I spent last weekend on a retreat with a group of men from the Morrisville Presbyterian Church. I was invited to speak but I also filled the role of social coordinator. We spent our weekend at the Pendle Hill Conference Center in Wallingford, PA, located less than ten minutes from where I was raised in Media.
Saturday afternoon stretched open wide with nothing but free time to enjoy. Since we were all in my backyard, I offered to take anyone who wanted to go on a hike at Tyler Arboretum. Everyone but one guy was up for the adventure, so we piled into two cars and wound our way to the other side of Media.
I am a hiker. It is a favorite form of physical activity for me. You are welcome to hit the trail with me but understand that when I start moving I quickly ramp up to fifth gear. My long legs take long strides and I’m interested in getting hot and sweaty. I always say to guests who come along, “You are welcome to join me, but I’m here to exercise. I may get in front of you or you may get in front of me; and if either one of us gets way out in front—I’ll see you back at the car. On the hiking trail it’s every man for himself and every woman for herself.”
So last Saturday I laced up my Teva boots. I wore my Patagonia pants and fleece. I loosened my joints and stretched my muscles and I was ready to start moving. But as we started hiking my stride shortened. I wasn’t breathing very hard. I didn’t break a sweat. I stayed with the group. I meandered and I was more than happy to do so. Harry was along for the hike and hanging out with him was more important to me than any exercise goals I had set.
Harry is about to celebrate his 70th birthday. As a child, Harry suffered from an illness that has made walking a challenge for him. As our group started down the trail, every guy kept glancing back to see how Harry was doing. We walked slowly and took turns by Harry’s side. I heard the men from Morrisville encouraging Harry as he exerted himself, for Harry was sweating and breathing hard. The trail made a sharp turn uphill and about halfway up, I heard one of the men call out to me, “Stuart, I’m making an executive decision. We’re going to stop and rest here because my knees can’t take it.” There happened to be a log that looked like a bench and we all sat to catch our breath. I don’t believe that the guy who said he needed rest for his aching knees really needed a break, though he could tell that Harry desperately needed a blow. So we all sat and talked and enjoyed a surprisingly beautiful February afternoon. After about twenty minutes, we all got back on the trail. Harry made it back to the car. He slept well that night.
Last night, on my way home, I pulled up behind a church van belonging to a congregation in Trenton. Painted across the van’s back doors was this message: “A church where everybody is somebody and Christianity is a way of life.” It’s good to know that there’s more than one church out there where those words are more than a message on a van.