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Archive for the ‘Future Church’ Category

Day 74   Wednesday, September 21   Salem to Portland, OR   71 miles

 

Julie

My daughter Julie talking with Pastor Erik and Clerk of Session, Florence

The best part of the day was when my lovely, 22 year-old spirited daughter came into the reception at Eastminster after not seeing me for over 2 months and declared, “Oh my god, dad, you are ripped!”  This had nothing to do with alcohol.  I, of course, have not recognized the subtle changes in my body as they occurred slowly day by day.  But I have changed.  I lost over 10 pounds, became quite a bit leaner, and my face now has sharper contours that weren’t there when I left.  Indeed, I have changed.  My body is different.  My view of the world has shifted.  I feel more grace and more determination all at the same time.  I am psychologically stronger.  And I feel more whole, less fragmented and scattered.

Mt. Hood

A sign of home--Mt. Hood in the distance!

I mostly want to say thank you, thank you, thank you to all the people who have supported me, prayed for me, encouraged me, and reflected back just the right question at the right time when I needed a nudge to go deeper, ride lighter, or shift my focus.  It would have been a very different pilgrimage if I had not remained connected to all the good people in my life–my children, Phil and Julie, the whole Eastminster clan, the growing community associated with Eastminster’s various ministries, my extended family, and some of the best friends a sometimes quirky and stubborn man could ever hope for.  I will apologize now to anyone who might have been offended by my complete solitude in the first weeks.  I had to let go of everything in order to re-discover what was truly important.  Thank you for your patience and understanding.  I am h0me and the good news is, now I know it.

Phil and Tedra

My son, Phil, posing with his fiance, Tedra at the reception

I anticipated a pretty emotional ride in to Portland today.  I awoke this morning with more energy than I have felt for many weeks as I knew this was the last leg, the very last leg of the journey.  Yet, by the time I had breakfast and had packed, my stomach began to tell me that I was feeling anxious about this re-entry.  I compared it to making an airplane landing at the end of wonderful flight.  You are really ready to get home, but there is still that anxious few moments just before touchdown where you pray, “Please God, just one more time, make this miracle happen!”  Then throughout the ride I noticed the same pattern.  At times my legs were driving me forward trying to get home as fast as possible.  Minutes later I could feel them let up as I began to feel some nerves about making this transition from the pilgrimage world back into my Portland life.  I didn’t really feel like I was home until I walked into my apartment.  It was just as I left it (thanks Maggie and Ken!) and I felt the first signs of relief.  There is much more of that to come as the whole experience has a surreal feeling to it.  I broke down at dinner as a wave of relief suddenly hit me.  My wise son said, “I was wondering when that was going to happen.”

Eastminster sign

A very nice "Welcome Home!"

I made my way to Eastminster where they had a planned a very warm “Welcome Home” for me.  It really did feel like I had come home.  We at Eastminster are in a very interesting position.  On an organizational life cycle chart our scores show that we are both in the “old age/dying” stage of life and the “birth/infancy” stage.  It is a time of rich opportunity even as it is also very fragile.  For the church and for me as a pastor it leaves us in an almost constant state of uncertainty and insecurity.  Yet, I arrived back and knew this is where I belonged.  Whatever is happening there, whatever is unfolding, whatever emerges out of the pilgrimage this is where God has called me to be.  I arrived in the parking lot and all I could say was, “I’m home, I’m home, I am really home.”

Capitol Building

The Oregon State Capitol Building in Salem

And then mixed in with all that are these nudgings that I felt as I rode by the Capitol Building in Salem.  I began college actually as a political science major before shifting over to religion.  I was active in Ronald Reagan’s campaign for president when I was 19 years old (be careful about drawing any judgments about things we did 30 years ago!).  In addition to the ministry I have worked also in county services and with state agencies.  Eastminster is partnering with the county on providing homelessness services.  And, in recent years, I have found myself thrust into positions of leadership on citizen boards in the city.

