Day 71 Sunday, September 18 Bandon to Florence, OR 77 miles
It’s almost hard to believe that I still have a few days left considering how much my mind is now in Portland. I am beginning to think about having to sort through mail, pick up my cat and car, see my two kids, reconnect with friends, and, of course, make the transition back into my pastoral role at Eastminster and community committees I sit on. With less than 200 miles to go I get moments when I think I could power through those miles non-stop in order to get home ASAP. But, I also am pretty aware now of how many miles I can handle on a daily basis. I know if I ride anything more than about 80 miles I risk too much fatigue the following day. Better to stay patient!
As I near the end of this stage of the pilgrimage I am letting down and letting go. I am not being as disciplined about my preparations, planning, eating and daily schedule as I was during most of the trip. I stayed up fairly late last night and didn’t leave Bandon until almost noon. Earlier it felt if I allowed myself to get lazy with my preparations that it would likely come back to haunt me later. Now, staying up a little later or having one extra tube instead of two doesn’t seem to be too big of a deal. If it made sense I would even send some of the extra tools and emergency supplies home. I am no longer out in the wilderness and if something did go wrong there are people, towns and even home close by now.
The terrain and weather today lent itself well to some soft, graceful time of reflection. I had very few hills to climb. I was either on a very quiet side road or on a wide shoulder on newly paved Hwy 101 where I didn’t have to worry about cars. And the comfortable temperatures and lack of wind allowed me to go into my head as I didn’t feel like I was fighting the conditions. I found that I began to think about the questions and themes that I began this pilgrimage with. I am aware that people will begin to ask me what I learned, how I was changed, and was it what I expected. I haven’t put a lot of mental energy into that yet as I can feel this deep letting down taking place. I feel really tired—relaxed and tired. It doesn’t feel like the mental exhaustion I have had in the past when I have pushed myself to0 hard. As I am letting down it just feels like I could allow myself to take a nap at almost any time of the day.
I began the pilgrimage with three themes that I felt were important for me and the larger Church—letting go, bridging communities and mirroring the wilderness experience of the larger Church. Of all of those it feels like this pilgrimage has been primarily about letting go. There may have been some bridging between the the institutional church and emerging spirituality, but quite honestly what I mostly experienced in my conversations is that the glue has already hardened and people are pretty comfortable in their own place. I didn’t see people yearning to come together. I do feel that my personal pilgrimage mirrored a great deal of the wilderness experience of the church and I will be spending more time reflecting on that in coming weeks.
Letting go has emerged as the primary feeling and theme for me personally and also for what I want to share with the larger Church. I have come away from this pilgrimage with the belief that our churches have been asking the wrong question. One of the most common questions that is asked is, “How are we going to get young people in the church?” I am convinced that this is the wrong question. That question is based on trying to survive and sustaining a model that clearly has not been very successful in recent years. I am convinced that the question our churches now need to be asking is, “How are we going to pass on our tradition to younger generations?” The first question is about holding on to church as we know it. The second question is about letting go and entrusting our children and grandchildren with the estate we call our Christian tradition. I am convinced that most of our mainline congregations should really be in the life stage of estate planning—deciding who will take over our assets after we have passed on.
This is really the gift that the people of Eastminster have given to the broader Church. In many ways we have been in a privileged position that has allowed us to hone in on the core issues of our denomination and churches. We knew that the “handwriting was on the wall” about how long we could sustain the church ministry and my position as pastor. With the potential end looming just a few years in the future the Session (Board of Directors) made what I consider a brave and wise step—they said out loud that whatever time they had remaining would be spent in leaving a legacy in the community rather than performing another series of life-saving measures. They actually did what counselors encourage the elderly to do—plan how to pass on one’s estate. It is the normal process of letting go that we expect as individuals. The same holds true for our organizations.
I started the pilgrimage with these three themes—letting go, bridging and mirroring. I am emerging with a conviction that the primary spiritual work I must do and our congregations must do is to let go. It’s time to turn the old family farm over to a new generation and trust that they will honor the essential values of the farm even as they remodel, adapt and transform it into a more modern form.
Tonight I had a wonderful dinner at the Bridgewater Oyster Bar and Grill in Old Town Florence. It was one of the best meals I have had yet (or maybe I just took the time to really enjoy and savor it!). I am heading east tomorrow and will soon be in the Willamette Valley. I can hardly believe I am saying those words. I have literally lived in another world for ten weeks and am just about to arrive “home and recognize it for the first time” (T.S. Eliot). I am ready.