Fredrick Shoo: the bishop who plants trees
(LWI) – The glaciers are melting, and the snow is retreating at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. As he was observing this from his doorstep at the foot of the mountain, which is a landmark in East Africa, Bishop Fredrick Onael Shoo decided to do something about the climate change that was affecting the communities. In the last 14 years around 10 million trees have been planted in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania’s (ELCT) Northern Diocese, a considerable number of them by the bishop himself. Proudly he notes: “We can see the effect: where the forest had vanished, it is now reappearing.”
When Shoo first began his initiative to care for creation in this tangible way in 2005, many of the pastors and members of the congregations were irritated: What did the planting of trees have to do with preaching the gospel? Since then, the awareness of being stewards of God’s creation rose, and now the care of creation holds a special place for ELCT, a member church of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). Bishop Shoo himself had earned a reputation for tree-planting with his congregations even before his election to presiding bishop by the Tanzanian Lutherans in August 2015.
Trees are a symbol for life – the common life we all share. When the trees are gone, our life is endangered.
Planting trees as a way of life
Planting trees has become part of church life in ELCT: When confirmation classes begin their two-year course, there is a gathering at which the confirmands each plant ten trees which they take care of during the course. When there is an event with a bishop taking place, it has become custom for the bishop and others to plant trees. During weddings the newlyweds will plant a tree.
“Trees are a symbol for life – the common life we all share,” Shoo explains. “When the trees are gone, our life is endangered.” In his congregations he perceives a generational change. In the past trees were only regarded a natural resource – there to be cut for wood – resulting in the deforestation of the country’s tropical forests and increased weather extremes. By now, the younger generation can connect their future to tree planting: their future depends on the climate and the maintenance of biodiversity in the forests.
Caring for God’s creation in a tangible way
His travels as presiding bishop give Shoo the opportunity to meet many church and community leaders with whom he can share the message. “Anytime I attend an event, I always request for at least one tree to be prepared for me for planting, even before I attend to the main agenda for which I am there,” he says.
And whenever he meets youth at national level, he also encourages them to care for God’s creation. “I usually request two young people from confirmation classes to tend to the new plants and show them to me when I come back. And most of the time, they spontaneously draw my attention to them, whenever I visit again.”
ELCT Presiding Bishop Dr Fredrick Onael Shoo was first elected presiding bishop at the August 2015 ELCT General Assembly and re-elected in August 2019. Since 2014 he had been Bishop of the ELCT Northern Diocese, which he served as Assistant Bishop since 2004.