The people of the Minneapolis Area Synod’s 147 congregations are going to don their coveralls and plant a bunch of trees this spring. Five hundred of them, to be exact, as trees will be distributed at the May 5-6, 2017, synod assembly as a featured way to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.

The Rev. Arden Haug, former ELCA regional representative to Europe, helps plant a tree in the Luther Garden at Wittenberg Castle in 2011, as part of the anticipation of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. A similar tree was planted on the campus of Luther Seminary, St. Paul. Photo provided by Arden Haug

Why plant trees? Well, one story often shared about Martin Luther claims that, when he was asked, “If you thought tomorrow might bring the Day of Judgment, what would you do?,” he replied, “I’d plant a tree.” Now this story is likely just a legend, because no source exists for it in his writings and some versions are traced back to revivals. But like many good stories, even if it didn’t actually happen, it harbors a grain of truth.

Luther was known to have a great love of trees and, as a great scholar of the Bible, he would have been aware of how important trees are to God. “A tree was for Martin Luther a symbol of God’s love in creation,” explains Dennis Ormseth, a retired ELCA pastor and chair of the EcoReformation Committee of the Minneapolis Area Synod’s EcoFaith Network. “Planting a tree was an expression of trust in God’s promise for restoration of creation and the healing of all nations, according to Revelation 22:20. It might just have been a simple way for him to say, ‘Bring Paradise on!’”


AS PART OF THE anniversary celebration of the Protestant Reformation, the Minneapolis Area Synod congregations are invited to plant trees to honor Luther in hope “for the healing of the nations.” “Many Lutheran theologians see the ‘re-forming’ needed for the world today as environment-related,” explains Emilie Bouvier, the synod’s congregational organizer for environmental justice. “We need an ‘Eco-Reformation’ that says a viable, sustainable future as a planet is urgent; our earth is not to be exploited for profit but to be stewarded for the common good.”

Over the past year the synod has expressed its EcoFaith values by continuing to lift up water stewardship in congregations – in tangible ways in our properties and neighborhoods, as well as through the “water and the word” of our gathering for worship. The synod’s EcoFaith congregational leaders have also been learning and engaging energy issues, working to understand where energy comes from and how congregants can together advocate for greater and more locally-centered renewable energy options. “We’re building relationships with our utilities and elected officials to be a part of shifting these systems that we rely on and that we ought to transform for the sake of justice for our neighbors and a sustainable future for our communities,” Bouvier states. “As the EcoFaith organizer, I’m really excited about all the good work happening in congregations on water and energy issues and am looking forward to continue to loop in more people and think about the big picture of what we can do together in these areas. I’m so looking forward to Synod Assembly and connecting with some new people there.”

Bouvier goes on to say, “I love that the word ‘Reformation’ itself evokes the words ‘reform’ and ‘renew.’ Trees seem like a fitting way to mark and celebrate these values at the heart of our Lutheran tradition. What could be more renewing than literally planting seeds for the future?”


AROUND THE GLOBE, LUTHERANS are doing tree plantings. Special directed donations are making available 500 trees to synod congregations and organizations as part of the 500th anniversary celebration of the Reformation. In 2011, the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva established a Luther Garden in Wittenberg where 500 trees were planted in preparation for the 2017 anniversary. “In conjunction, 500 trees are being planted worldwide, marking the widespread influence and significance of the Reformation,” according to a November 2011 article in Metro Lutheran. Luther Seminary was the recipient of one of the eight U.S. sites to receive a tree in 2011.

“Our trees will be distributed as part of our worship at the Synod Assembly.”

“Our trees will be distributed as part of our worship at the Synod Assembly,” says Ormseth. “Congregations need to begin their preparations now: Decide who will receive the seedlings, where they will be planted, who will take care of them,” he adds. Congregations can choose from burr oak, white pine, and white spruce. Each congregation can reserve from one to three trees and be willing to accept more so we can get all 500 planted.

“The trees can be planted either on church grounds or, with permission, on other property,” Ormseth explains. “Join with a neighbor to share the care or perhaps as a sign of collaboration with a community partner like a school or community organization. The EcoFaith Network will provide planting information and prayer for your tree planting.”

“Many of our congregations have vibrant partnerships with local community organizations,” adds Bouvier. “This could be a great way to share about our Lutheran history, traditions, and values, while also sharing the beauty and benefits of growing new trees in our neighborhoods.” She suggests checking with local parks or elementary schools to see if these organizations might appreciate a donated tree for the benefit of the community.

The Minneapolis Area Synod joins the Central States Synod and the Greater Milwaukee Synod in tree-planting efforts. A liturgy to accompany tree-planting services is available on the Lutherans Restoring Creation website.

[accordian divider_line=”” class=”” id=””]
[toggle title=”Inside Planting Instructions” open=”no”]Plant your tree in a container that is at least 6 inches deep and has several drainage holes. Pack the soil around the seedling, completely covering the root plug with 1/2 inch of soil. Water well after planting and place in a bright room, in direct sunlight is best. Keep moist by watering as needed. Transplant your potted tree outdoors after the last threat of frost. In a 12 inch square, remove all grass and weeds, and dig a hole large enough to place the pot in the ground. Remove the tree from the pot and place it in the ground, packing soil firmly around it. The potting soil should be covered by the new dirt 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Water well after planting. If site is very dry, water as needed for first year. For best results, avoid heavy clay soils. The tree can be protected by surrounding it with stakes.[/toggle]
[toggle title=”Planting Directly Outside” open=”no”]In a 12 inch square, remove all grass and weeds, dig a hole 1/2 inch deeper than the seedlings root plug, place in the hole, and firmly pack soil around the root plug and cover with 1/2 inch of native soil. Water well after planting. If site is very dry, water deeply once or twice a week as needed.[/toggle]
[toggle title=”Holding Seedling For Spring Planting” open=”no”]The seedling may be held in the plastic bag in a refrigerator until early spring. Keep the root ball moist and the bag closed tight. In a frost free refrigerator, you may want to place the tree and bag in another tightly sealed bag to avoid drying out. Plant in early spring after the ground thaws, following the planting instructions above.[/toggle]

To reserve trees for your congregation, please use this form.


EXPERTS AGREE THAT trees are healing. “Planting trees are a great way to be outside, get your hands dirty, and participate very physically in the living ecology of your neighborhood,” Bouvier says. Also, trees shelter from the sun, feed the earth, lend tranquility to a streetscape, and teach us many important things about how we can live sustainably in God’s earth. Karen Shragg, a naturalist at Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield, Minnesota, says this about a tree’s “inspiration” in her poem Think Like a Tree:

Soak up the sun
Affirm life’s magic
Be graceful in the wind
Stand tall after a storm
Feel refreshed after it rains
Grow strong without notice
Be prepared for each season
Provide shelter to strangers
Hang tough through a cold spell
Emerge renewed at the first signs of spring
Stay deeply rooted while reaching for the sky
Be still long enough to hear your own leaves rustling.

It also so happens that planting trees is one very hopeful thing that we can do to reverse the forest destruction and land clearance that has destroyed a major portion of “the lungs of our planet,” bringing on change of our climate. “In planting their trees, the people of our congregations will join, intergenerationally, in making a public gift to the sustained well-being of their communities,” says Ormseth.

This is most certainly true!

UPDATED: An earlier version of this news story ascribed some of the quotations to an incorrect person.