Day 36 Sunday, August 14 Grand Lake to Walden, CO 74 miles
It is ironic that on the first day of what is supposed to be the second half of this pilgrimage I finally returned to a worship service in the Presbyterian Church. I had written earlier that I was a little surprised that I had connected so little with the Church. It is much clearer now. Part of it is that I simply needed a break from what has been an intense and ever-shifting pastoral role at Eastminster the last four years. The second and more important reason is that I just wasn’t finding energy to go and visit churches. What I realized is that Eastminster doesn’t need to hear from other churches. We already do that. It’s part of our church culture. Who we really need to hear from are the people and the community outside the church walls. It took me this long to let my guilt go over why I wasn’t carving out more time for churches.
Today I was ready to visit. The timing worked out right. I was staying in Grand Lake. The church was only one block away from my motel and the service was early enough that I didn’t feel like I would have to shortchange a good hearty day of cycling (although I didn’t arrive in Walden until 6:15 tonight).
I arrrived just minutes before the service began. It was their annual “Jazz Sunday” service and I could feel a buzz in the sanctuary. I didn’t know how to compare this to other Sundays, but it was clear that people were excited to be worshiping together and enjoying the fellowship of their community. I found myself a seat toward the back as the first 80% of the sanctuary only had a few single seats remaining. Being that I didn’t know anyone and I was wearing cycling clothes I preferred to give myself a little room.
Pastor David Heil began the service with a few announce-ments that included recent deaths and illnesses and an upcoming Loaves and Fish Auction. When he asked for other announce-ments I introduced myself as a Presbyterian minister in Portland who was passing through while on a 10-week cycling spiritual pilgrimage. Pastor Heil welcomed me and then added, “That’s the thing about showing up at a Presbyterian Church–it’s like coming home.”
If you have been following my blog you know that “home” has been a theme that has been threaded through many of my blogs. I very much appreciated the warm welcome from Pastor Heil and the larger congregation at Trinity Church of the Pines. His comment does get to the heart of this pilgrimage and the reason for my own personal wrestling with the Church. I have mentioned my light-hearted labeling of myself as a “spiritual schizophrenic”. Half of me feels very much at home in the church. The other half feels like an outsider–a prodigal son who has no intention of asking for forgiveness for going out to explore and experience the larger religious world.
I wrote notes on the front of the bulletin cover as thoughts came to me while participating and observing the service today. There is really a whole chapter that could be written, but I thought I would highlight some of my perceptions and conversations without fleshing out all the implications in this one night. I hope to be able explore each of these issues and themes more fully in later blogs. My notes from the bulletin cover:
- I was once again reminded of the gift of community. The jazz sextet and the choir were all members or participants in the church community. While much of the music was very good, what really mattered was that the gifts of the community were valued and celebrated. At this church it was obvious that many had the gift of music.
- This congregation had a wonderful spirit of vitality and shared concern. It felt tight, but not closed to outsiders. Yet, a quick survey exposed that they are not unlike most Presbyterian Churches–white hair and bald heads cloud the view from the back.
- I was struck by the difference between the multigenerational culture of people and townsfolk I met the night before as I roamed the lone Main Street and the older culture of the church on Sunday morning. It reminded me of a conversation I had with three men in Meeteetse, WY. When I spoke of the decreasing relevancy of the church in our culture they added, “It’s not just the church. It’s the Elks, the Moose, the Kiwana’s, etc.” I am becoming more convinced that what we have in the church is a “particular form” of Christian identity and community that is beginning to pass away that will be replaced by a new more relevant form.
- Finally, I read in Rev. Heil’s comments from the newsletter this quote about vocation from writer, Frederick Buechner: “the place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I have been thinking about that. If I were to answer that right now I would say that my work at Eastminster reflects where God is calling me. I feel like what I am supposed to be doing is walking with Eastminster and the larger Church in the graceful process of letting go in order to make room for whatever new thing God might be doing in our time.
- It was a full morning of thought as I stepped back into a church building and my role as a pastor halfway through this pilgrimage. Just before noon I took off on the bike with a goal to reach Walden 74 miles out. I knew I had a climb to Willow Creek Pass as 9683 feet at the Continental Divide. Campsites would be available up to that point, if I needed them.
The climb was not too difficult except for some short 2-3 mile sections that forced me to dig deeply. Just two miles from the summit the rain started and once again I found myself in a consistent light rain as I did over the Cascades in Oregon. For the most part it rained the remaining 35 miles to Walden where I was welcomed by a rainbow just above the town. You can’t make this stuff up!
I am feeling an energy I haven’t felt since leaving Oregon over four weeks ago. I have a feeling that I have carried some anxiety about the long stretches across Wyoming and the nervous anticipation of Trail Ridge possibly breaking me physically and mentally. Having crossed over the top of Trail Ridge I sort of feel like there isn’t much left that I haven’t already seen. Granted, I have not yet reached Highway 50 in Nevada that is listed on the map as the “Loneliest Road in America”. Maybe I should be nervous, but I am feeling confident and more at ease than I have felt since the first week.
The plan is for Steamboat Springs tomorrow, but if this feeling persists I might find myself stretching out the miles some. We’ll see.