I am arriving home with these two very strong messages.  One, that whatever we have going on at Eastminster, this is where I belong as it continues to unfold.  Two, that I have increasingly found my ministry to be shaped by the dialogue and the partnerships that we have nurtured along in the broader community.  I have said in previous blogs that I have felt and experienced the lines between the sacred and the secular to be dissolving.  I am interested in helping shape how the whole community–government, churches, non-profits and businesses can all work together for  the common good.  It is religion in public life that especially draws me in.

This pilgrimage really has been about working out my own call.  It is becoming much clearer. The good news is that I am already where I need to be as it unfolds.  I am already in a church where we are developing community partnerships and working through the issues that that presents.  And I already am active in city planning and community development.  I think I found myself here by accident and now I know this is where I need to be.  My future will unfold from right where I am currently standing and I may only need to be more intentional about fostering the relationship between our churches and the larger community.

T.S. Eliot’s quote was spot on the whole time:

We shall not cease from our exploration.  And at the end of all our exploring.  Will be to arrive where we started.  And recognize the place for the very first time.

I am home.  All is well.  And now I am truly ripped and ready for the next challenge!

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Can’t wait now!

Day 73   Tuesday, September 20   Junction City to Salem, OR   66 miles

Willamette Valley

Leaving Junction City and riding into the Willamette Valley

 I cannot wait to get home now.  It’s more than just completing this long, wonderful and intense pilgrimage.  I can’t wait to see my two children and resume our shared meals and spontaneous Blazer nights with nachos and beer.  I have many good friends to catch up with and share stories and find out what events I missed in their lives and families.  I am excited about getting back to Eastminster and exploring and discerning what all this means for us.  I do know that we will not be able to resume where we left off as if I had just taken a short leave of absence.  I know that I have been changed and I can only guess that Eastminster finds herself in a new place.  The pilgrimage has stirred the pot and we will need to just take the time to see where our new priorities, yearnings, and future thoughts have settled.  It is a little scary and I am sure there is some anxiety, but I feel that this is a wonderfully rich time of opportunity and possibility.  I really cannot wait to get back and discover what new life is awaiting me in Portland and this work that we have begun.

Sharon

My colleague playfully poses for the camera as is her style

I did meet for an extended lunch with one of my colleagues who only recently discovered my blog.  After reading a couple of posts she felt she wanted to meet and talk more about her experiences in the ministry and her sense of call.  She is wrestling in the same way I have wrestled with what it means to be a minister in this time of religious uncertainty and shifting spiritual values.  We talked about many things, but one thing bears sharing.  She said something that I immediately connected with and have heard is a source of frustration among other ministers.  What she said is that she is tired of constantly trying to “convince the church” that God can be experienced in other spiritual forms.  She is currently being certified as a yoga instructor, already has a degree in music therapy, and is in a program to be certified as a spiritual director.

 

Willamette vineyard

I recognize being back in the rolling farmland of the Willamette Valley

Like me, much of her connection to God is in the form of an “embodied” spirituality.  It is experienced physically in movement and exercise, in music and dance.  It is experienced in hiking in the mountains, walking meditatively through a park, or cycling on long stretches of country road.  She is currently in a time of transition in her church where her future is now wide open.  She finds herself ready to just start working with the people who want yoga, music therapy, spiritual direction, etc. rather than spending her time trying to convince the church that it has a place there.  I do understand the church’s intention to sponsor activities that fit within the scope of being a church.  It’s a fair question to ask how yoga fits a church’s mission.  I just want to know how hard former generations had to work to get quilting circles, rummage sales, and Ice Cream Socials sponsored in the church.  If I remember the story right, Jesus was big on wine, but I don’t remember anything about big bowl of Rocky Road.

River discovery

One of the nice discoveries as I patched a few rural roads together

I made a slight detour in order to visit with my colleague which left me with a fun little adventure for the afternoon.  I had a delightful time of just pointing my bike north and making spontaneous decisions about whether I headed more toward the foothills, stayed close to the freeway, or crossed over onto the western side of the freeway toward McMinnville.  I first started heading toward Silverton, but one road starting turning south and before I knew it I was going back to where I started.  At that I decided it was best to stay closer to the freeway and patched a number of smaller rural roads together until I came into the south side of Salem.  What I discovered is how much delight I get out of exploring, making wrong turns, backtracking, and trying to figure out the grid.  It’s like riding through a wonderful maze.  I thought about how this mirrors our sense of spiritual adventure these days as well.

