The Rev. Brian Heron is embarking on a pilgrimage. And though his congregation will stay home while he’s out on the 10-week cycling trip, they’ll be going on a journey of their own.
On July 10, Heron set out from Portland, Ore., on his bicycle. His plan: bike 4,000 miles throughout the northwest United States, talking with people along the way about their experiences with the sacred.
While he’s gone, his church, Eastminster Presbyterian, will also be hearing people talk about their faith and religious journeys. For a series called “This is My Story,” the church has lined up 10 speakers — many culled from a community movie group sponsored by the church — to speak every Sunday that Heron is gone.
“This isn’t just me doing this — this is a reflection of what’s going on here at Eastminster,” Heron said. “We’re really doing it together.”
With about 35 members and an average age of 80, Eastminster knows it probably won’t be around much longer and is focusing on its legacy rather than its survival, Heron said.
That same kind of letting go and uncertainty about the future is evident in the larger church and society, Heron says, and that’s part of what he hopes to explore on his pilgrimage.
“The church I expected to serve (when I was ordained) is really no longer there,” he said. “I’m really having to learn on my feet.”
Heron, who has been cycling for 30 years, grew up in the Presbyterian Church. He credits the church with teaching him about relationships and emotional commitments. But he is also interested in exploring Buddhism and a spirituality that comes from being in nature.
“When I feel closest to God and the sacred is when I’m out cycling,” he said.
These two worlds — the Reformed tradition and an emerging broader spiritually — don’t often come together, Heron said. He often struggles with how to speak with people of one world about the other when the languages aren’t even the same.
“It’s time to bring those together for me and for the community as well,” he said.
The cycling trip, which Heron is calling Pedal Pilgrimage, is a start at bridging that gap. Heron has a list of about 50 Presbyterian churches he’ll pass on the way, and it’s possible he might talk to people there. But the idea of a pilgrimage is to wander, so he’ll also speak with people as he meets them: waiters, cashiers, other travelers.
Heron hopes to have many conversations a day about where people feel closest to God and see if any patterns emerge. He’ll be blogging throughout the trip.
“It’s more of a soulful reflection than a sociological experiment,” Heron said. “The whole experience is part of the reflection.”
To follow or support Heron’s journey, check out his blog.