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The Loving Tree

Recently, as I took my afternoon walk around our beautiful church grounds, I noticed that something was missing. An almost imperceptible force drew me to the empty space in the north parking lot where a mighty oak tree once stood. I suppose I had taken it for granted that the tree would always be part of our landscape, but now that it is gone, I miss it.

Clearly, this was not just any old tree. The earliest known photographs of the Church of the Saviour (the name given it by founder Frances Jones Vinton) clearly show a youthful coast live oak growing right alongside the church sanctuary. As our congregation grew, so did this magnificent tree. Through the uncertain times of the church’s founding, 18 rectors, two world wars, two global pandemics, thousands of baptisms and hundreds of marriages and funeral services, this stalwart stood proudly as COS became an integral part of life in our valley. Imagine, since the first recorded burial in 1876, not a single person was buried in the San Gabriel Cemetery without the this beautiful creation standing watch.

Untold numbers of people came and went, but the tree stood strong until it too died and had to be removed. The drought years may have taken their toll on the tree, or perhaps climate change was the culprit. I wonder if even the arborist knows for certain what killed it. But like the one in Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, this tree keeps on loving and giving of itself.

What had drawn me there was not the emptiness of space but the unusual remnant of “the loving tree.” The tree trunk had grown into the shape of a perfectly symmetrical heart. Ironically, in its dying, the tree spoke to me in a way that it never did when it was alive. It reminded me of the gratefulness I feel for God’s creation and the life-giving spirit of the Church of Our Saviour. In some peculiar way, the oak tree is not just a metaphor for our church . . . it is our church. We are a community of love; we care for one another, faithful and strong like an oak tree. We, too, grew from a tiny seed to become an active part of God’s work in the world. We keep on loving and giving, no matter what!

The prophet Daniel tells us, “The tree grew and became strong, and its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth.”[1] Go and see for yourself what becomes of a mighty tree when its heart is revealed to the world. Let us be a people who continue to manifest God’s love in everything we do. Let us be God’s mighty oak in a world that desperately needs us to be strong and faithful. Let us reach for the heavens and be the light that shines to the end of the whole earth.

Note: There are already plans to redeem the heart of the tree and fashion an altar to be used for worship in the Sacred Garden.


[1] Daniel 4:11

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