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St. Peter's Church, Thorner with Scarcroft
Leeds, United Kingdom
Part of the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales
Home Page - St Peter's Church, Thorner

Much of my childhood was spent in a world of innocent wonder and imagination, playing in woods and my tree house. Adult arboreal pleasure can be found at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in artist Giuseppe Penone’s exhibition A Tree in the Wood, which explores our relationship with the natural world. Trees are symbols of protection. The third most common pub name in England is The Royal Oak, celebrating Charles II’s escape from the Roundheads by hiding in an oak tree after the battle of Worcester in 1651. Nellie’s Tree on the Parlington estate has become a symbol of resistance to housing development. The romantic Vic Stead grafted two saplings together forming the letter N to woo his sweetheart, Nellie; 100 years later the tree was voted England’s Tree of the Year. Trees are planted in memory of others. The Coronation Tree in Scholes was planted to celebrate the coronation of Edward VII. Inauspiciously, the coronation was delayed due to Edward needing surgery. (He survived, but the tree did not; its replacement stands at the eastern entrance to the village.) An avenue of trees was planted in Scholes as a memorial to the fallen of the Great War, a tree for each man. The other side of the road was planted in memory of those lost in the Second World War.

Trees have their own hidden life. The blockbuster film Avatar depicted plants communicating through their roots. This depiction is accurate. Trees can exchange chemicals and nutrients with each other through their root system using the ‘fungal internet’. Seedlings starved of light and nutrients in the shade can thrive on carbon through the roots of donor trees. Trees even warn others of blight attack by sharing chemicals through mycelia. Other plants, including tomatoes, can listen in on these chemical responses and increase their own disease resistance. Mycelium themselves are thought to be the biggest single organisms in the world; single fungus colonies can cover some 970,000 square metres. Trees act as a ‘carbon sink’, absorbing, with other vegetation, up to of a quarter of human-created CO2. Critically, trees are also giant stores of carbon. Deforestation releases about 23% of all human-created CO2, negating trees’ positive effects. Worse, the deforested soil absorbs sunlight and adds to the warming effect with less radiation reflected back into space.

Whether it is the human stories trees tell us and the memories they hold, their hidden cooperation beneath the soil or their effect on climate, trees are symbols of life. Jesus was nailed to a tree, His cross the symbol of human suffering and God’s sharing in our full humanity. New growth came. The roots of God’s kingdom are everywhere, whispering hidden stories of hope beneath our feet.