By: Rev. Shannon Youell
Donning rain coats and boots, my husband and I went on a rainy day guided hike in one of our local parks boasting old-growth 800-year-old Douglas Fir, a multitude of resident creatures and an incredible diversity of understory plants. Our focus was on mushrooms – Marvelous Mushrooms as the hike was titled. We expected to learn and identify mushrooms but this was so much more. We discovered mycelium!
Mycelium, a vast network of fungal threads, are something like the root and digestive systems of the mushrooms. These networks are what is going on underneath the top layer of soil. They are formed from the mushroom’s mycelium, a web like network that makes its way beneath the forest floor connecting to other lifeforms. What we see on the surface and recognize as mushrooms are the fruit of the fungi.
Surprised as we were by that discovery, it was the symbiotic relationship the mycelium has with the forest trees that brings Marvelous Mushrooms to this blog. Called mycorrhiza, this under the surface relationship is crucial to the health of the trees and of the forest ecosystem and of course for the support of the mushrooms themselves.
The short version is that mycorrhiza from the mycelium weave around the underground roots of trees to nourish and protect them. They help trees absorb their needed nutrients and helps to protect them from absorbing toxins that could affect the health of the tree. Mycorrhiza also connect trees in the forest, via the mycelium web network, to one another and help the trees sense when one of their ‘community’ is struggling. Once those ‘sensors’ are triggered, healthy trees will divert their own nutrients to help the struggling trees, even trees of different species. Current research being done at the University of British Columbia has discovered that these ‘connections’ go even deeper: ‘mother’ trees, through the web, can detect when one of their own ‘baby’ trees is struggling and divert energy and nutrients to help foster their growth. They will prioritize the nurture of their ‘own’ over another tree!
My apologies to any mycologists out there, I am just learning and excited to learn more about how all life is connected.
Let me get into more familiar territory. What do mushrooms and their ‘web’ have to do with how followers of Jesus, and specifically communities of followers of Jesus, participate in the support and nurture of one another’s communities?
This blog has often touted the benefit of partnerships for the establishment of new expressions of the gospel in our communities. Both past and current plants are the beneficiaries of partnerships with already established churches (small and large), and in fact, those partnerships are necessary to nurture those plants and crucial for their ability to grow into healthy gospel communities of their own. We also encourage symbiotic relationships in these partnerships – a flow back and forth as needed for the health and discipleship of both communities.
We need more of these symbiotic relationships as an eco-system for all our churches. Would more of our existing churches be willing to risk planting new expressions of the gospel if they knew they would not be on their own but supported by the ‘underground network’, communities of Christ ‘mycorrhiza’? Can we operate as an eco-system of communities even while distant from one another, so that we naturally respond to the struggle’s others are having, diverting some of our own energy and nutrients to support them? If Jesus were talking to nature folk rather than agrarian folk, would he have told the Parable of the Mycorrhiza? The kingdom of God is like……?
I think of this in supporting gospel communities both new and existing. How might we, as our vast geographical network of churches, live symbiotically, nurturing one another for the health of the whole. Can we be more active and involved in the health of one another’s communities in our common mission of joining God in his work of revealing the Good News wherever we live, work, play and pray? Think about it. (Paul writes about it in 2Cor 8)
There are new communities right now that you can nurture and encourage by your connections with them. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for how you can join the web of life that connects all of us to God’s creation and to God’s mission in and to this amazingly interconnected and interdependent world he created.