Willamette Vineyard

A Willamette Valley vineyard just south of Salem

Most of my days on the pilgrimage didn’t allow (or more accurately I didn’t allow!)for this type of adventurous exploration.  Today, because my mileage was lower, I was in the valley where I wouldn’t have difficult hills to climb, and I was finishing up this pilgrimage I allowed myself to play a little.  As much as I am looking forward to getting back to Portland I am also going to miss being on the bike every day.  I did get tired of having to pull up my stakes every day.  I got tired of all the planning and preparation on a daily basis.  But, I never did get tired of the riding.  Something about the road and the rhythm calls me.  It won’t be long before I start planning another ride (but maybe 74 miles, not 74 days!).  Anyone want to join me!

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Day 71   Sunday, September 18   Bandon to Florence, OR   77 miles

Leaving Bandon

One of the many sloughs on the southern Oregon coast

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.

North Bend Bridge

Crossing bridges became a common occurrence today

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.

Inland lake

Although I followed the coast I was inland for much of the day where many lakes appeared

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.

Pacific Sand Dunes

I followed a long stretch where sand dunes were the main recreational attraction

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.

Florence

Arriving on the waterfront of Florence, OR

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.

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Day 61    Thursday, September 8   Petaluma to Santa Rosa, CA   22 miles

Written Thursday, sent Friday.

Cornelia

Petaluma host, Cornelia, a minister colleague with whom I had a good conversation about religious "discipline".

I feel like the day was split into two pieces.  There was the bulk of the day that is hardly worth reporting because I allowed myself to go mindless.  I only had a short hop into Santa Rosa of about 15 miles from Petaluma that took me just over an hour.  I landed at Courthouse Square in downtown Santa Rosa. This was a favorite location when I was living in the more rural Lake County over an hour northeast of here.  I would often come here on a day off to shop for books, enjoy a meal, and maybe catch a movie.

 

Shultz sculpture

Santa Rosa is the home of the late Charles Shultz, "Peanuts" creator.

I had about five hours to myself before meeting my host for the night and I just stopped.  Stopped riding, stopped thinking, and stopped reflecting.  I allowed a deep tiredness to overtake me and I laid down under the rays of the early afternoon sun with children playing nearby and the hum of an afternoon lunch crowd lofting above me as I fell into a dreamy sleep on the small green lawn of the downtown park.  I faded in and out with the sounds of the downtown city noises startling me awake at moments.  This was all about completely stopping and simplifying and I made my way to the old Mexican Restaurant a block away and ordered something simple and fresh—cold gazpacho soup made entirely of fresh vegetables and avocado.  Then I went back to the same spot in the park, leaned back and fell asleep again.

The Rhodes house

Liz, Chris, Roger and I explore the shift in our churches and culture over Red Tail beer.

The second part of the day was arriving at Chris and Liz’s house where I am staying for the night.  Chris is very involved in the church at the local level, the regional level and the national level flying to Louisville twice annually for meetings related to the national direction of the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church USA).  He invited Roger from a nearby Presbyterian Church to join us for a conversation.  Roger grew up in India as the son of missionary parents and has a broad ecumenical view.  I have promised myself that I wouldn’t think too much today, but here were some highlights of some of our questions and thoughts:

  • Chris’ church hosted Peace Camp this year instead of Vacation Bible School and it drew three times the usual number.  It fits my understanding that our culture does honor spiritual values and is less interested in whether those values are formed from the Bible or not.
  • We all discussed how our churches seem to connect with the community pretty well on service-oriented projects, but that expecting the same people to show up for worship is too much of a stretch.  I am wondering if “worship” carries with it an assumption of honoring an external God while so much of our theology and spirituality has shifted to an awareness of the god who is reflected in our own lives and community.
  • Roger, who is a retired social worker, brought up the question about how this seismic shift we seem to be in isn’t limited to the religious world, but seems to be part of a shift in our political, culture and economic worlds as well.  I intuitively feel that is the case, but can’t get my mind around what this larger shift is and what role religion and spirituality are playing in it.  Just more questions with no clear answers!

