Planting trees under which we will not sit

June 14th, 2017

I must be getting older!

I thought I’d be a lot older by the time I got to this age. I have a hard time believing that pastors who are younger than my daughters look at me the way we looked at the “old guys” in the Conference when I came in. Reality hit when I met a young seminary grad at Conference this week. I said, “I knew your father. He was my District Superintendent.” He replied, “That was my grandfather.”

I really enjoy hanging out with young clergy. They energize me and give me great hope for the future. I’ve also had the privilege of making the journey with some of them. Last week when Jennifer Potter Buff was ordained, she placed her hand on the Bible I signed and gave to her when she was in third grade at Hyde Park United Methodist Church where she was surrounded by a congregation that kept the promises they made at her baptism. She is a living witness to the truth that it takes a church to make a minister.

Planting trees

Watching these young men and women take their place in leadership, I was reminded of words that are attributed to Ernest Campbell, the Senior Minister at The Riverside Church in New York City from 1968-1976:

To be young is to study in schools
we did not build.
To be mature is to build schools
in which we will not study.

To be young is to sit under trees
we did not plant.
To be mature is to plant trees
under which we will not sit.

To be young is to dance to music
we did not write.
To be mature is to write music
to which we will not dance.

To be young is to worship in churches
we did not build.
To be mature is to build churches
in which we will not worship.

It is possible to get old without becoming mature. We can be so focused on our own generation that we fail to plant trees for the next one — funding seminary scholarships, paying taxes for better public schools, mentoring underprivileged students, stepping aside for younger leaders to emerge and allowing some things that were important to us to become the soil and manure in which new things can grow.

So, with apologies to Robert Browning, “Grow mature with me! The best is yet to be!”

Jim Harnish is the author of A Disciple's Heart and Earn. Save. Give. He blogs at at

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