Written by Julie Long, Interim Director of Staff and Congregational Life
In early August, our church “climbing tree” fell. While the tree had been dead for some time, its branches finally succumbed to the strong winds of a storm that rolled through town and split apart. This tree was a beloved tree for our church family, particularly for the generations of children who climbed it while they waited for their parents to finish chatting in the parking lot and for the families who documented years of Easter mornings or Fall Festivals with pictures taken in front of it. The tree became a gathering place for us, our own little outdoor sanctuary that held memories of laughter and play and community.
I don’t know how old our climbing tree was, or the story behind why and how it was originally planted. Did those who picked out that particular variety of tree choose one that was sturdy enough for children to climb? Did those who dug the hole have any idea how that very place would become such a meaningful spot on our church’s campus?
I doubt that they did. They probably just planted a tree.
As I have reflected on our climbing tree, I’ve thought of that passage in Deuteronomy 6 when Moses speaks to the Israelites as they stand poised to enter the promised land. He tells them that when the Lord brings them into the land that their ancestors have been promised, they will inherit cities they did not build, houses with goods they did not bring, drink from wells they did not dig, and sit under trees they did not plant. Take care, Moses tells them, to not forget the Lord God who brought you out of slavery and through the wilderness and delivered you to this place.
At First Baptist, we have climbed trees we did not plant. We are who we are today because of the generations of faithful people who for 197 years have planted trees that they would not sit under and dug wells from which they would not drink. Perhaps these foremothers and forefathers had the long view of how the sacrifices and decisions they would make would shape those who came after them. But maybe they were just planting trees—trying to do the next right thing in that particular moment.
What kind of trees do we want to plant for those who will come after us? On All Saints Sunday, November 5, we will join together, as is our tradition, to process to our sanctuary’s altar to pledge our commitments to this church and the ministry we share together. We will remember those saints who have come before us and give thanks to God for the witness of their lives among us.
Then, after the service, we will go outside together to plant a new tree in the place of our beloved climbing tree. Tom Bullington, chair of our grounds servant team, has worked with a local nursery to thoughtfully pick out a tree that is both beautiful and resilient for climbing. Of course, the tree won’t be ready for climbing just yet. I dare say some of us who throw a trowel-full of dirt into the hole may not be around to see the tree grow to its maturity and gain the strength to safely hold a preschooler. But in doing so, we will join the generations of faithful Christ-followers at the Top of Poplar who have done our part to leave a legacy that will benefit those who come behind us.
Make sure to join us on that day.