By Rev. Grayhame Bowcott
One of the things most notable about the church grounds of St. George’s in the Blue Mountains is the number of mature trees that date back to over a hundred years that stand, as sentinels, around the perimeter of the property.
Majestic sugar maples, ancient pines, willows and, perhaps the most impressive black walnut trees that date to before the construction of the first St. George’s church in 1861.
A closer examination of the grounds also reveals that within the last fifty years or so a change has been taking place within our arboretum. One by one, over time, these grand trees have been disappearing. Some have been struck down by wind storms that have caused ancient and brittle limbs to bend past their breaking point. Others have suffered forms of blight or infestation. Still others have sadly come to the end of their natural life span. Despite our best efforts of preservation, each year there seems to be another centenarian tree that comes down.
Where once a canopy completely covered the outlying border of the church yard, now there are evident gaps where trees once stood. These missing sentinels have caused me to reflect on the context of our Anglican Church today, where, not unlike the disappearance of trees in our churchyard, the Diocese of Huron is now defined by a landscape in which many congregations and churches that had once been vital and healthy for one hundred years and longer have now been disappearing.
Whenever I make the pilgrimage down from the Blue Mountains to London, I travel through half a dozen towns and villages where Anglican churches once ministered and flourished. Evidence of these faith communities still remains in the forms of repurposed church buildings, historic cairns or markers and sometimes only the presence of a cemetery. Each congregation that is disestablished and closed represents an Anglican mission light that goes out in our diocese. I often wonder: must that light go out forever, or might God be preparing us for something new to take place there?
More and more these days I am drawn to the potential of the new that is possible when the canopy of the old has passed away. One person might see the loss of a centenarian tree as something only to be mourned – another link to the past disappearing. But another person might see the opening in the canopy as the potential for something new to begin. If the good soil and the nourishing sunlight still remains, perhaps there is potential for a new tree to be planted?
It’s true that a 200-year-old black walnut tree can never be replaced over night. Likewise, the consideration of new ministries in today’s ever-changing ministry context can never bring back some historic forms of Anglican ministry. However, if there is one thing that our Christian faith consistently teaches us, a way that is modelled by Jesus in his earthly ministry in the founding of his Church, it is that Christians are called to plant and steward new life, new growth and new forms of ministry.
Our perspective is important because it can either motivate or discourage us in our faith journeys. Today I encourage you to explore the open canopies in your own ministries, in your congregations, in your caring of others and in your faith practices. Where might the passing of something old and cherished turn into the opportunity for you to participate in God’s creating of something new? What might be your role in that act of reforestation?
Rev. Dr. Grayhame Bowcott is passionate about fostering congregational relationships and sharing our Anglican vocation with others. He serves as rector of St. George’s, The Parish of The Blue Mountains. firstname.lastname@example.org