Trees symbolize a reformed denomination

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Key points:

• Setting a new tree for every member of The United Methodist Church is a positive way to announce the church’s reformation to the world, writes retired pastor Mel West.

• Whatever form the denomination takes going forward, we are still of one root, one trunk, several branches and many leaves. 

• The project will encourage churches to work with other groups in their community.

The Rev. Mel West. Photo courtesy of the author.  
The Rev. Mel West.
Photo courtesy of the author.


UM News publishes various commentaries about issues in the denomination. The opinion pieces reflect a variety of viewpoints and are the opinions of the writers, not the UM News staff.

When we Methodists come to a conclusion of our reformation, I want that to be announced to the world in a positive, simple and attention-getting way. I suggest that we announce to the world that as a symbol of our decision, we will set one tree for each member of our many churches — 13 million trees.   

Whatever form the denomination takes going forward, we are still of one root, one trunk, several branches and many leaves. Our members will set trees that produce food, trees that shade, trees that beautify and inspire, trees that protect, and trees that provide building materials.

We are a church to serve the Earth as it cries out for more trees. 

The symbolism of that is exciting and Biblical, and the practicality of it is obvious. 

The project will encourage churches to work with other groups in their community such as parks and recreation, city planners, environmental groups, Scouts and others. Youth and seniors can work together in setting the trees. Trees are often needed in communities of poverty. 

I suggest that we "set" and not "plant" trees, and that the trees should be at least as high as the knee on a mule. Planting a tree is to put a seed in the ground, like a squirrel does. Its chance of survival is very low. In fact, if you plant a seed the squirrels may dig it up and eat it. Setting a tree is to clear an area and dig a hole for a tree already a year or so old. Put in some good soil, tamp it down, water it, put a stake beside it so it can be noticed and protected.

Plans should be made to ensure care of the small tree for a year or more as it establishes, just as we Methodists will need special care as we "root" together. 

We can be reminded that the first commandment in the Bible is to "till and care for the Earth," and that environmentalists are pleading for more trees for Earth Care. Again, we are here to serve God's creation.

Congregations in a community can share in the project. Churches with many older members may need help.

This is also a great opportunity for churches to invite those of other denominations to join them. 

Invite service clubs to join in the setting. My Rotary club recently set 135 trees — one for each member. Worldwide, Rotary set 2 million trees.

So, when the time comes, "If your heart is as my heart, you get a spade and I'll get a sapling, and we will put down roots together" (John Wesley, adapted).

West is a retired United Methodist pastor living in Columbia, Mo., and he is a cofounder of Mobility Worldwide (PET).

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