Members from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Lincolnton gathered after their morning service Sunday to celebrate the memories attached to one of the property’s 300-year-old oak trees.
After trying to save the diseased tree and nurse it back to health for at least the last five years, church officials have decided to take it down.
While a set date has yet to be determined for removing the centuries-old water oak, member Linda Hoyle said, the tree will more than likely be cut down in a few weeks.
Hoyle, a member of the church vestry and head of the History and Preservation Committee, remembered climbing the tree on several occasions to chop down dead branches that posed safety threats to people and buildings on the property, including the hundreds of stone monuments located inside the church’s historic graveyard.
“We’re afraid it will fall on someone’s head or the parish house,” said Alice Bishopric, St. Luke’s Senior Warden.
A number of large oaks tower over the property, located on North Cedar Street.
With a giant yellow ribbon tied around its trunk, the sick tree, now covered in cancerous growths, church officials said, is particularly special because of its location next to the memorial garden, an area built sometime between the 1970s and ‘80s for burying cremated church members.
“The tree is very special because of the memorial garden,” Parish Administrator Gloria “Pug” Drinkwater said.
“The memorial garden was built around it because it seemed to have eternal life like the people buried there.”
Around a dozen people have been placed inside the garden over the years.
St. Luke’s attendant Stephanie Warren, who buried her mother in the garden in 2012, wrote a special dedication speech for the tree with the help of her daughter, Madison, a sophomore at North Lincoln High School.
“I always thought it was beautiful,” Stephanie Warren said of the oak. “I always felt like it watched over everything.”
The two actually composed the work before learning the tree would have to come down, but once they heard the disheartening news, they knew their written words would be exceptionally fitting for Sunday’s event.
During the ceremony, Madison Warren read the speech, written from the perspective of the tree and producing tears in Drinkwater’s eyes and a number of other members present.
“I saw the beauty and holiness of it one Easter,” Drinkwater said.
Since that day in 1990, she has been a member of St. Luke’s.
In the mother-daughter speech, the tree tells it story and reflects on its lifetime of historic memories, from baptisms, weddings, funerals and the glow of Christmas candlelight through the sanctuary’s stained-glass windows to Civil War soldiers’ return home from battle and the tragic day the church burned to the ground during the mid-19th century.
“I have witnessed many things in the span of my life,” the teen read.
“As a youngster, I witnessed the first settlers of Lincoln County…and I have mourned with every family that has buried their loved ones.”
Following the reading, church members united in song, singing the words to “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree.”
Glen Thorpe, church sexton, estimated the tree towered at least 60 feet above the property.
After tending to the grounds and caring for the trees at St. Lukes over the years, he too, expressed his sorrow over saying goodbye to the church staple.
“It’s one of the things that gives our church character,” he said.
Church officials hoped to turn the wooden trunk and other pieces of the tree into works of art.
Local woodturner Donald Olsen even suggested to Junior Warden Kae Wright that the art pieces later return to the church to be auctioned off and raise money for St. Luke’s.