Church, like backyard tree, is 'weird creation of living and dying'
In our back yard in Whittier, California is a tree that for 15 years has provided us with juicy limes and early-spring blossoms for the bees and hummingbirds. We have had more limes than we could use, sharing them with family, friends, and neighbors.
Then, two years ago, Lime started to die, branch-by-branch, until she bore only one branch with leaves, and her fruit fell off before it matured. We did all we could to bring her back.
I'm always the one who says, "Let's give it another season," but even I was losing hope. So I got out my trusty saw, preparing to transform Lime into kindling; thinking of the story "The Giving Tree," where the tree finally gives all she has away.
As I leaned down to cut the trunk, I noticed a small green shoot growing right next to it - too close to let me remove the dead tree. So Gail and I waited. She hung feeders in the dead branches to nurture her beloved birds who loved the safety of the perches, and splashed in a new birdbath below.
Gradually, the new shoot began to grow into a growing tree within a dying tree. Growing Lime depended on Dying Lime's roots for sustenance and meager vegetation to protect it from summer's heat, and Dying Lime held the birds until new branches came.
Now Lime is this weird creation of living and dying, both depending on the other.
So it is with our kind of church these days, it seems. The declining and dying roots and branches nurture and hold things steady for the new growth to mature. Neither can survive without the other.
And the winged visitors keep their vigil, and the bees once again anticipate the blossoms, and the fruit, different than before, is somehow just as sweet. For everything there is a season.
The Rev. Bill Peterson is interim pastor of Neighborhood Congregational UCC in Laguna Beach, Calif. His wife, the Rev. Gail Ann Benson, is interim executive director of Pilgrim Pines UCC Camp in Yucaipa, Calif.