Treaty Six Territory in the beautiful city of Saskatoon, and works for St. Andrew’s College.


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