Monday, July 26, 2021

Celebrating Trees and Caring for the Planet


Natalie Ward, NWC Leader, center,  photographs a family craft table. 

Celebrating Trees and Caring for the Planet

by Diane Waddell


The Center for JOY (Justice, Outreach and YOGA) is in St. Joseph, Missouri and leaders are now celebrating their new designation as the JOY New Worshiping Community in Heartland Presbytery. The Center is directly connected to an ecumenical eco-justice group which sprang forth after GA approved the overture “In Gratitude for Laudato Si.”  This group, which is active in education and advocacy, just celebrated its fifth anniversary. The group moved into a beautiful building which had previously housed Presbyterian and Unity Church congregations, among others, and now is a venue for eco- and social justice groups as well as yoga classes.  


One of the first events held in the Center was a Tree Expo,” which was a celebration of and for trees. The community/family event included helping paint a beautiful stained glass-effect tree, as well as sharing tree pose,” and enjoying poetry including that written by PEC past Moderator, Nancy Corson Carter. A Missouri Department of Conservation forester shared his experience fighting fires in wooded areas in California.  A university biologist and local arborist also shared booths.


Ecumenical Eco-Justice and JOY New Worshiping Community leaders are Jan Storts, Rev. Dr. Krista Kiger, Natalie Ward,  Emily Fite, Shelley White, and Diane Waddell. Coming up in summer of 2021 is a Planet Party, which will be similar to the Tree Expo, where participants will share their passion about Earth Care. 

O God, You Made the Trees


O God, You Made the Trees

TERRA BEATA D ("This is My Father's World")


O God, you made the trees!  The oak and Douglas fir,

the maple, beech, and sweetgum reach their branches heavenward.

The willow, growing wide— the redwood, tall and strong— 

and cedar trees!  Yes, all of these sing out creations song.


You made each living thing to give and to receive.

As roots grow down into the ground, they twist and interweave.

A canopy of green restores and cools the air.

Great branches shade the earth you made, and dance— as if in prayer.


How often we forget the forests and their worth!

We lay cement on places meant to be the lungs of earth.

For profit and for gain, we build and build some more;

We cut down woods in neighborhoods of people who are poor.


O God, you made the trees— the apple and the pine.

You made them all and still you call:  “Take care of what is mine!”

May we receive your gift and give ourselves anew

to do our best, as weve been blessed, to care for trees for you.


Tune: Traditional English melody ("This is My Father's World")  (MIDI)
Text: Copyright
© 2021 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Email:     New Hymns:

Reforesting Faith - A Book Review


Reforesting Faith by Matthew Sleeth


Reviewed by Rev. Bruce Gillette


Matthew Sleeth, MD, was a successful emergency room physician who used his gifts to save countless lives every day. He was respected by his medical colleagues and served as a chief of a hospital medical staff. Sleeth’s intelligence helped him to see the big picture relating to the ultimate threat to life, the Climate Crisis. He resigned from his medical work to answer a new call to teach, preach and write (including the introduction in the Green Bible). He serves as the executive director of Blessed Earth. As a thoughtful evangelical speaker, Dr. Sleeth has been in demand, speaking in over one thousand churches (several times at the Washington National Cathedral) and at college and seminary campuses, conferences and other events. I like his Earth Day 2021 interview for the Church of the Resurrection; this United Methodist church is the largest mainline congregation in the United States. You can find many of his talks online and they are easily adaptable for use in your church’s adult education programs.


Sleeth has written several books. His most recent one came from a conversation with a pastor who challenged him to do a “theology of treehugging.” Reforesting Faith: What Trees Teach Us About the Nature of God and His Love for Us is a result of that challenge. In a Christianity Today article, he summarizes his belief: “Trees are mentioned in the Bible more than any living thing other than God and people. There’s a tree on the first page of Genesis, the first Psalm, the first page of the New Testament, and the last page of Revelation… Trees are the oldest living things on earth. There are trees alive today that were already ancient in the time of Christ…. In many ways, trees are like Jesus. They give, and they keep giving. They give life and beauty. They give shade and rest. They clean the air. They hold back erosion. They offer shelter, food, and protection.”


The book is a wonderful overview of biblical stories with trees and the final section focused on Jesus. Sleeth sees God’s grace as the motivation for us to care for trees and all of creation.


Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, an Episcopal priest and founder of Interfaith Power & Light, praises the book, “The intrinsic and life-sustaining value of trees has long been neglected. Sleeth proves God’s love of trees and draws the reader into the realization that we need to not only reforest faith but also literally reforest our forests.”


Science journal reported in July 2019 that a global effort to plant trees could make a significant counter to Climate Crisis. While such efforts need to be done on a global scale, many are trying to do so throughout the world. Wangari Maathai, educated as a child by Presbyterians, was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her work for democracy and the environment. (Her Green Belt Movement has planted over 51 million trees.)  Sleeth’s book can be a popular resource to support the efforts among Christians. (Donate it to your church and public libraries.) Imagine if Presbyterians were known less for “predestination” and more for “reforestation.”



Bruce Gillette is pastor of the First Presbyterian Union Church in Owego, NY. The beautiful Susquehanna River one block from his home. He serves as the PEC Vice-President.

