Giving up Hurts – A Congregational Healing Tree

from www.reformedworship.org

By Rose FryDecember 2002

This was done during the winter months, but could be adapted for any time of the year.

Winter can sap the life out of anyone. The forlorn landscape causes hearts to contract, shrinking inward until it’s safe to come out again. Broken branches, shriveled foliage, and rasping dry winds—all discourage any hope of life, either in plants or in our own dispirited hearts.

One parish in Richmond, Virginia, devised a plan to counteract the drying and shrinking of hearts by bringing life back into broken relationships. Members of St. Edward the Confessor Parish developed a Lenten program designed to help parishioners rebuild and renew families as they prepared for Easter.

On Ash Wednesday, liturgy director Luci Majikas, along with a crew of volunteers, erected a bare tree in the sanctuary. The tree served as a reminder of the landscape and the barrenness of souls who do nothing to repair abandoned, desolate relationships. It stood alone and wintry at the front corner—each week a call to forgive, reach out, make amends.

Parishioners were called to do one thing to “bring life” back to the tree. Actions such as making a phone call to an estranged relative or wiping out a small debt became “buds”—written on small cards and attached to the bare branches. Small children were encouraged to clean their rooms without being told or to do what their parents ask the first time and then draw a symbol on the cards. As Lent progressed toward Easter, the tree gradually bloomed with hundreds of dangling “leaves.”

This simple program engaged people of all ages in action—action that brought tremendous change to the lives of those who participated, young and old alike. Each week families took an extra moment after the service, filling out their leaves in the pews and then coming forward to place them on the healing tree. One card simply stated, “My wife and I gave up a twenty-five-year hurt.”

A retired mother took the risk of writing to her estranged adopted daughter after being out of contact for ten years. To her joy, her daughter responded immediately. The mother flew to California and brought the whole family, grandchildren and all, back to Virginia. At church the following Sunday she showed her daughter the tree that had sparked this new life for them.

Another family had arrived from Syracuse, New York, for a wedding, grumbling and anxious about seeing “those people” again. Father Ron Ruth, the now-deceased pastor, noticed their awkwardness with each other, a not-uncommon occurrence when extended families come together for an event. He mentioned the tree to them, mentioned how challenging and courageous it is to let go of a hurt held onto for a long time, and they listened. That night some of them stayed up all night talking, working out issues, and having good conversations. They told Father Ron at the wedding the next day, “We’ll follow up on it back home.”

Father Ron explained that the program merely helped people focus. He said that the Healing Tree, as it was called, gave permission of sorts to those needing to make a change. It gave them a chance to role-play forgiveness by talking about it each Sunday. Each new leaf on the tree was another sign of courage for those still struggling to take a chance. And each new leaf brought life and closeness back to families who had somehow lost that connection.

In addition, Father Ron said that the idea of a joy-based forgiveness ties into the ancient tradition of Lent to act—praying, fasting, and almsgiving—as opposed to giving up something. “If you’re giving up a hurt instead of chocolate, it brings you to a new level—reaching out to God and each other in a new way.”

The tree itself resonated with its own power, according to Luci Majikas: “There was a grace around it that you couldn’t avoid.” The tree, a dogwood felled by the Christmas ice storm of 1998, carried a great load of symbolism. At the end of Lent, with vestiges of its cross-like blooms amongst the paper “buds,” the tree was burned in the Easter fire (see sidebar), becoming First Light for the parish.

Excerpt
How to Grow a Healing Tree
  • Develop a theme for your tree—forgiveness, encouragement, praise, kindness.
  • Brainstorm to create a list of ways to bring life to your tree.
  • Decide how and what will be attached to your tree: Will you send the leaves home with each family? Will you ask church school classes to create leaves for the program? Will you provide a basket of leaves for members to grab on their way into church? Will you provide a discreet way for shy or disabled people to attach their leaves?
  • Create a “station” at the entrance of your church where the program is explained and illustrated.
  • Write a straightforward text, explaining the theme and how the program works.
  • Design a flyer to include with your bulletin.
  • Ask your pastor to speak from the pulpit about the program.
  • Continue to provide new leaves to members.
  • Continue to mention the program from the pulpit.
  • Develop a theme for your tree—forgiveness, encouragement, praise, kindness.
  • Brainstorm to create a list of ways to bring life to your tree.
  • Decide how and what will be attached to your tree: Will you send the leaves home with each family? Will you ask church school classes to create leaves for the program? Will you provide a basket of leaves for members to grab on their way into church? Will you provide a discreet way for shy or disabled people to attach their leaves?
  • Create a “station” at the entrance of your church where the program is explained and illustrated.
  • Write a straightforward text, explaining the theme and how the program works.
  • Design a flyer to include with your bulletin.
  • Ask your pastor to speak from the pulpit about the program.
  • Continue to provide new leaves to members.
  • Continue to mention the program from the pulpit.
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