|Nurse Rock Trees - Over the weekend, I had the honor of presenting at an event in the Montana Northern Wyoming Conference of the United Church of Christ. A colleague of mine calls these opportunities "UCC Covenant Days" by which our relational and spiritual covenant is strengthened through the sharing of our stories, resources and support.
It was fascinating to hear their stories and reflect on the ways their pastors and local church leaders are facing similar concerns as the ones that we in the Illinois South Conference are wrestling with in our ministries and churches.
An overarching theme I heard in their questions, their conversations and in their insights was a generalized anxiety for braving the elements of the church's changing landscapes. Underneath their stories, I could hear a question to which they dared not voice or give name. Perhaps it was an unconscious decision not to name it or say it aloud for fear that it might give this question more attention and power in the minds, hearts, spirits, and bodies of their congregations. The question which shall not be named is..."Can we survive?"
Can we survive? Are our efforts futile? Do we have enough time, energy, resources, money, and dare we say, sanity to keep hope for our local church's existence, influence and purpose to stay alive? Do we have enough? Are we enough?
Built into my trip, I had scheduled a trip to Yellowstone National Park. I had thought of it as a sightseeing adventure, never expecting it to be such a deeply moving spiritual experience. Words and photos alone will never capture the experience of awe for being in the ever-creating presence of the Divine. Each landscape, each creature, each geological feature was a mighty metaphor of the Divine's plan, purposes and possibilities for all of creation and those who have been called to be care takers of it.
Yet, one visual metaphor crept deep into the marrow of my bones, as I believe it relates to the unlimited power of the Church of Jesus Christ and how it manifests in the local church. Those familiar to Montana's scenery refer to this visual metaphor as "nurse rock trees." These are lone trees, which grow in the grasslands of Montana. As I happened upon the beauty and emotional pull of the "nurse rock trees" I immediately visualized the many churches of our Conference who feel like they are alone in the situations and circumstances to which they currently find themselves.
During periods of great storms and ice, there was such turbulence and shifting of the land, that much vegetation and growth diminished. However, in those places, due to the disturbances, large rocks (even some house-sized boulders) began to emerge. These rocks helped melt the snow and ice to water the ground, creating a soil rich in minerals and moisture, ripe for new growth. Such rocks are known as "nurse rocks" because they hold moisture in the soil, provide shade, trap seeds (giving them time to take root) and shelter the sapling from the extreme winds until they are strong enough to stand on their own. As the sapling grows, it becomes the "nurse rock tree," sheltering other vegetation.
Seeing the tree growing next to the nurse rocks, I saw a beautiful metaphor for the church. There are times when we feel as if we cannot brave the elements. We feel afraid, alone, or abandoned. We can also panic when we mistakenly think that all we need to grow and survive is quickly diminishing. Yet, perhaps we are forgetting our nurse rock - the Divine.
Let us in all times, in all seasons, and in all circumstances remember, the One, who nurtures us, provides for us, and protects us.
Our Rock and our Redeemer.
The Rock of All Ages.
Our Nurse Rock, Christ Jesus.
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, Conference Minister