Orchard Side Chat with Bill Evertsberg
September 8, 2020

Bill sees and explains God’s generosity as revealed in a tart cherry orchard in northwest Michigan.

Scarlet Bounty

Hi friends, my name is Bill Evertsberg and I’m one of the ministers at Kenilworth Union Church, and this is Doogie, my assistant minister. I’m standing here in a cherry orchard across the street from this charming little Roman Catholic parish.

Around the middle of the nineteenth century, immigrants from Bohemia—which is currently the Czech Republic, of course—immigrants from Bohemia started settling in this part of the world to work in a local iron foundry. And they built this little Bohemian Catholic church and they named it for Saint Wenceslas, the beloved tenth century Duke of Bohemia made famous of course by the great Christmas carol, “Good King Wenceslas looked down on the feast of Stephen.”

About the same time that the Bohemians were settling this part of the world, a Presbyterian missionary named Peter Dougherty, who was up here to serve the local Ottawa and Chippewa native peoples, was searching for a food crop that would thrive in the sandy soil and unique microclimate of the Grand Traverse Bay region. And somebody told the Rev. Dougherty about this tart cherry variety that thrived in the Montmorency region of France. And they called this cherry, you guessed it, the Montmorency tart cherry.

Every year, the state of Michigan produces 75% of the entire world’s crop of tart cherries. This part of Michigan, northwestern Michigan, produces about 50% of Michigan’s total. And so every summer, about 400 square miles of sand dunes produces 100 million pounds of tart cherries. You heard me right: 100 million pounds. Actually, the crop for 2020 is down a little bit, it’s very lean, down about two-thirds to 30 million pounds. But some years, they get 130 million pounds of cherries. Every one of these cherry trees produces about 175 pounds of cherries. Picture a pile of cherries that weighs 175 pounds. That seems like an embarrassment of riches to me, almost a miracle, an undeserved grace from God’s generosity.

Every summer for about ten weeks, the leaves of these trees catch pure starlight and transform it into a cellular fuel that is useful to seagulls and children alike. The sun sucks up lake waters from the depths of Lake Michigan and drops it with mercy on the loam beneath these trees and the roots take up that lake water into thin arteries until the fruit swells and purples to a scarlet bounty.

Every year, it’s my reminder of the grace of God. Just before harvest, branches of these trees bend down to the earth so low under the burden of their plenty, it’s as if they are praising God and honoring the Lord and the universe. And it’s my reminder every year that’s it all gift, it’s all grace, the undeserved heat of the sun, the fecundity of the soil, prolificity of God, our generous God. That’s what we’re going to be thinking about this fall during our autumn sermon series, God’s generosity and our own. So join me in September, see you in a few days. God bless you.

September 10, 2020

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