This week’s eNewsletter Feature
was written by Jim Teague
FPCE director of communications.

Dear friends,

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In the past, I have mentioned that I have absolutely no thumbs (green or otherwise) when it comes to keeping plants alive and in a state of beauty. My parents, on the other hand, were gifted with both the ability to keep plants alive and to arrange their placement and presentation in ways that highlight their special seasons, colors, shapes, and sizes.

My stepfather (who is my “dad”) was a native of Holland and took great pride in planting many varieties of tulips. Late each Autumn, he spent countless hours preparing the soil in front of our house so that it provided just the right environment for the bulbs to survive the winter and have all the necessary nutrients to grow and bloom glorious every spring.

On Sunday, First Pres Senior Pastor Ray Hylton will be preaching on the topic of being “Rooted in Christ” as part of our series Created for Community: Attachment and Christian Formation. His text comes from Colossians 2:6-19, which begins:

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Paul is reminding the church at Colossae that their faith was not won through obedience to rituals and rote tradition. He is not saying the traditions themselves were necessarily bad or faulty, but that it was the Holy Spirit that served as the foundation of those rituals. The hope of salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ was the true source of all their goodness and purpose.

When I was growing up, my family was fortunate to have some property about an hour or so east of our home in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. It was our weekend getaway, and part of the property had been a Christmas tree nursery prior to when my dad bought it in the early 1960s.

Each year at Thanksgiving, my dad would take my mom and as many of the kids as he could wrangle (I don’t remember it being a choice so much as an obligation) out into the pine tree nursery to select a tree to serve as the centerpiece of our Christmas celebrations. My mom, sister, and I joined my dad’s family when I was 9 years old, and I remember doing this each fall until I went away to college.

When we arrived, we would fan out into the nursery, searching for the “perfect” tree. It had to meet several criteria:

  • A height between 7 and 8 feet tall
  • A straight trunk
  • No major bare spots or signs of ill health
  • Evenly distributed branches
  • Relatively well spaced out from the other trees around it

This last one was especially important. More on that in a moment.

My recollection is that I was not particularly good at spotting our perfect tree, particularly in the early years of my participation. Many that I would have chosen seemed to have an odd bend in them which I failed to notice (probably because I was cold, or wet, or both, and just wanted to get back into the car). I distinctly remember regular discussions taking place between my mom and dad on whether or not a tree under consideration had the proper shape, and if certain imperfections could be hidden by facing the tree in the corner just so.

My dad was not particularly festive or cheery when it came to family celebrations, but he deserves credit for, among other things, being diligent in doing the task put before him ”just right.” I appreciate it now, but back then it felt like he was just being difficult or unnecessarily picky.

Here’s what you need to understand: We were not there to chop down a tree. No. We were there to excavate it from its place and transport it, roots and all, to our home just southwest of Pittsburgh. There, it would live first in our garage, getting acclimatized to the warmer indoor temperature, and then it would make it upstairs to our living room, where it would sit in a large metal tub (hidden by a tasteful tree skirt) until after the holidays. We would then reverse the process, bringing it back to the garage for at least a couple of weeks. Only then would it be transported to its final destination, sometimes at our home in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, but most often back to our weekend home to the east. It did not go back to the nursery, but instead was put in a new spot, either along the driveway heading up the hill to the cabin or near one of the ponds on the property, providing cool shade or serving as a natural privacy barrier.

So, now, it’s probably clear why finding a tree somewhat secluded from the others was beneficial. To remove the tree from the ground, our excavation was made much easier when we only had to deal with the roots of the tree we had selected, and not the intertwined roots from nearby trees. This not only made the removal easier, but also helped in keeping the surrounding trees healthy and undamaged. After all, this year’s 5-foot 9-inch reject might be next year’s big winner!

The entire time the tree was out of the ground, it was still “planted” in the soil kept in the root ball we had pulled from the ground with it and covered in burlap. Even when we transplanted it elsewhere, that original soil remained with the roots and was put in the tree’s new location. In short, it wasn’t just the happenstance of the tree’s surroundings which kept it alive; it was the original good, rich, healthy soil of the nursery that kept it going (along with regular generous watering, of course).

By now, you’ve likely caught on to my lengthy analogy: If we are not planted in the good soil of faith in Christ (as individuals and as a church), or if we fail to remain planted there, we run the great risk of drying out, losing our leaves, and becoming susceptible to disease, drought, and decay.

And once we are transplanted — by sudden circumstance, tragedy, or just the regular occurrences of life — we need to remain in that good soil of faith in Christ, and not be changed by situationally popular or seemingly easier ways of life.

Ultimately, much of that healthy growth depends on the faithful watering of God’s Spirit and our willingness to be pruned and trimmed for his purposes.

The blessing of being part of a community like First Pres is that God has provided many ways for us to receive that conscientious, loving care.

I’m looking forward to being drenched in God’s word this Sunday.


Jim Teague
FPCE director of communications

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