Even back when I was a Vicar I saw my ministry as a priest as being inclusive and ecumenical. I was ordained through the Church of England in 1996. For well over the last decade, however, I have worked outside the officialdom of the Church’s ministry. Over that period my searching spirit brought me into contact with many whose beliefs were different to my own, which gave me an appreciation of the diversity of faith beyond Christianity, especially the nature based traditions of the British Celtic culture.
I recognise a spark of the Divine in all people, no matter what faith, culture, sexuality or background. I remain a Christian and the C of E will always hold a special place in my heart, but I now feels that it does not allow me the freedom to be the open and eclectic priest I natural am. In July 2010 I decided to hand in my 'Permission to Officiate' and resign my membership of the Church of England. It was a huge decision, but I feel more able to be a good friend of the C of E on the outside than an unhappy cleric within.
I have been an Independent Priest since June 2011. My ‘Parish’ has no geographical boundaries, leaving my free to offer services and ceremonies to all. As an Independent Minister and ordained member of the Progressive Christian Alliance (PCA), I am able to express my open vision of Christian Priesthood in a fully sacramental way.
One of the greatest blessings of the last few years is my discovery of the earth based path of Druidry, which I see as totally compatible with Christianity. Most modern Druids see their path not so much as a religion but more as a philosophy, which means that there are many who follow the Druid ways and yet remain Christian, Jewish, Buddhist or even Atheist.
As a Christian member of The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) I can weave many of the beautiful customs and rituals of this, essentially British, nature tradition into my ceremonies and services. In doing so I feel I can walk in the footsteps of saints like Francis of Assisi who was a deeply earth based pilgrim and who sang canticles to brother sun, sister moon and mother earth etc.
Video of my understanding of Druidry:
Two of Mark's Mentors send him their blessing on the advent of his new ministry as an Independent Priest:
Mark Townsend is a Christian who lives and thinks outside the box of traditional, institutional Christianity. In a time in which traditional Christianity is in a steep decline it is imperative that Church leaders encourage its pioneer priests to help us all chart new paths on which to walk into whatever the Christian or even the post-Christian future will be. Mark Townsend is just such a priest. A Church that heeds those who explore the edges is a Church seeking resurrection. John Shelby Spong VIII Bishop of Newark, USA
Mark Townsend looks for glimpses of god-light in places where many 'clergy' are simply unprepared to venture. He has successfully combined the treasures of his own Anglican faith with the mysteries of the nature-based traditions. A magician too, he now uses this symbolic gift of illusion to awaken folk out of their own illusions, and thus be re-connected to the power of NOW. At a time when people are increasingly looking to nature and self empowerment to have their spirits nurtured, the world needs people like Mark more than ever. Ian Lawton
Rev Mark Townsend is a special and needed kind of priest for our times, one who can connect to the earth-based traditions of old while encouraging deep ecumenism from within our own spiritual lineage, one who can play with magic and play with mystery, awakening spiritual unselfconsciousness in us all. We need the mystical awakening he brings alive across many artificial boundaries. Dr. Matthew Fox
We live in different worlds and each of us sees the world differently. But there is only one world, one creation, one universe. Mark Townsend has a special gift of building bridges across these worlds. Deep from within the Christian tradition he invites us to reaffirm our links with nature and those religious traditions which celebrate our oneness with the natural. His work is truly a work of grace. Revd. Donald Reeves
The magician is always saying “things are not what they seem!” One wonders, therefore, why more spiritual teachers do not use magic and storytelling to communicate Gospel mysteries and paradoxes! Fr. Mark does it well-with humility, humour, and warm humanity. Fr. Richard Rohr
Mark Townsend is a priest at the edge! The place where new ideas and new understandings are formed is always at the edge. It is a place that institutions, because they demand conformity to the institution, cannot go. But it is always there, out on the edges that new thinking, new imaginings, new dreams happen. Revd. Peter Owen-Jones
It has been good for me to converse with Mark Townsend, and recognize a fellow explorer of the boundaries, questioner of the powers that be, disturber of the so-called peace, payer of the price for such a ministry. Let him help you keep in touch with 'magic' and 'mystery' and discover it within yourself, especially if you are a seeker at a time when inherited forms of faith are losing their power to connect. Revd. Jim Cotter