                OK…that’s all the thinking I am doing for tonight.  I do feel I am beginning to decompress and starting to allow myself to relax after pushing so hard physically and mentally.  I think that is why I felt so tired this afternoon and just let the sun soothe me to sleep in the middle of town.  I do want to come home feeling refreshed rather than burned out.  There will be plenty of time to write and begin exploring the implications of this trip.  I don’t need to cram it all in in the last two weeks.  Tomorrow I am off to Lake County where I have dear friends to visit and reconnect with.  Yay!

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Day 60   Wednesday, September 7   San Rafael to Petaluma, CA   36 miles

Mary and Marty

San Rafael hosts, Mary and Marty, who entertaining, serious, and passionate about life

One of the discoveries of this pilgrimage is how important it has been to leave myself open to the pacing, rhythm, and balance between solitude and connection as I go.  It was very clear to me that when I arrived in Helper, Utah that I was going to have to rely on something other than my own gritty determination to propel me home  (that was the night a non-working toilet took me to the edge).  It was then that I began planning with the hope and expectation that the larger Presbyterian family would sort of carry me the last two to the three weeks.  I began making contacts while in the desert in Nevada and I havechurch hosts all the way through Sunday night in Ukiah.

Cheese factory

Stopping at the cheese factory for a sandwich and a local Blue Heron pale ale on their lovely grounds

As of today I began to see the need for another shift before I arrive back in Portland.  After having a few days with church members and anticipating a few more, I am realizing that each of them have added to the process of reflection.  The conversations have been incredibly rich and I am starting to feel like a computer that flirts with going into a freeze from too much input too quickly.  I started to notice what felt like psychological fragmentation today.  I just couldn’t keep all the details straight.  I couldn’t prioritize and remain focused on what was most important.  I am letting little things go that could bite me later if I don’t attend to them.  It was like my world was beginning to fray at the edges.

Clyde

Fellow cyclist, Clyde, who had ridden across the United States in younger days

With the visit to Kelseyville coming up this weekend I knew I had to create some space in the days following just to process the number and depth of experiences.  Kelseyville holds the story of two congregations—the Presbyterian one where I resigned to keep the church from splitting, the chartering of a Unitarian Universalist congregation  (www.uuclc.org), and the setting aside of my ordination vows.  I anticipate that re-connecting in that community will flood me with much to reflect upon as I also discern the implications that story has for Eastminster, the Portland community, and my role there.

After leaving Kelseyville I will be staying in Ukiah at the home of the associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church with the potential to talk to their youth group about this pilgrimage.  After that I plan to honor more time of solitude to be able to reflect on this entire experience.  I am not sure whether it will be three days or if I will use the rest of the trip to decompress, but I do know that I need to shift once again from focusing on connecting to savoring what gifts will emerge from another period of solitude.  I guess this is why it is called a journey!

The Quest

The sign that caught my eye for the spiritual community called "The Quest"

I spent some time today at “The Quest”—a non-denomi-national church in Novato, California that caught my eye (www.questnovato.com).  The Unitarian Universalist congregation in Kelseyville, in many ways, was the outgrowth of “The Quester Community”—an experimental spiritual community initiated by Kelseyville Presbyterian Church while I was pastor there.  What I discovered is that the pastor of “The Quest” is an American Baptist pastor (the more liberal branch of Baptists) who has felt the institutional structure of the church (as he understands it) is getting in the way of meeting people’s spiritual needs today.  The church says that it wants to focus on the “way of Jesus” and his teachings and less on the religion of the church that was built in his name.  Whether this is the way to go or not, I don’t know, but “The Quest” does fit a common judgment today:  “The institution of church often is more of a barrier than a resource for community spiritual development.”

