Archive for April, 2015

April 9, 2015

What I Learned About Church Health from Redwood Trees

Redwood TreeThe California Coastal Redwood Tree is the tallest tree in the world. Nearly   400 feet tall in some cases, it ranges from Monterey County to just past the California/Oregon border. Sticking close to the coast, this tree is one of the largest living organisms in the world. The oldest known specimen is about 2,200 years old.

The Redwoods were so tall in Oakland that British ship logs referenced them for dead-reckoning to make a clear passage into San Francisco Bay. The Navigation (or Blossom Rock) trees were two especially tall Redwoods located in the East Bay Hills used as a navigation aid by sailors to avoid the treacherous Blossom Rock near Yerba Buena Island.

The beauty and grandeur of the Coastal Redwood trees makes a pretty good illustration of what church health should look like. Here are some ideas and challenges inspired by the world’s tallest tree.

Redwoods get their water from more than one source. The leaves absorb fog and mist, the roots, water. They get a few nutrients from the soil but most comes from fallen leaves, bark, other trees and fauna around the tree.

Are you able to get your needs met from more than one source? Or is it just your spouse, just your boy/girlfriend, just your work, just your family, just your church, etc.?

Redwood Trees grow together in stands creating a forest community that flourishes and helps support other Redwoods as well as flora and fauna, including animals and birds. They also create a cooling affect in the stand and nearby streams with their shade. This makes the water perfect for salmon and trout year round.

A friend of mine, when she was in high school, is a perfect example of this trait. She helped other girls flourish. From the shy immigrant daughter to the nerdy girl who dressed like a guy, she offered support, accountability and a safe place to be. She had a great life full of richness so she passed it on. Who are you helping to flourish in your community?

Redwood Trees are not a deep rooted stable tree. They have a shallow root system that must intertwine with other Redwoods to stay up and survive. Connecting to each other makes the trees strong and the stand strong as well as strengthening the whole forest.

Who are you connecting to so you can strengthen and be strengthened?

Redwoods actually “march”. Each stand has trees that throw off seeds but also grow new trees from their root system and from fallen trees such that the forest keeps marching out further and further. Even the crisis of a fallen tree is an asset in a Redwood stand.

Has there been a crisis in your forest or community that can actually contribute to increase and flourishing?

If you support a Redwood sapling with stakes for too long the tree will not grow strong. Wind pushing up against the tree makes it strong and this is why healthy Redwoods grow so straight.

What is pushing up against you and your spiritual community every day to make you stronger?

Redwood bark is very bitter to bugs. It is also fire resistant. The bark of a Redwood tree is a thick boundary that protects it from things it does not need.

What is bitter tasting and thick in your life that protects you from things you don’t need or things that would harm you or your church community? Things like image management, competition, the “-isms” of liberal or fundamentalist theology that split and divide, as well as gossip and judgment. How can you keep good boundaries that ward off “bugs” and “fire” that would do permanent damage?

Redwoods can also reproduce using burls. A burl is a gnarled piece of the root or tree that commonly appears on a redwood tree below the soil line, though usually within 10 feet in depth from the soil surface. Burls are capable of sprouting into new trees when detached from the parent tree.

In churches, do we send people off to flourish as their own persons and yet still be part of the forest or community?  Do we cut them off or hold them too close?

Certainly there is more to church health than the giant trees from California can teach us, but there are some important lessons. Go back over the questions as a parishioner or church leader, meditate on them, and see what comes up for you around your own spiritual health as well as your church’s health and growth.