Finding Spirituality in Nature: Fishing Ministry in Arlington, Virginia
By Pete Nunnally
Last year, during the shad run, when ocean-dwelling shad come up the rivers to spawn, I began taking parishioners fishing with me. Soon thereafter a fishing ministry was born, and I’d take groups of parishioners fishing every month or so. Just as this fishing ministry was solidifying, we had the opportunity to join a pilot cohort of Episcopal communities engaging creative spiritual formation in nature. The project, a collaborative effort of the Center for Spirituality in Nature‘s “Spirituality in Nature Group” (SING) program and the church innovation group, TryTank, shared training, practical resources, and created a broadened community alongside which we could explore this new ministry opportunity.
Shortly after joining the Episcopal SING cohort, we were able to implement some of the spiritual practices gleaned in our SING leaders’ training on our first FishSING for the Soul weekend in October 2022 at Sandbridge Beach. Over the past few months, our group continues to grow, and surprising members of the parish have joined us. It is a true source of excitement and spirit!
Like all SINGs, encountering the power of God’s mystery in creation is at the core of FishSING. What is unique about FishSING is that you are put into contest with creation and the wild uncontrollability of it. Standing at the water’s edge, fishers are made small by the eternal power of water and seek out what is hidden underneath the surface. According to our tradition, the movement of water is the oldest sound in the universe, and with this sound in our souls we cast our lines out, hoping that God will bring life to the line. It is an active hope, waiting and watching for the slightest quiver of the rod to signal something underneath.
Our FishSING for the Soul weekend was a tremendous success, though we only caught one fish, a flounder. The mother of one member lived in Sandbridge and joined us for fishing and worship on the beach Sunday morning. Exiled from the Catholic Church for 20 years, she told her son she would worship but not take Eucharist, which we share and distribute together. Yet when the time came, with sand under our feet and waves in our ears and sky in our eyes, she not only received the holy sacrament, but gave it to the person next to her. If that’s not Christ on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, I don’t know what is.
This Saturday we gathered with 16 parishioners to fish the Potomac and pray and reflect together. Kids, yes, but adults, too. A couple of our more seasoned members have bought poles and are eager to come fishing with us. It is a truly intergenerational group, with differing pieties and politics, all gathered together on the banks of a river, shoulder to shoulder, looking out together and hoping to catch a glimpse of the great mysteries of God that lie below the surface.
Pete Nunnally is an Episcopal Church “ECo SING” leader with the Center for Spirituality in Nature. Pete leads the FishSING community with St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, Virginia.