Quest motto

The high ceiling rafters at the Quest reminding them of their community values

Tomorrow I make another small hop to the town of Santa Rosa just north of Petaluma about 20 miles by freeway.  Kelseyville is a very small town of about 4,000 and Santa Rosa is the larger city we drove to once a month when we needed to shop, see an independent film and broaden our restaurant choices.  I have a favorite Mexican restaurant where I might sit for lunch just for old time’s sake.

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Day 57   Sunday, September 4   Sacramento to Vallejo, CA   68 miles

What a full day of varying experiences.  The day began with participating in the worship service at Grace Presbyterian in Sacramento, followed by the ride into Vallejo on a hot afternoon, and ending with a rich evening with Warmshower host, Bruce, with whom I shared a good Thai meal and lots of stories about our separate touring experiences.

Grace Presbyterian Church in SacramentoSo much has happened that I feel a little emotionally garbled.  Both times I have worshiped at a church on this pilgrimage I have left with lots of feelings about the state of the church in this time as well as my role in it.  I have a feeling after I return to Portland I will have time to really process the feelings and the implications, but I am struck by how much my past work in hospice and grief work seems to surface when I think about how best to be present and lead as a minister in this time.

As I was sitting in the chairs behind the communion table looking out over the congregation I could also see through the windows of the doors to the entrance.  There we were saying our prayers, singing, and listening for the spirit in Scripture.  Through the window a young father was towing his child behind him on bike for a leisurely Sunday ride on a long Labor Day weekend.  For so long we have insisted that Sunday is for worship and I wondered as they passed by which of us was really worshiping.  Maybe both of us in our own ways?

Leslie at Grace

Leslie willingly shared her story of why she felt accepted at Grace

I met Leslie after the service and she was not bashful about saying that she is a self-avowed atheist who has felt welcomed at Grace.  She was very clear that she comes because one of the first things the pastor said when she showed up was that they are not here to change her.  I imagine what he meant is that she is likely to be changed, but they are not in the business of making others look like them and believe like them.  She enjoys the community, sings in the choir, and is a dedicated advocate for justice issues.  When I think about Leslie and I am both heartened and saddened.  I am heartened because I believe the future of the church won’t be based on “right belief” but on a community of caring people dedicated to each other, to spiritual growth, and to compassionate service with the community.  Leslie fits as well into that community as any faithful Christian I know.  I am saddened because church as we know it is passing away and I find people resisting this natural process of gracefully letting go.  I think this is why images of my grief work in hospice continue to surface as I think about and visit with members of the church.  I find the grief palatable in so many of my conversations with people associated with our mainline congregations.  “Where did that once vibrant church go?” seems to be an underlying question capturing this sense of loss.

I feel sort of strange sharing this sense of loss and grief.  I can hear voices in my head from nowhere in particular that seem to be saying, “C’mon Brian, have a little faith and don’t be so pessimistic!”  But, I don’t feel pessimistic at all.  I just can’t shake this feeling that our best hope is to finally accept that God is doing something new, a shift has taken place, and it is time let go of the hopes that the church of yesterday can be recreated and resurrected.  So much of my experience on this trip has confirmed that the theological earth already moved and our work is now to catch up to it.  There is a reason our gradual decline has continued for over four decades.  I don’t think one more creative Sunday School curriculum is the answer at this point.

Grafitti bridge

A bridge loaded with grafitti. What does this mean?

I do wonder how I’ll feel in the morning about writing this tonight.  I am tired and I have just enjoyed a homemade microbrew at my host’s house.  If anything, I may be just loosened up enough to not sugarcoat what my heart tells me is happening.  We are in a time of loss and decline.  I don’t think we can deny that.  What if it wasn’t a problem to be fixed, but a stage of community life to embrace?  How would that change us?

Davis Islamic Center

Signs of the new community and new world we live in.

I do think there is hope for the Church.  If Grace can communicate that Leslie, an atheist, feels welcome and embraced it is an indication of a new kind of Christian community that reflects our new world.  But, this is not church as we have known it, and as welcome as it may be, in order to fully embrace Leslie we will also have to let go of our images and expectations of what a church community should consist of.

