If you are interested in exploring nature with me during one of my ‘in nature with spirit’ experiences you might want to know more about who your guide and companion for the day will be, in the sense of my own faith, belief, and spiritual outlook on life. That’s totally understandable because you need to be comfortable around me, and whilst my training as an Interfaith Minister will hopefully assure you that I will skilfully hold space for you, I have found that knowing a bit more about my own journey really helps to create a relationship of trust.

I grew up Catholic, in Austria – a predominantly Catholic country, in a non-practicing Catholic family. I know my parents did not believe and I am pretty sure nobody in my wider family did. I was baptised, went to First Communion (which I remember mostly for the white dress my mother had made me – she was a dressmaker, and the hot chocolate we got afterward) and was confirmed aged 14. On the rare occasion when I was in a church I remember waiting for some magic, a feeling, a sense, something profound. I also remember that school took us to compulsory confessions twice a year, and my friends and I had to try so hard to come up with some suitable sins, wondering if two were enough or did we need at least three. I understood the history and concepts of the Christian faith, but without role models, the true essence of faith and of believing, was lost on me. I realised as a teenager I wasn’t really believing in a Christian God and being Catholic on paper, seemed more and more futile. In the mid, to late 1980s the Austrian Catholic church, like many others, was hit by many scandals, leading to a wave of people leaving – in Austria leaving the Catholic Church meant submitting an opting-out form, because we had to pay Church Tax, so the administrative side mattered. After formally ‘opting out’ nobody ever called or came to ask why we left, or if we wanted to stay. I remember wondering at the time how all the administration worked for God, if he, or she existed, Did they get the paperwork too?

Despite this step faith and religion continued to fascinate and intrigue me and I studied Religious Studies for A-levels. In the absence of having faith, I still enjoyed researching and reading about people of faith. I often thought it must be comforting to truly believe, because not having any faith seemed sad and empty, leaving a real void. I often refer to the following years as my atheist and agnostic years, because that seemed the default position for somebody who had left their own Church for lack of faith. But in reality, I wasn’t an active, outspoken, practicing atheist or agnostic. I lived in circles where nobody talked about religion, or faith or spirituality. I knew in my heart that I wasn’t really an atheist because if we define that as somebody who does not believe in God or a higher power or in a spiritual force of any kind, that ‘nothingness’ wasn’t really me. I was pretty sure there was something, but it wasn’t really a priority to explore further what that was. Nobody asked me, so it was an easy road to travel, keeping my own little something to myself.

In 1999 I moved to Scotland and conducted social research into the fabric of rural communities. As I lived in each of them for a few months, I met people of faith. In Aberlour I made friends with the ladies from the women’s church guild, in Carradale my main community support was the Church of Scotland Minister and in Northumberland, I made friends who attended the Methodist Church. Suddenly there were lots of people who lived their faith more actively and who were to varying degrees happy to talk about it. I stayed in touch with many and I realised in these years of renewed Christian connections that I definitely was not believing in a Christian god. I was comfortable in the presence of people with faith rather than feeling awkward, I was comfortable talking and listening to them about their faith, even keen, but that gentle stirring of ‘something’ in me was not the same as their faith. I understood that my own spirituality was something I had to continue exploring myself, as a very personal journey. And I started to accept that it mattered to me to go on that journey.

Many years later I got involved as a volunteer with a charity that connects international students from all parts of the world, and different faith paths, with British hosts, many of them Christian. It opened up another opportunity to engage with people and talk about their faith, how it’s part of their everyday life, their values, and the way they live. All of this took me towards training as an Interfaith Minister because I realised that in my work I wanted to really engage with those of all faiths, and none, something that my training body, OneSpirit Interfaith Foundation, enabled and continues to support.

My own personal spirituality continues to be very eclectic, very much nature-based, and related to earth-centered traditions and practices. I take great inspiration from Celtic spirituality and yet I still seek and find all the time, it’s a journey and these days I actually don’t even know if I want to arrive. I have recognised that my own spirituality is something I need to own, nourish, and with it comes the need for practice, for talking about it and sharing it with others. I take great inspiration from spending time with those embedded in their own faith communities and equally enjoy being with those who like me are spiritual explorers who can’t or don’t want to belong.

Eclectic and personal spirituality, as wonderful as it is, can also be lonely. Which is why I am also a member of a Unitarian congregation in Scotland. Unitarianism is an open-minded and welcoming faith community, which encourages individual freedom, equality, and rational thought. A person’s own faith, different opinions, and lifestyles are not just tolerated but valued. Unitarianism is non-denominational, open to insights from all faiths, science, the arts, the natural world and everyday living and I enjoy being in community with many likeminded people, some free spirits like me, others much more embedded in a traditional faith.