Welcome to Open Sky!

Next gathering Sunday 9th July, 3.00pm, meeting in the Upper Lodges car park, Stanmer Park

Open Sky is a gathering of people who are looking for deeper connections with nature, with God and with each other. We meet in the woods in Brighton on the second Sunday afternoon of each month. Come and join us!

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Note change of date and venue!! Because of the London to Brighton Cycle Ride, there will be no road access to our usual meeting place. Instead, we’ll meet outside Stanmer House, at the later time of 3.30pm in order to give you extra time to get there.

The forecast (as at Wednesday!) is for a warm, dry day on Sunday. Please bring some water to drink! Also, please bring a bag or something to sit on, if you’re not comfortable with sitting directly on a log or on the ground.

Our next gathering, on Sunday 18th June, is just three days before the solstice, when the sun seems to stand still at the highest point of its journey across the sky before starting to wane towards the shorter days to come. Nature is at its fullest: the flowers are giving way to fruit, to ripen in the summer sunshine; the young birds and animals are growing and becoming independent.

Time goes so fast. Some of us are already waning past our zenith. For us, it’s an opportunity to seek God becoming more alive in us as our own powers decrease. For all of us, young and old, it’s an opportunity simply to celebrate the fullness of life at the fullness of the year. And eat cake.

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Just to wet your appetite for our time together in the woods this Sunday, (9th April, 3.00pm),  (or your next time outdoors whatever), here’s a great website for you.


There are pictures of some common birds, with recordings of their songs. The woods are alive with birdsong at the moment, but bird-sight is more difficult. A blackbird looks quite different from a blue-tit, but if you can’t see them, could you tell them apart by their songs? This website will help you. It looks like the charity does great work, too.

See you in the woods!

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On 12th March, we met again in the woods at Stanmer. We thought about how identifying trees and plants, if only in seeing the differences between them, helps us connect with them and connect with God. I (Alex) mentioned the story of Adam naming the animals in Genesis, and what follows is a blog post from last summer on this subject. The comments by Julio Reis are particularly worth reading.

Alex Mabbs

I have been doing a bushcraft course, with the assessment weekend coming up fast. One aspect of the course is natural history. We have had to learn to identify trees and woodland plants, as well as animal tracks and signs.

Out and about in parks and in the countryside these past six weeks, armed with my pocket tree guide, I have bored Mrs Mabbsonsea and other companions with my constant stopping to figure out what ‘that one over there’ is. What’s frustrated me is that the pictures in the book don’t usually look much like that one over there, but I have found the process more fascinating than frustrating. I feel that the need to notice in order to learn has made me much more attentive and appreciative of the living being in front of me. I feel that the desire to assign a name to that one over there…

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Edge time

Time in the woods is always time well spent

Alex Mabbs

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a day in some woods staring at the trees. Always time well spent, I find. img_20170201_111748It being a beech wood, the floor was covered in thick leaf litter – just a uniform sea of brown. After a while, I noticed some green near my feet. And then I noticed more specks of green. The bluebells were just starting to poke living leaves through the dead beech leaves. My point is that I didn’t notice them until I had stopped for a while and slowed down my brain.

I went for another meditative walk in nearby woods yesterday. img_20170215_114135This time, I tried becoming attentive from the start, by identifying the trees at the edge of the wood. Then I deliberately walked slowly so that the point of the walk was to become aware rather than to reach a destination, even though I had one…

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Walking in a Winter Woodland

The next gathering of Open Sky Forest Church will be in the forest! Sunday 19th February, 3.00pm. We’ll start with a short walk from the Upper Lodges car park in Stanmer Park (see ‘How to find us‘) to some woodland, where we’ll spend some time in quiet contemplation. Then we’ll talk about the experience and try to identify ways in which we found God in the woods, while eating cake. Relaxed, open, thoughtful, spiritual – that’s Open Sky Forest Church. Come as you are (but dress for the weather and the mud). You’re welcome.


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Impossible God?

Some thoughts from Madeleine L’Engle, offered here for all who find the ocean and the stars healing and all who long to know more of the free, wild and un-domesticated God who is beyond all definition… 

But we rebel against the impossible. I sense a wish in some professional religion-mongers to make God possible, to make him comprehensible to the naked intellect, domesticate him so that he’s easy to believe in. Every century the church makes a fresh attempt to make God comprehensible but a comprehensible God is no more than an idol.

I don’t want that kind of God.

What kind of God then?

One time when I was little more than a baby, I was taken to visit my grandmother, who was living in a cottage on a nearly uninhabited stretch of beach in northern Florida. All I remember of this visit is being picked up from my crib in what seemed like the middle of the night and carried from my bedroom and out of doors, where I had my first look at the stars.

It must have been an unusually clear and beautiful night for someone to have said, ‘Let’s wake the baby and show her the stars.’ The night sky, the constant rolling of breakers against the shore, the stupendous light of the stars, all made an indelible impression on me. I was intuitively aware not only of a beauty I had never seen before but also that the world was far greater than the protected limits of the small child’s world which was all that I had known thus far. I had a total, if not very conscious, moment of revelation: I saw creation bursting the bounds of daily restriction, and stretching out from dimension to dimension, beyond any human comprehension.

I had been taught to say my prayers at night: Our Father, and a long string of God-blesses, and it was that first showing of the galaxies which gave me an awareness that the God I spoke to at bed-time was extraordinary and not just a bigger and better combination of the growing powers of my mother and father.

This early experience was freeing, rather than daunting, and since it was the first, it has been the foundation for all such glimpses of glory. And it is probably why the sound of the ocean and the sight of stars give me more healing, more whole-ing, than anything else.

[If anyone can help attribute the source of this, please comment]

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The call of the wild … and the safe

So there you are, it’s a week into a new year. You’re just about keeping to your resolutions. You’re still feeling that anticipation of what the new year might hold for you. To be honest, it’s a bit more than anticipation; perhaps anxiety would be a better word. So much is changing in the world as you go into 2017 and so much of life has become hard to predict. Plus, given what you’ve come through in 2016, maybe safe is good. Treat yourself kindly, stay warm, stay well, stay safe. seagull-flyingOn the other hand, there’s that nagging sense that there could be more for you than life has yet given you: that nagging call to adventure, to break free, to take risks, to soar on the wind, to fly across the waves. Maybe both calls can be right at different times – so what time is this for you?

On Sunday 8th January at 3pm, join Open Sky as we gather on the little enclosed beach, right at the end of the eastern arm of Shoreham Harbour. With breakwaters sheltering us on either side, the harbour behind us and looking straight out beyond the breakwaters to the open sea, it’s a time to listen to the cry of the gulls, the restless rhythm of the waves, the howl of the wind, perhaps the drumming of the rain, and the call of God.

See the ‘How to find us‘ page for details of where to come, and don’t forget to leave enough time to walk from your transport to the beach (about 10 minutes from Carat’s Cafe). As always with Open Sky Forest Church, dress for the weather, especially to stay warm and dry. If it’s pouring with rain, we will try to rig up some shelter but can’t promise.

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