We are a contemplative community guided by the traditions of the early Church, scripture, tradition, and the writings of saints and sages of the ancient wisdom traditions. Our residential community is made up of sincere spiritual seekers, dedicated to cultivating peace and united in the healing work of love. Rather than common belief or dogma, we are held together by the experiential truth of faith, hope, and love. We desire to live out the mission and vision of St. Francis of the Woods. We commit to a daily practice that brings us into deep communion with our neighbors, the earth, and our Creator.
+ Aidan Wilson
Fr. Aidan Wilson has been the Executive Director of St. Francis of the Woods since 2014. A life-long Okie, he earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Oklahoma in 2009. After practicing law for five years, his life took a new direction as he was called to St. Francis of the Woods. Fr. Aidan's life has been marked by several awakenings, each opening his mind and heart to the transcendent love of God. The first was in 2000 when he attended an Orthodox Church for the first time. Having grown up Southern Baptist, the icons, chanting, incense, and candles were all very foreign. Yet the ancient worship of Orthodoxy called out to his soul in a unique way. This began a lifelong study of church history, historical theology, and the mysticism of Eastern Christianity. In 2004, while traveling with a ministry group, Fr. Aidan read the Gospels straight through for the first time. The Jesus he saw was one of compassion, love, and mercy, who cared most deeply about the poor and the oppressed; a revolutionary who spoke out against conservative religious leaders and their laws and traditions that put up walls between people and God. That year he began the process of formally converting to Orthodox Christianity. However, after two confirmation classes and much individual study, Fr. Aidan was unable to endorse the theology of Orthodoxy as the “one true Church” and that of closed communion. Despite a strong call to ministry, he attended law school rather than seminary. While in law school, and as a practicing attorney, he became involved in St. John’s Episcopal Church in Norman. The Episcopal Church maintained a broad theological umbrella which could include Orthodox theology and mysticism without the exclusionary theology of the “canonical” Orthodox Churches. In 2009, he committed himself as a life member of the Oakerhater Community, a religious community of the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma, named for St. David Pendelton Oakerhater. In 2012, while on pilgrimage in Egypt and Turkey, Fr. Aidan visited the desert monasteries of St. Anthony and Wadi El Natrun, Hagia Sophia, and the Patriarchal Church of St. George. Upon return to the United States he was deeply grieved in spirit and sought spiritual counsel. His Abbot, Fr. Dwight Helt, recommended a retreat at St. Francis of the Woods, a spiritual renewal center with deep roots in American Orthodoxy, and the center where the Oakerhater Community was formed. After a weekend retreat it was another two years before Fr. Aidan would visit again. In 2014, while looking up directions to a court hearing in Pawnee, Fr. Aidan heard a voice telling him to stop by and ask if he could help out at St. Francis of the Woods. When he arrived he was met with the news that they were in search of a new director. He was hired three months later. After training with Bishop Dismas Markel, he was ordained as a priest in the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church in America in 2015. He took the name Columba at his ordination in honor of St. Columba of Iona. In 2019, at the request of Bishop Dismas and the Board of Directors, Fr. Aidan was consecrated as Bishop Aidan, in honor of St. Aidan of Lindisfarne, for St. Francis of the Woods. Fr. Aidan has practiced hesychasm, the mystical contemplative prayer of Eastern Christianity for over fifteen years. His theology is deeply Orthodox, and non-dualistic in the tradition of St. Gregory Palamas. In recent years, he has been influenced heavily by Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr, the Sufi poetry of Hafiz and Rumi, and by the Upanishads of the Hindu tradition.
This is Katherine’s third year at St. Francis of the Woods. She grew up in Norman, OK, being very active at St. John’s Episcopal Church, which entailed spending a week every summer with the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribe in Watonga, OK, listening to elders’ stories, sharing meals, and participating in sweat lodge ceremonies. The drumming, chanting, and earth-centered language in these ceremonies provided an experiential understanding of spirituality outside of the liturgical tradition she grew up with.
This love for the natural world and desire for experiential learning led her to accept a scholarship at Colorado College, where she studied French and Religion. This time provided an academic approach to religion, which was formative yet ultimately lacking. She spent her first two summers during college as a counselor at St. Crispin’s in Wewoka, OK, where she grew up attending summer camp. Living in a close-knit community, playing music daily, spending most of her time outside, and mentoring campers helped her realize that, although she no longer ascribed to the entire theology of the Episcopal Church, she loved the community it provided throughout her life; she longed for this type of community in her daily life beyond just summer camp.
