When Yellowstone National Park was first designated in 1872, one of the animals that didn’t receive protection from hunting or trapping was the gray wolf. At the time, naturalists and conservationists believed that the wolves were over-predatory and harmful to the park and its fauna, and so when they eventually disappeared from the park in the early 1900’s, it didn’t seem to matter or make much of a difference. The park thrived and visitors still came to marvel at its natural beauty, and for almost a century things continued this way.
But slowly, and almost imperceptibly, things did begin to change. The park’s ecosystem began to miss the presence of the wolves. Some animals like the deer began to over-graze and affect other animals in the system who may have also been historically feeding on those plants, shrubs and smaller trees. The park rangers began to notice an inequality in the system, but, as it would turn out, they had no idea of the depth of change that had actually occurred over those hundred years of the wolves’ absence.
In 1995, the gray wolf was reintroduced to the park, and remarkably almost everything changed.The dynamic between all the animals changed. The dynamic between animals and the flora changed. And, perhaps most remarkable of all, even the rivers began to change their course through Yellowstone. Yes, that’s right. The re-introduction of wolves changed even the course of that which seemed most fixed and permanent. The rivers began to flow in different patterns because of the changes that had occurred. The re-introduction of that which had been missing literally changed everything and even the very land itself. (You can watch a short video on this phenomenon here).
I’ve been thinking a lot about this change lately, because in some ways I’m feeling a certain symmetry with Yellowstone and Normal Heights. In light of my sermon last week, which you can listen to here, I find myself continually drawn back to the question of how will the re-introduction of the Methodist movement in our church change our neighborhood?
Disclaimer – we aren’t an apex predator and we’re certainly not going to reduce the number of anything by eating it… except for pizza at Blind Lady Ale House and the noodles at DAO Fu-yum! (But seriously, thats it. This metaphor can go south real fast).
Despite the limitations of this metaphor, I still feel that there is a deep truth to be considered here… what might we change in our neighborhood by re-introducing a church that is motivated by the Spirit of God and ready to roll up its sleeves and get to work for the Gospel? What sort of deep-seeded realities that seem unchangeable like the course of a river might be altered? What sort of fundamental good could we do here to really change this place, just by living out our call to be the church?
I believe with all my heart that we are ready to change the landscape of this community. That we are at the beginning of a moment where our presence can alter the future of this beautiful place in a way that changes lives, improves this neighborhood, meets needs, and offers hope all in the name of Christ. We’ll see you on Sunday as we talk about how that starts to happen and if you’d like to read the passage before then you can find it here.