Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Oak Trees and Greenhouses

I existed in a greenhouse, and my friend existed under an oak tree. The presence of the oak tree and the greenhouse have had an effect on us, and quite possibly how we behave on a day to day basis. 

The difference between oak trees and greenhouses is in the experience of those in the space closest to them. The thing is, you have no idea what I am talking about!

Since becoming the 'lead' in a parish, I have been given an opportunity to move from the curacy position of thinking about my own ministry to the incumbency position of thinking about the ministries of others. I have thought hard about this transition over the last few months, and have come to the conclusion that I can characterise ministries in two ways (among the many ways that surely exist) - as oak trees or greenhouses

In thinking about oak trees, I think of a something mighty, deeply rooted, long lasting, visually significant. The oak is the focus, the thing that artists paint or picture. It is an iconic plant that speaks of longevity. In thinking about greenhouses, I observe that they are modest buildings that are an important part of the garden, but rarely the focus. These are not the characteristics that I (necessarily) focus on, however. 

What is true to say is that under the wide arms arms of a mature oak, nothing else grows. There is no light and very little nourishment in the soil. What is true to say about greenhouses is that their sole aim is to give life to other things. In its modesty, it is the place of germination and new life. The oak tree is in centre stage; the greenhouse is not, it is the new plants and not the building itself. 

I believe that ministries hold some of these characteristics. They may be individual ministries or wider concerns, but the effect upon the ministries of others is largely the same, I think. The only way you can live in proximity to the oak is in being an oak too. The greenhouse doesn't choose its seedlings, it just gives them the best start. 

If you are a tree, mightiness is a favourable condition. In ministry, I fear that it is not. When a ministry is about a name, a personality - it is an oak tree ministry. If you are a greenhouse, success in the area of horticultural nurture is a favourable condition. In ministry, it is the same if that nurture is of new ministries or the enablement of other ministries within the same space. 

As I reflect upon my training experience as a curate, I learn much about how I must be as a Vicar. I was afforded all the warmth and opportunity that a greenhouse grants a seedling. In other words, I was given a new life often at the expense of the silent effort of another person. It was about me, not him. My friend, sadly, experienced the opposite; it was about his trainer not about him, and so he feels under-developed and weedy in ministry. As a Vicar, I have a duty to be the same as the one who gave me my chances. I can be an oak tree and soak up all the light, or I can be a greenhouse and channel it. 


  1. We could sure use some greenhouses here in the U.S.!! What a great analogy.

    I have to think about the many, might oaks that have fallen. They come down with a thunderous crash, crushing nearly everything & everyone beneath them. Greenhouse casualties seem rarer, perhaps due to the accountability system of such a place - that, and fertilizer :)

    A blessed Thanksgiving to you & yours,

  2. I really like your analogy in terms of visual focus (greenhouse isn't focus of garden whereas oak tree may be)and the difference between living under an oak tree (in the shade) and under a greenhouse (in growth-promoting light). But aren't you forgetting that an oak provides a habitat for a huge variety of life including at least 400 species of insects. Not sure where that takes your vicar picture next. Oh, and don't forget those much-prized truffles and their symbiotic connection with oak roots.

  3. Long live the green house and thank you to Father SGL Wood!! Keep going David, you'll do well. Karen L B St Mary's



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