Lisa Allgood, Executive Presbyter
“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” – John 15:2
I walk my dog every day, early mornings in spring and summer and later at twilight in the fall and winter. We’re lucky enough to live near a park that borders a huge church, so we can do a several mile loop. One of the rows of bushes on the walk always makes me smile because, as a row of massive viburnums, they also house hundreds of little sparrows cheerily singing – until we draw near. The row is long enough that, as we pass, the birds in the bushes (you can never actually see them – the bushes are that dense) stop singing, and they start up again after we’ve passed by.
It’s a wonderful curtain of song rippling ahead of and behind us, greeting either the sunrise or sunset. What’s really beautiful about it is that the morning song is bright and anticipatory of the day, while the evening song is soft and hushed and readying to the night.
Early this spring, the gardeners at the church lopped the viburnum almost down to the ground.
No more birds singing. It made me sad – not only to lose the song and the accompaniment to my walk, but to think all those birds had to go find somewhere else to sing. I sort of imagine it made the bushes sad, too; they lost their purpose as shelter and the gift of the singing from those whom they sheltered.
But a few weeks ago I noticed the bushes had started to grown fully back. And I suspect by next spring, they will be fuller and thicker than ever, and ready to receive my chirpy little feathered friends.
Now, as a gardener, I know well enough that pruning, even such severe pruning, can make a plant stronger, healthier, and able to resist disease and varmints better. I’ve cut viburnum and other trees and bushes back so severely that they looked dead – but they’ve always come back.
I began to wonder – is this what is happening to our churches? Are we truly, as some are saying, succumbing to the secular crazy of the world around us, and so shrinking because the church can’t support, can’t help, can’t overcome the issues of the day?
Or are we perhaps being pruned for greater vibrancy in the Kingdom?
Because pruning essentially acknowledges there needs to be a significant, dramatic change.
We’re not going to change what our God has charged us to do: Love God. Love people. Make disciples. So, if we are being pruned, then what do we need to change about how we go about that…?
How do we bring back the joy of the song?