March 2022
Caretakers of God's Creation

Holy Hikes and Thin Spaces

Growing up I was raised in the Episcopal Church by very faithful parents. I was expected to go to worship every week, attend youth group and was even confirmed in early middle school. And I was atheist. I was adamant that God did not exist and that all this ‘church stuff’ was irrelevant.

Then during my Freshman year of college, God literally smacked me on the back of the head and introduced himself.

I was driving home from the dorms along a windy back road in the Colorado Rockies and it was the week after 9/11. The globe was still reeling, and I was listening to the local radio station and watching the scenery I was passing through. It just so happened that this section of the forest had recently been burned to the ground by a forest fire, so I was surrounded by barrenness, ashy trees and monotone color. To add to the mood, it was a dreary, overcast day with intermittent drizzle.

The speaker on the car radio reminded listeners that there was going to be a national moment of prayer (or silence) in just a few minutes and encouraged everyone to set aside what they were doing to join in. I wasn’t going to pray, but I decided to find a place to pull over so that I could observe the moment of silence – and if you’ve ever driven on a back road in the Rockies, you know that isn’t an easy task.

It was coming up on time for the moment of prayer/silence, and I thought I would be out of luck finding a safe place to pull over when I came around a sharp switchback in the road that shifted my perspective in more ways than one. I came around a bend and was instantly in lush, evergreen forest at the top of a mountain that looked across a rolling landscape of gorgeous green. It was the perfect place to pull over to enjoy the view. I turned my engine off and stepped out of the car just as the moment of prayer/silence began, expecting to stand in silence in observance of all those lives lost in the attacks. Instead, everything changed. The clouds that had been following me all day parted, a rainbow reached out across the valley in front of me, and I heard a voice clear as day say, “It will all be okay.”

I began to bawl gut-wrenching sobs of joy and hope, and I knew in that moment that God was present, real and with me. I was in a thin space where heaven and earth were right in front of me in the most undeniable way, a way that I had never experienced in all my years of “going to church.”

Holy Hiking & Wild Churches

For many people, walking their Christian journey doesn’t begin in a building. In fact, the building is often a roadblock with massive ‘Do Not Enter: Falling Rocks” signs all over it. While I’ve learned to love all that a traditional Episcopal community brings to my faith, and in fact have now dedicated my life to helping build up these communities, it was the last place I wanted to be in the beginning. It took God’s glorious creation to show me his majesty and to help me see myself through his eyes.

I encourage our faith leaders (and those of us who question our faith) to get out into the world in which we are stewards and to find God among the rocks, leaves, animals, chirps, rain, rocks and rivers. For some this is easy, and for others, I would like to share some resources.

Last summer I was led on a Holy Hike where we participated in the entire Eucharistic liturgy while walking a path through a nature preserve on the Seattle Sound. Holy Hikes is an eco-ministry committed to rebuilding communion between all of God’s creation. The elements are in your backpack, and God is all around you. My favorite quote on their website is from 8-year-old Gabrielle, “I didn’t know we could do church outside… I think God meant for us to do church outdoors!”

Another organization with a plethora of resources is the Wild Church Network. From their website: “Wild Churches don't just "meet outside," they gather (when we can gather!) to recognize and learn to participate in the kindred interconnection of all beings, elements and places. It is a relationship, rooted in love, that the ancients described as Logos. A relationship that our gospel stories and teachers like Matthew Fox, Tielhard de Chardin, Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault and so many others describe as Christ.”

Life in the Cracks

I was lucky enough to have wide open country around me when I discovered God, and I live in an area of the country with sprawling landscapes and wildlife all around. I also visit big cities and urban landscapes all the time, and I find God’s creation there just as abundant. If you look closely, even in the densest concrete jungle, you can find vibrant life in the cracks: small window gardens three stories up on an apartment balcony, a neighborhood garden squeezed in an alley way, a seedling pushing up through a crack in the concrete reaching up toward the sun.

God’s creation is all around us. We only need to look. It is his gift to us, if only we can open our eyes and hearts to see its beauty.

Haley Bankey is Program Director for Leadership Resources at the Episcopal Church Foundation and also serves as the Executive Director for Gathering of Leaders (GOL). Prior to working with GOL, Haley served as the Director of Operations and Management for her home parish of St. George Church and School in San Antonio, Texas. She also ran her own faith-based operations consulting company with a primary focus on project management for multi-year, large scale community projects. She has been a website designer focusing on user experience, and is currently the Digital Product Owner for the Congregational Vitality Assessment Tool at ECF. Haley grew up in the Episcopal church in the Middle East and brings an international perspective to her work. Her passion is equipping lay and clergy leaders alike through leadership training and community building to grow God's church into the future.


This article is part of the March 2022 Vestry Papers issue on Caretakers of God's Creation