Magazine article Anglican Journal

Seeing the Fungus through the Trees

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Seeing the Fungus through the Trees

Article excerpt

I'VE ALWAYS disliked church structures, an antipathy I credit to that potentially most monstrous of church creatures: the committee. Having grown up in a church community in which every conceivable task gave rise to a committee--from worship, to carpet cleaning, to selecting members to be on church committees (that's right: we had a meta-committee)--I came into ordained ministry convinced I had been committeed out.

This has been a bit of a problem because, as it turns out, one of a priest's ordination vows is to "take your share in the councils of the Church." This is a dignified way of saying that you will accept the meta-committee's nomination to attend the meetings of a church structure you would probably otherwise prefer to avoid.

For the first few years of my ministry, I confess that I often felt 1 attended these meetings more in body than in spirit. Whether at a synod, deanery council or a vestry, as soon as I heard church structure jargon like "visioning processes," "mission statements," "strategic planning" or "mission," my eyes began to glaze over. If Jesus came to bring us life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10), how was it that we were spending such an abundant amount of that life in musty church basements or sterile conference centres discussing what it would be like to live it?

There is a significant danger in church structures. While we need committees to help organize our community life, we must always be on guard that we do not allow committees to substitute for community. And this has got me thinking: maybe church structures like committees are best thought of not as monsters, but as fungus.

In his book The Hidden Life of Trees, German forester Peter Wohlleben describes, in romantic prose, the remarkable world of forest ecology. Glancing at a forest from the outside, we might see it as a series of individual trees competing with one another for the scare resources of soil, sunlight and water--a wooden war of all against all. This would be a mistake, for in truth, a forest is more than the individual trees that make it up; it is a complex community of sharing.

Living together allows healthy trees to share nutrients with sick trees, to block strong winds during storms, to keep moisture in the soil when it is dry. …

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