Planting Trees, Planting Hope


Planting Trees, Planting Hope


by Eric Diekhans


For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Isaiah 55:12


A tree planting ministry seemed like an easy sell for Karen Chakoian, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Granville, Ohio. “Part of it is just their sheer beauty,” she says. “And part of it is knowing the politics of congregations. It’s really hard to argue against a tree.”


But 1,500 trees, in five years? That sounded like a stretch, but it didn’t stop the congregation from enthusiastically supporting Rev. Chakoian’s idea. The church already had an active Caring for Creation group, and became an Earth Care Congregation in 2018. Dr. John Weigand a member of the church, also led a discussion series in the Prism Sunday school class on climate change. Planting trees was the perfect place to turn discussion into action, and the Prism group decided to spearhead the effort. 1500 Trees for Life was born.


“I was a biology major many years ago,” says Rev. Chakoian, “and I read about trees mitigating global warming through carbon sequestration. We came up with this idea of planting trees as a congregation with the hopes that it would spread far beyond us.”


Carbon sequestration is the long-term removal, capture, or sequestration, of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to slow or reverse atmospheric CO2 pollution, and to mitigate or reverse climate change. According to the European Environment Agency, a typical hardwood tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. This means it will sequester approximately one ton of carbon dioxide by the time it reaches 40 years old.


“We initially started with Session,” says Amanda Love, a Deacon at First Presbyterian. “Then we expanded just within our church community, and really went strong. We did a lot of our communicating via Zoom talks. We marketed the concept by posting banners, emails, posters, postcards we would send out, and talking with people. at our local farmers market. The greatest effort was at Christmas. We created a large outdoor Advent-inspired lit tree installation. We gathered safely once a week during Advent around the trees and lights to lift up our church and community.”


Planting Begins


Planting a tree isn’t as simple as digging a hole in the ground. It takes land, expertise, and donors. When 1500 Trees for Life kicked off in the Fall of 2019, Mike Flood, a local horticulturist and co-owner of Albyns Nursery, offered to supply trees at cost and handle the planting. An initial test planting of 25 trees purchased by 1500 Trees, the Prism class, and First Presbyterian’s Session, was scheduled for the original fall planting, with a full roll-out near Arbor Day. There was great deal of discussion about price points for donors. It costs $150 to plant a 6-8tree and $200 for a 12-15tree. If an interested donor can’t afford to buy a tree, friends and groups can chip in for one, or donors can make smaller amounts to equal a tree. Donors were encouraged to buy a tree in memory of a loved one, celebrate a high school graduate, honor a co-worker about to retire, or for almost any other reason.


Those first 25 trees were planted at Granville’s latest municipal building site. Donations and enthusiasm for the project mushroomed in Granville and the surrounding county. First Presbyterian Church was already well known because of their deep involvement in the community. People were eager to offer suitable space. Trees were planted in parks, cemeteries, on the grounds of a middle school, and along a bike and walking trail.


“Its kind of like a ripple effect outside of the church, to Granville, to the next town to the county,” says Amanda. “We just recently stretched out to Newark, which is just to the east of us. There's a science history art museum there, The Works, and they had a partnership with the Smithsonian for a habitat exhibition.”


Choosing the right trees was also important. 1500 Trees plants tree stock that is native to the area, though what trees grow best might change over the next century. “Seed stock could be Appalachian,” says Amanda, “or it could span hundreds of miles south because it’s going to be a lot warmer here in 100 years.”


Micro Forests


More recently, Carol Carpenter Apacki, a local environmentalist, spearhead of their Caring for Creation group, Earth Care Congregation efforts, and a Prism member, planted a new seed with the group. She suggested they create micro forests, tiny, dense forests that recreate the layers of a natural forest. “You start off with little shrubs, and little plants, and then you put in smaller trees,” says Amanda. “And then those trees grow. And maybe some of the lower plants die out. And then things start to grow up and they're more densely packed. So you're getting a bigger bang for your buck. Right now we’re dabbling in that and trying to see where that could go.”


When COVID slowed planting, the church decided to forego the original five year timeline, but they’ve still set their sights on the 1,500 goal. To date, over 270 trees have been planted.


“From a faith perspective, it was just phenomenal,” says Rev. Chakoian.


The members of 1500 Trees are eager to share the knowledge they’ve gained with other congregations, so the work of planting trees can spread far beyond their little corner of Ohio. If you would like to tap into their knowledge base, contact 1500 Trees for Life.


Eric Diekhans is a member of Lake View Presbyterian Church, a fiction author, and editor of Earth News.





“Zacchaeus, hurry and come down;

 for I must stay at your house today.”

                -Luke 19:5b




From that dusty

sycamore He

called me down

to lift me up.


He cast out

my timid silence,

my hidden

hoarded shame.


He named my fear

of being seen for

what I am: a little man

of little meaning.


Perched precariously

on a breaking branch,

I took his hand,

came safely home.


Now I Zacchaeus

urge you to hasten:

be in your house His

host and guest today.                                         


In Him our meanest

wealth’s transformed;

His love fills every tree

with unexpected harvest.


by Nancy Corson Carter from A GREEN BOUGH: POEMS FOR RENEWAL

                (Eugene, OR: RESOURCE Publications, 2019), p. 7.