It was a hot day in the City of Bridges as the group wound their way along bike paths and city streets. They were following a couple they met on the Three Rivers Trail a couple miles earlier who had offered to lead them in to the Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh and were telling them about the city’s Fourth of July fireworks show coming that evening. Like the thousands of other Mennonites converging on the city for their denomination’s annual meeting, this band of pilgrims had traveled with belongings in tow for a week of gathered worship, a celebration of memory and solidarity as members of God’s family. Unlike others arriving by highways and skyways, however, these six youth and young adults had covered nearly 300 miles since leaving Harrisonburg, Virginia, by bicycle five days before.
Weighted with an assortment of panniers and trailers, the group had carried all the necessary food and gear for the four-night journey, but by the end of the first day, they realized they had rationed more than they needed. It wasn’t their fatigue that told them, but rather the reception they received in Romney, West Virginia, when they arrived.
In the weeks leading up to the trip, they had made contact with the Church of the Nazarene and were prepared to pitch tents and make supper in the church yard in a Romney neighborhood. When they pulled in however, their welcoming committee swept them and their bikes into the fellowship hall, threw two pizzas in the oven, and told them to make themselves comfortable for the night.
Chatting with the pastor, a city councilor, a wildlife censustaker, and other parishioners that night, the riders were immersed in the language of gratitude and impressed with the value of vulnerability. The scene played out again the next night, when they were offered showers at the Catholic church followed by ice cream from a church member’s stand in Meyersdale, Pennsylvania. The words I need help, and Thank you, they began to recognize, are basic vocabulary for life with others and with God.
As they followed the country roads of West Virginia to the C&O Canal Towpath to the Great Allegheny Passage Trail, conversations grew like the wild carrots on the trailside. From essential matters like What’s our cycling team name? and If you were to check one book out from the library right now, what would it be? the group’s conversations looked toward the convention theme of reconciliation through Christ. How do we recognize God’s reconciling activity in the world? they asked. How can we get in on the action? What needs to be reconciled to God within us? How does our culture of rapid transit and constant communication tempt us to forget our human limits? How do we recover our shared identity with all that God has called good?
Questions brewed more questions, and conversations rippled through the pack as long as their blood sugar stayed up. (If it dropped, the questions changed to Gorp, Gatorade, or lunch?) The group acknowledged that their responses were partial at best, but they felt confident that the journey they were on was an important part of their answer. Perhaps it was.
As the group arrived at the convention center, they thanked and said goodbye to their guides. After 290 miles of traveling at a human pace, they at least thought their team name might be The Reconcyclers. But they knew they were grateful.