The bones of the earth were laid bare, trees looking like blackened sticks reaching for the sun which will never again bless them with energy and growth. Scars upon the landscape, scorch marks upon the soil and rock.
I’ve seen wildfires before. Growing up on Vancouver Island, every summer was a season of TV and radio reports about forest fires. Smelling the smoke on the wind while camping, one always wondered whether it was coming from the other side of the campground, or down the lake, or from the fire on the other side of the mountain.
Mine was a family and region which made its living from forestry, and in pulp and paper particularly. I knew how much our livelihood depended upon “good” fire weather. When it was a bad fire season, everyone had to keep out of the forest, and activities were curtailed.
Travelling north to September’s Presbytery meeting in Fort McMurray had us wondering what we would encounter. The horrific images of walls of flame and people desperate to flee their homes for the uncertain safety of “elsewhere” came back to us as we entered the fire zone. What would we find there? Have people stayed away? Would the community come back to life again?
This is often the question that people ask after their landscape changes. When the world changes around us, can we find new life again after disasters? Will God renew us?
Is there a good word to be heard?
Isaiah 55 says:
10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
The word of hope which God offers to us is one which looks like LIFE! It feels like life which is renewed. The Spirit of God works, sometimes slowly, often silently – but sometimes like a gust of fresh wind which blows out the cobwebs and leads us to places we did not expect to go.
So it is with Christ’s church. The Presbyterian Church in Canada, among others, is facing a changing landscape, but as God renews the face of the earth, so also God can bring new life to us.
In among the blackened sticks of the Fort McMurray firescape, one could see the new life which God has crafted: grasses and bushes, small trees, the beginnings of regrowth. Poplar trees, the first to take hold – a pioneer species, my friend Jerry the botanist calls them. Maybe it’s not the same as what was there, but the process necessary for the ecological progression, from the pioneer species to the climax species
Just as fire is part of the dynamic nature of forests as they germinate, grow and replace themselves, change and renewal is part of the church. But it is hard for us to be in the period of transition, the time of change. Yet, Jesus spoke about new life coming to the vine of God’s church, and that pruning is part of the process. Seeds of hope and new possibilities are released. The shoots of tender undergrowth of faith are renewed and God’s church begins again. It is not the first time and it certainly won’t be the last. The church of the future will not look like the church of the past. But God is faithful and steadfast and will renew us – individually and corporately. What will the Church look like in this new landscape? Are you willing to follow Jesus into that new adventure?
Mill Woods Presbyterian Church, Edmonton