Inspire, Nurture, Embrace: A Thought Experiment for our Church (part 3)

What might Trees teach us about being Christ’s body…collectively, together…in this particular moment? 

There are particular trees whose trunks consist of 5 different layers (described below, and meant to correspond to the color circles in the picture with this blog post):

Green Circle:  The outer bark is the tree's protection from the outside world. Continually renewed from within, it helps keep out moisture in the rain and prevents the tree from losing moisture when the air is dry. It insulates against cold and heat and wards off insect enemies.

Yellow Circle:  The inner bark, or “phloem,” is the pipeline through which food is passed to the rest of the tree. It lives for only a short time then dies and turns to cork to become part of the protective outer bark. 

Orange Circle:  The cambium cell layer is the growing part of the trunk. It annually produces new bark and new wood in response to hormones that pass down through the phloem with food from the leaves. These hormones, called “auxins,” stimulate growth in cells. Auxins are produced by leaf buds at the ends of branches as soon as they start growing in the spring.

Blue Circle:  Sapwood is the tree's pipeline for water moving up to the leaves. Sapwood is new wood. As newer rings of sapwood are laid down, inner cells lose their vitality and turn to heartwood.

Red Circle:  Heartwood is the central, supporting pillar of the tree. Although dead, it will not decay or lose strength while the outer layers are intact. A composite of hollow, needlelike cellulose fibers bound together by a chemical glue called lignin, it is in many ways as strong as steel. Set vertically, a 1" x 2" cross section that is 12" long can support twenty tons! 

Recently, in our Bible Study, we have been reflecting on 5 components of Covenant Relationship, the relationship to which God invites us, which we are then called to extend to our neighbors (for a more in-depth reflection on that, click HERE).  Covenant Relationship is the “cornerstone” on which our United Church of Christ and our First Congregational Church of Kittery is formed.  The work of maintaining, strengthening, and expanding relationships is central to what we do as Church.  The 5 components of Covenant Relationship we identified in Bible Study are: Humility, Trust, Boundaries, Commitment, and Service.  Interestingly, it takes almost no work at all to see how these 5 components of relationship match with the 5 components that make a living, healthy tree:

Green Circle: Service—The natural outflow of a well-nurtured life filled with love and life-energy.  It is the fruit produced by a well-watered plant.  It is the visible sign of love in the world.  Our Service to others is our “outer bark” our natural defense against the world, it is the aspect of our community that helps us to retain our moisture in dry times.

Yellow Circle:  Commitment—The measure of all relationships…the extent to which any party in a relationship can depend on their partner(s).  It is this ultimate measure of devotion that is at risk in our current age simply because so many options are available to us. This is the part of our community that passes nutrition to the rest of the body, through the commitment—the dedicated and faithful work—of our leaders.  No one can lead forever, so just like “phloem” in a tree, we enter this circle for a brief period of time, and let our work become part of the legacy of this historic community.  

Orange Circle:  Boundaries—The natural, or manufactured barriers that separate one entity from another.  Hard boundaries are about keeping things out.  Flexible boundaries are about learning how to grow and learn together in relationship.  What kind of boundaries do we need to understand and build to be God’s People in this place?  Answering these questions is how we produce our “cambium cell layer” in our church’s tree.  Healthy boundaries produce new, healthy cells, stimulating growth in the entire body.

Blue Circle:  Trust—The ability to relinquish control over a person or situation, in exchange for the possibility that they will EXCEED your expectations, rather than simply meet them, or fail to meet them.  This is the “sapwood” of our body. Trust is the living water that refreshes us as we grow.  It leads to new possibilities and sustainable life.

Red Circle:  Humility—Understanding that you are not the center of everything, only God is…and God loves us for who we are.  Making space for the lives, the bodies, the ideas and experiences of others.  This is our “heartwood.”  Our God, our faith, our tradition…our historic church with more than 300 years of faithful stewards…it is the unbreakable pillar that holds us up through the ages.  

Relationships are our calling, they are our ultimate resource, they are our lifeblood, the essential element that makes us “Church” in the United Church of Christ.  Is it possible that understanding the models for relationship God has already built into the natural world can help us to manage, strengthen, and deepen our relationships with God and with one another?

How might this Relationship work change how you think about your life?

How might this Relationship work strengthen our Church?

What fears does this work raise for you?


Brian Gruhn