By Sandy Drescher Lehman, Pastor at Methacton Mennonite Church
On July 21, 2017, disaster greeted the congregation of Methacton Mennonite Church as we gathered for worship. Our planned liturgy immediately turned into a service of lament, as we witnessed the crash of a huge branch of the 381 year old, white oak at the corner of our cemetery.
The next day, as an arborist — along with many of our neighbors and folks from the Worcester Historical Society — joined us to figure out a way to save the tree, it began to crack. Everyone ran for their lives, literally, in all directions and watched, as the tree fell – a complete and decisive DO NOT RESUSCITATE! It was totally hollow except for the raccoon family who had made it their home.
The next weeks and months were filled with conversations of lament and inquiries from people who held a strong, and often spiritual, connection to this community landmark all their lives. “Can I have some of the wood?” “That’s the oldest living thing I’ve known”. “I feel like part of me died with that oak!” These were just some of the feeling expressed.
At the same time, our congregation was asking what we could do to reach out to our neighbors. Suddenly the light went on. Forget the spaghetti dinner idea — that didn’t work anyway. Forget the yard sale that had minimal response from the neighbors. Our community was now coming to us, asking to be part of us! This was so obviously a gift of God, using the death of “our” tree to bring the community to us! We jumped on the lightning bolt!
November 5 was the great Community Tree Day. We invited the community to join us in remembering and celebrating the tree that belonged to all of us and to our ancestors. We began with a worship service, singing about the wonder of God’s nature – especially in trees, reading stories and scriptures about our invitation to be Oaks of Righteousness, each holding an acorn of hope in our hands.
After worship, more neighbors joined us for a rich time of story telling and sharing photos of their Methacton Oak memories, followed by soup and cookies in the shape of oak leaves and acorns for more neighbors than had ever entered our Fellowship Hall. Folks from the Worcester Historical Society joined us to offer the community an afternoon of making memories. An activity room was full of projects where people could make things out of pieces of the Old Oak’s wood and leaves. For sale were forest green mugs with an image of the tree on the front, prints and cards from a local painter, and acorn shaped Christmas tree ornaments that Ray Cooper, another neighbor, had turned out of branches from the wood.
Historians John Ruth and Leslie Griffin led a cemetery tour, telling stories about people who have been buried under the Oak since the Revolutionary War, before the day culminated with a double tree planting. A neighbor, Bayard DeMott, donated and planted a new White Oak, and Paul Felton, a 97 year old forester came with a 3 foot baby of the original Oak that he had planted and nurtured for 6 years, for us to grow across from his Mother Oak. Hubert Swartzentruber blessed the trees and the day with a poem he wrote in response to the news of the fall of the Historic Methacton Oak.
We continue to celebrate the unique and Holy gift that “fell into our laps” to grieve and celebrate with our community. God seems to have no end to giving us ways to nurture our relationships with each other and notice Holiness in our midst.