Marilyn Zehr

Forest Therapy Guide, Soul Companion, United Church Minister Wedding Officiant
serving others in all Seasons of Life

My happy place has always been outdoors. Everyday I wake up grateful for the life I am living. 

History of connection to the land

In 2007 I purchased land near Bancroft, Ontario and for a while traveled from full-time work in Toronto to a tiny cabin that I built there with the help of friends.  Every visit to the land, no matter how brief, would put my pieces back together again and I would return to work in the city refreshed. Initially I thought that it was my responsibility to take care of the land, but it wasn’t long until I realized how much the land and forest were taking care of me.   In 2017, I was able to move to the Bancroft area full time and have since built the Rise Above Guest House on the land along with my wife, Svinda Heinrichs.

Roots, Education and Experiences

I was raised in a Mennonite Family on a dairy farm.  In Toronto, where I lived for many years during and after university, I raised 3 sons and worked as an Ordained Minister in Mennonite Church Canada with special training in Spiritual Direction* (also known as Spiritual Companionship.  For those who are unfamiliar with the term it is something like a Life Coach with emphasis on the spiritual part of ourselves and how we make sense of and live our best lives).  In my spare time, I led wilderness canoe trips for people who had not been in a canoe or kayak previously.  I have had the privilege of kayaking off of Vancouver island and Haida Gwaii as well as numerous places in the back-country of Ontario.  I currently serve the United Church of Canada as an ordained Minister in the Maynooth Madawaska Pastoral Charge part-time. My wife and I have founded a Forest Church called Cathedral of the Trees and we are on the steering committee that organizes the summer Forest Church in Algonquin Park.

Marilyn Zehr
Marilyn Zehr

Current Fun and Responsibilities

Our land is now the home of two miniature donkeys, five goats, and three cats. In the tradition of Permaculture there are vegetable and fruit gardens, an old orchard and a forest garden.  I love the sacred ritual of tapping the maple trees every spring and boiling down the sap “old school” on an open fire in the forest until it is sweet rich maple syrup. Each year I learn more about the edible wild plants all around us and those that are especially good for tea.

In January 2022, I began my Forest Therapy Guide certification (complete with Wilderness First Aid Certification). The training confirmed what I knew.  The forest is the therapist and the guide opens the doors. When we try to live in a good relationship with the land and forest, when we listen to them, when we observe their rhythms and frankly when we become better acquainted with them, they will help us to become better acquainted with ourselves.  When we renew our relationship with the forest and land, they will do what they have always done – heal, sustain and support us so that we together with the land and forest may thrive.

written by Marilyn Zehr summer 2022

*My degrees include BA Honours in Religious Studies and Sociology, University of Toronto, Masters of Divinity at Emmanuel College, Toronto School of Theology, Masters of Theology with Diploma in Spiritual Direction from Regis College, Toronto School of Theology and now Forest Therapy Certification with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT)  and Wilderness First Aid Certification

Marilyn Zehr