Exploring environmental projects and places

09 March 2022

Reverend Canon Imogen Nay used her grant from the Ministry Bursary Awards to explore projects and places where a new or pioneering approach to the environment has been taken.

Cows in a muddy field

Reverend Canon Imogen Nay is Canon for Evangelism and Discipleship at Chelmsford Cathedral. The first stop in her journey was to the Knepp Estate in Essex. The owners have taken their farm out of conventional farming (due to unprofitability), and pioneered a new approach to their land, which has become known as ‘wilding’. The estate has become very well known through Isabella Tree’s book ‘Wilding’, which explains their project and experience in detail. The project has been a huge success; people come from far and wide to see the diversity of butterflies and plants, to observe the wild animals and to hear about the new approach to farming, conservation and tourism.

Imogen camped on the estate and went on one of their 3-hour walking safaris. Extremely rare species, including turtle doves, nightingales, peregrine falcons, lesser spotted woodpeckers and purple emperor butterflies, are now breeding at Knepp, and populations of other species are rocketing. The once degraded agricultural land has become a functioning ecosystem again, heaving with life, and drawing interest from academics and practitioners worldwide.

I was immersed in a philosophy that reflects the God who creates, gives life and who acts.

Reverend Canon Imogen Nay, MBA recipient

For Imogen, the whole experience at Knepp enabled her to make rich connections with theology and ecclesiology. Paul Bradbury, from the Church Mission Society, writes1:

“The unfolding story of the Knepp estate might be read as a parable for the church in the UK. We use methods that in many contexts are no longer fruitful or sustainable, and others which are resource intensive and (if not mechanistic, then) programmatic. Yet, in many ways we too are farming in the old ways on land which is now marginal, amalgamating parishes in the hope that perhaps we can find a way out of decline. We too need to stop and deeply listen to our context. When our machines have stopped and the dust settled, we may just be able to discern the nature of the soil at our feet.

Church practitioners, tired congregation members, fatigued Bishops, all may benefit from a theology of church that encourages the weary to do less and trust more, to wait and see what God is up to. It requires trust and faith, it demands patience but also a willingness to let go and try something different.”

Canon Nay says “to visit Knepp was to be immersed in a philosophy of abundance that reflects the God who creates, gives life and who acts. The busyness of ministry can confuse us into thinking that our actions, our mission plans, our projects, are what is most important. Knepp acts as a living parable of God’s activity – if we take a more hands-off approach, wait, watch and see what God is capable of, we will find ourselves rejoicing.” She also added, “the money that I received through the MBA was a great support, allowing me to do things that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.”

If you're considering a sabbatical and would like to know more, find out about Ecclesiastical’s Ministry Bursary Awards.

1 pioneer.churchmissionsociety.org/2019/06/wilding-the-church/