Staying Together

September 4, 2011 — Leave a comment

Yesterday’s ride was (thankfully) cooler than Thursday’s, but we were in and out of rain throughout the day. There were several very significant uphill climbs, but the good news is there were also some wonderful downhill coasting opportunities too. By the time we arrived at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Prairie du Chein we had pedaled 55.5 miles and had plenty of stories to tell each other about our experience of the ride, the roads, the rain, the hills and the very fast blue heeler (a herding dog) who seemed to enjoy racing/herding each and every one of us as we passed by his/her house!

Five riders made the trip yesterday. Four of us from Trinity in Wauwatosa and a parishioner from St. Barnabas’ in Richland Center.  Not long after we got out of Richland Center, I was “blessed” with the first flat tire of the Tour, which needed to be repaired along the side of the road. Thankfully, one of our support personnel is the handiest of flat-tire-fixers, and I was back in the saddle in fairly short order.

As the day progressed, I noticed the ways in which our little band of travelers “ebbed and flowed” across the landscape. For the most of the day, we were within eyesight of at least one or two of our fellow riders, but we were often stretched out along a distance of a mile or more. The blue heeler would have had a nightmare attempting to keep us all together!

At one point, I started thinking about our riding group as a metaphor for congregational/parochial life. Throughout the Tour, I’ve heard folks at the parishes we’ve visited speak movingly about their love of one another and how their congregations feel like extended family. I’ve glimpsed, firsthand, the interconnection and abiding friendships in these places —  the “super glue’ which holds congregations together and provides the spiritual support for parishioners as they journey through this life.

This “togetherness” isn’t a given, though. It requires effort, intention and gobs of patience. Inevitably, in any group of people (whether bikers or parishioners), there are people who are out front, others who cruise along in the middle of the pack and those who are working hard to keep up. In a competitive society like ours, we love races — literal and metaphorical. We love to cheer on the winners and feel pity for the losers. Who doesn’t want to “Be Number 1!”?

Sometimes in our anxiety about parochial “survival” we apply this same competitive spirit to our congregational life — where ministry gets confused with more programs, more people, more money and the focus becomes obsessed with “church growth”. Sometimes in our push to “win” the parochial race…whether against the threat of dwindling resources or simply because we’ve bought into the societal notion that bigger, faster younger and richer is better, we forget that one of the reasons congregations become so much a part of our lives is the value we each receive from simply “staying together”.

Yes, I know this might seem like a maintenance mentality. Some may accuse me of playing to the lowest common denominator. But I saw the dynamism of staying together played out in our ride yesterday. Leaders stopped to wait for others to catch up. Middle-of-the-roaders enjoyed conversation with each other. Back-of-the-packers marveled at the gorgeous scenery, while keeping the pace to not lag too far behind. All of us spent some time in each of those positions during the day. And then, outside of Prairie du Chein we all regrouped and we arrived at our destination just as we had left Richland Center — together.

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