After graduating, she moved to Denver to run an education program for youth experiencing homelessness. She taught for a few years but eventually found herself aching to be more intimately connected to Mother Earth. Throughout her ever-changing spiritual formation, nature is where she has always felt the most grounded. Disheartened by a broken food system and having trouble reconciling her ability to purchase fresh, local food while she helped serve unhealthy food to Denver’s most vulnerable population, she felt a calling to commune with the earth in a more meaningful way and help build a more just food system. As a result, she left her job and spent several months biking and driving across the US contemplating this calling. Katherine was invited to spend a couple of months at St. Francis of the Woods at the end of her travels before she headed off to Virginia for a farming internship. While at St. Francis, she discovered a sense of peace and grounding that she had not experienced since her summers at St. Crispin’s.
She spent most of 2018 in Virginia learning to farm and working to increase access to healthy food in the Richmond area. She then returned to St. Francis in 2019 as the Garden and Community Outreach Manager. She loves getting her hands dirty both in the garden and with art students, playing music in weekly services, spending time in solitude in the woods, and working with her community members. Katherine has found a spiritual home at St. Francis of the Woods. She is continually surrendering the academic approach to religion she adopted in college and reconnecting in a deeper way to the Divine in nature, in herself, in her community, and in ritual practices.
Mary Richelle Wilson
Mary Richelle Wilson is a visual artist from Stillwater, Oklahoma. She has designed album covers, t-shirts, and posters for local bands and events, but her latest passion is freeform emotive acrylic painting on large canvases and both interior and exterior mural work.
Being self-taught, Mary’s path into the art world is non-traditional, but her passion and personal development has been a life-long immersive education. Through an introspective lens, she explores feeling and presence, and allows the canvas to evolve naturally as she dances and paints without regards to the outcome… her paintings grow with her as she adds layers through the seasonal, growth-inducing changes of life.
Spirituality and self-development have been paramount in Mary’s life, leading her to express her inner, ever-shifting landscape through art, word, song, and dance. She found a spiritual home in St. Francis of the Woods, feeling that she happened upon a rare gem in the world of religion; a place that holds space for her understanding of the divine through a deep connection to nature, human divinity, and the interconnected cycles and reciprocity of the web of existence.
In the years leading up to her interest in residency, Mary pursued both art and the dream of a sustainable homesteading lifestyle. Using existing infrastructure, she worked to create holistic integrated systems for animals with minimal financial input; milking a goat, making sourdough bread and kombucha, cooking with seasonal produce and fresh caught fish, and self-educating on the ethics of regenerative practices and community. She worked in the Health Food industry, gaining significant knowledge in ways to improve health naturally, and in food service, learning the kitchen dynamics of a small gourmet eatery. She is excited to share her passions and skills in the dynamic community setting of St. Francis of the Woods.
Adam Lau has called Oklahoma home for over 25 years. He is a handy craftsman and self-taught percussion artist. He plays keyboard, flute, lute, guitar, and a variety of hand drums, specializing in the djembe. He has performed, both live and in-studio, with many groups and bands. Adam has also worked with children, leading a two year after-school program with the Oklahoma Arts Council teaching both freestyle drumming and African rhythms. He currently leads a seasonal weekly drum circle here at St. Francis of the Woods and looks forward to offering both individual and group workshops on hand drum repair and skin replacement.
For Adam, rhythm is a way to celebrate and highlight cultures from around the world and is key in Adam’s seven years of personal Qigong practice. Having built a relationship with and an understanding of the rhythm of breath and Qi (Life Energy) in the body, he now leads a weekly Qigong practice within the community and will soon offer this to the public. Rhythm is also a way for Adam to connect spiritually.
Adam’s spiritual path led him to St. Francis of the Woods in 2019 and his time here has only helped in deepening his connection to self and spirit. He hopes that through his own walk, he might inspire others to practice the arts of simplicity and self-expression. Adam feels called to use the gift of residency at St. Francis to transform his own life and thereby be an example to others as he fully embodies what it means to be in community with others dedicated to a wholesome and sustainable spiritual lifestyle.
Lori Ann is our resident Nature Program Coordinator and facilitates our Prairiewood Forest School classes. Her background in education ranges from graduating college with a Secondary Education teaching license; to studies with Wilderness Awareness School, Project WILD, and The Human Path Herbal Medics Academy; to a combined 13 years as an outdoor camp counselor and nature play educator, exploring the forests of Arkansas and Oklahoma with youth (and always learning at least as much as they do!)
Lori Ann connects with the sacred permeating all of nature through curious attunement with her senses. Her teachers include wild plants, poetry, traditional storytelling, vitalist herbalism, and her daughter and son. The spiritual practices most nourishing to her include stargazing, messy journaling, mending, listening to children, meditative embroidery, wildcrafting and gardening, laughter, silence, active movement, authentic singing, deeply connected conversation, dreamwork, and grounding time in the woods.