Bike sculpture

Passing by a bike sculpture in an orchard of all places

I will spend the next week staying in the homes of church members and listening and sharing more of what I am experiencing.  I may be wrong about all this.  I am quite open to that.  But, what I don’t think I am wrong about is that we have to move beyond trying to solve our “declining membership problem” to acknowledging and owning that our tradition and church as we know it is passing away.  There is a future for the church, but I wonder if we’ll recognize it in 50 years.

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A leisurely day

Day 56   Saturday, September 3   Placerville to Sacramento, CA   64 miles

Placerville

Downtown Placerville, CA

It was unfortunate that I had so little time last night after arriving in Placerville so late.  I showered, went out to dinner at Amerikan Ichi Sushi (easily rivals some of the best sushi in Portland), and went back to my motel room and quickly fell asleep.  It took most of the morning to get myself organized again for a new day, blogging, and making arrangements for hosts over the next few days.  By the time I was ready for the road I just looked for the closest breakfast place which turned out to be a dependable Waffle House.  The food was fine, as expected, but as I rode into the actual town of Placerville I discovered a few restaurants with outside patios, flowers, and a bustling Labor Day energy.  I guess that means another visit sometime to check out some of these fine places!

American River Bike Trail

23 miles of worry-free, scenic riding on the American River Bike Trail

I had a leisurely ride from Placerville to Sacramento.  The elevation drops another 2,000 feet almost to sea level.  Sacramento, 75 miles from the San Francisco Bay is only 46 feet in elevation.  The highlight of the ride today was following the American River Bike Trail 23 miles from Folsom into downtown Sacramento.  I haven’t had too many bad experiences with drivers, but it was still nice to be completely free of having to watch for vehicles.  Much of the trail runs right alongside the river where rafters, kayakers, and beach bathers were enjoying this long holiday weekend.  The trail meanders through a number of community parks, oak groves, and completely avoids the busyness of the city.

The American River

Riding along the American River on a hot Labor Day Saturday

I arrived, after a number of calls to get directions, at the home of Warren Barnes, pastor at Grace Presbyterian, and his wife, Anita.  We enjoyed a good meal together and then were joined by Tom and Linda Sweetman with whom I am staying tonight.  Of course, we talked church.  Warren has asked me to ride directly through the double front doors of the church just after the announcements ending up in the chancel area where he will interview me as part of the service.  I have heard of the choir processing down the middle of the aisle in preparation for worship.  I am still trying to discern how to ride my bike in a worshipful manner as I pass by the pews.  I told Warren to feel free to use me however he wanted.  I have to trust him pillar of the church, Mrs. Jones, isn’t going to faint right there!

Bank waterfall

After riding through the mountains with all its natural beauty I was struck by our need to simulate nature.

Tom, Linda and I spent the rest of the evening talking about the shift in religious allegiance and affiliation among younger generations.  She shared how both of her children were brought up in the church, but neither of them attend now.  At the same time she shared how both of her children are two of the “most spiritual people she knows.”  I shared how I continue to see this pattern of an older generation who raised their children in the church and their children who, in many ways have adopted the values of the church, but who don’t affiliate with any institutional church.

Wild turkeys

Two wild turkeys cross my path...no deeper meaning intended!

There is much more to be said here.  But, patterns and themes continue to emerge and be confirmed.  Spiritual yearning is strong among the generations that were raised by the current cast of church members even if their children and grandchildren find the forms of religious faith to be irrelevant to their lives.  People want to have the freedom to be responsible for their own spiritual life, disciplines, and values.  If they do choose a religious tradition it is because they chose it, not because they felt a duty to accept the religion of their parents.

After the service I will be off to Vallejo right on the San Francisco Bay for an average length ride.  I will be staying with another Warmshowers host who has offered to meet me a few miles out and ride back into town with him.  Then I will cross the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge on my way to Marin County where I went to seminary, where my children were born, and where I have many friends.  I have planned only for about 100 miles over a four-day period in the North Bay so that I will have time to visit and enjoy the many connections and memories associated with Marin County.

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