Day 58 Monday, September 5 Vallejo to San Anselmo, CA 27 miles
Wow! What an unbelievably full day of sightseeing, conversations, and reflection. The day started off with a gift in the form of Amy and Pat and ended with a very important conversation with my host, a seminary student at San Francisco Theological Seminary where I received my Master of Divinity in 1989. Yes, I am that old!
I awoke and felt sort of a gray cloud over me for what I had written last night about “the church as we know it is dying”. I was really hoping that I didn’t wake up in the morning, think about that some more and then admit to myself regrettably, “Yep, it was the beer talking!” I awoke feeling just as strongly about what I had said last night, yet felt a little lonely for saying something that is not on the list of the Top 10 Ways to make friends.
Early in the morning (meaning before 9:00 a.m.) I was down at the Vallejo Ferry Terminal preparing to take the one hour ride over to San Francisco. There I met fellow cyclists, Amy and Pat, who were enjoying an extended Labor Day tour through the larger Bay Area.I shared a little about Eastminster having me out listening for the story of the shift between institutional religion and personal spirituality and Amy right away acknowledged, “There sure is a shift taking place and I am so glad someone is actually studying this.” We continued to talk and we got on the topic of how most churches are trying to figure out how to get young people into their churches. We both said almost at the same time, “That is the wrong question!” As we shared we both agreed that the real question now for our declining communities is how to turn over the church to the younger gererations and entrust our vision, property and mission to them. It was just the spark of confidence I was needing after going out on a limb the night before.
After arriving in San Francisco I took my sweet time and sat on park benches, visited a Labor Day bicycle race, ate lunch out, walked out on the piers, took dozens of pictures and relaxed. I actually wasn’t feeling all that well. I couldn’t tell if my diet had become imbalanced, I was simply tired, or if I was anxious about returning to Marin County where I have so many memories tied to my former marriage and graduate work at the seminary. My legs felt fine, but I just couldn’t find the will to ride. Likely, I am just experiencing the mental fatigue from being on the move constantly. One sign of that was the hour I spent on the ferry. It felt so good to sit back and be transported by something other than my own power and determination. I’ll have to be careful not to get too used to that before I cover these last 800 miles to Portland.
Before I made it all the way to SFTS, my host Nick met me on his bicycle and we rode the final few miles to the seminary together. We spent the whole evening in conversation about seminary, the church, and the how to reconcile our personal spiritual growth with the structure of the church. Nick has followed an intense passion for the study of religion since his childhood. He is well-versed in Buddhism, the Koran, and the dialogue between science and religion. He is also very bright, well-spoken, thoughtful and reflective. Most importantly, he has nurtured a disciplined and rich spiritual life for himself. I personally think the church needs people like Nick who can dance between different religions, are passionate and truly have a heart for the transformation and growth of people. Nick, however, wonders whether he is a circle trying to fit into a square hole.
It’s been interesting talking with Nick. As we have talked about theology and spirituality he also shared that the seminary is having to sell off buildings in order to stay solvent. I am on a task force in Oregon that was formed because of budget problems in our presbytery (district). There is a shift taking place. Something is dying and giving birth to something new. I’d like to see Nick stick around long enough to be part of the new birth. I just hope we don’t chew him up too badly first.