Today I opened my copy of Science magazine to the Letters section and learned about a wonderful idea. It was new to me, but apparently has been going on for a long, long time. In Ethiopia, the ancient Orthodox Church is actively providing sanctuary for trees and their related ecosystems in an otherwise devastated land.
Colgate University’s Catherine Cardelus (firstname.lastname@example.org) and colleagues used their letter to publish a three-paragraph review report that explains how “the church leadership views biodiversity conservation as one of its primary stewardships.” An accompanying aerial photograph proves the point by showing a circular forest that encircles a group of church buildings. Around this rich green patch are brown, worn-out expanses of old farmland. Although the main purpose of this and similar Ethiopian churches remains much the same as in other faiths, notes an Ethiopian environmental journal, they also provide valuable, secured habitats for plants and animals, “and green spaces for people to rest the stressed mind.”
What a great idea! I thought. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if other churches also set up miniature biomes such as this, even in places that are not surrounded by barren land..I can think of several that have adjacent acreage that could be preserved for natural, indigenous flora and fauna. William Cullen Bryant said “the groves were God’s first temples,” and he was right. I suspect it is no accident that the great arched ceilings of Gothic cathedrals resemble the trunks and canopy of forest trees..
The Bible does not have much to say about trees or forests, but the scriptures (Isaiah 41:19) make it clear that they have divine value. In consolation to exiled Jews who were in captivity in Babylon, God promises them, “I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah [acacia] tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, [and] the pine, and the box tree together.”
Perhaps we can learn something from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. As every schoolchild knows, trees and other plants take in carbon dioxide and release the oxygen that is vital to animals. Projects such as the Ethiopians’ would help preserve Western ecosystems and might even revitalize some of the flagging churches by providing new ways of strengthening sense of community. And their shady coolness can certainly have a beneficial effect on weary human minds and bodies: it’s happened to me many times while roaming the English woodlands. As the Presbyterian conservationist John Muir wrote, “between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.”
If you think this idea might have merit for transplantation in more highly developed parts of the world, pass on the word!