Geochurche

Tuesday, 4 June, 2013

Mark Broomhead, leader of The Order of the Black Sheep in Chesterfield, tells of a new initiative called Geochurche.

The idea first emerged after I had been talking to the leadership of The Order of the Black Sheep about our pattern of meetings. We thought it right to continue to meet every fortnight because that seems to be very much of The Order's success but it meant that we started to think and pray about how we might develop further opportunities to reach those we weren't reaching through the Order.

So we looked again at the place in which we find ourselves, at the edge of the Peak District, and started to find out more about the people who regularly visit here for all sorts of outdoor pursuits.

There is a considerable, weekend population taking part in everything from mountain-biking and rock climbing to rambling, canoeing and… geocaching. This involves people searching for hidden things, or 'caches', by using Ordnance Survey grid coordinates. It's like treasure hunting, with participants using their smartphones, GPS (Global Positioning System) tracking devices or traditional maps to find a series of caches as part of a wilderness 'adventure'.

Geochurche - MarkWhat we plan to do with Geochurche is to hide elements of a service - including prayers and meditations - in pods/caches around the Peak District on routes that can be used by walkers and mountain bikers. The grid coordinates for the 'hidden treasure' will then be shared on our website - along with a final reference point and time for a 'meet'.

This gathering in the wilderness will include opportunity to think about what it has been like to share in such an experience. This will not be the same for everyone as we will set it up in such a way so that different people will access different pods, depending on the time and mode of transport they use - and not everyone will be able to find them. This will hopefully lead to time for reflection on our spiritual journey, some songs around the fire and a sharing of bread and wine.

Geochurche will be a combination of very hi-tech in the way people find the components of the service but very low tech and quite informal in how we all meet up together at the end. It's almost the complete opposite of what we usually do here on a Sunday but we are quite excited about it.

Geochurche - searchingIn a strange sort of way, I think it's very similar to a traditional church model in that some people will want to come to all types of service, from Family Service to Sung Eucharist and everything else in between - but others don't want to do that at all. There will be people in our Order of the Black Sheep community who will want to do this and others who just want to interact with one aspect of it. We have people who love the outdoors and they'll be really interested in finding places to hide the caches while there are others who are interested in doing new forms of liturgy, meditations and reflections so they'll be able to help put the material together. Our hope is that the community will be in the preparation as well as in the finding and the using.

This is about enabling other people to get involved because it's something that isn't highly dependent on me, it's something you can hang things on and other people can use quite easily 

Geochurche - findingMaybe new communities will grow out of Geochurche as people come together and find similar interests, share things and find support and love. It is obviously very different to the current format of The Order of the Black Sheep but we pray it will be used by many to start, and continue, their journeys of faith. We are hoping to create resources so that other groups around the country can do the same, set up their own Geochurches and register the co-ordinates on our website as a central resource. The pods, or caches, can then remain hidden and - over time - become a resource that can be accessed for years to come.

All the information is on our new website (geochurche.com) so that people can join in – initially just in Derbyshire but in time, as more groups form, further and further afield.

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