Barrie Kirby: What I learned about worship while hiking
Recently my husband and I spent a week of vacation along the Blue Ridge Parkway on Fancy Gap Mountain in Virginia. It was an important time of renewal and rest. But it was also a time of physical exertion. On four of the days we were there, we took hikes. One of the hikes was near the Blue Ridge Music Center. We parked the car at the trailhead on Foothills Road and started out on the High Meadow Trail. It began in a hay field, but soon the path entered a forest. Every twenty or thirty feet or so, the trail was marked with orange blazes of paint on the trees. After a while we came to a junction with another trail called the Fisher Peak Loop. We knew the Fisher Peak trail was a longer, more strenuous path than the High Meadow Trail. But we were up for the challenge. So we followed the Fisher Peak Loop along a stream through mixed pine trees and hardwoods. Higher up, the trail took us beneath oak and poplar and maple and sourwood trees. Like the High Meadow Trail, paint blazes on the trees marked the Fisher Peak Loop. Whenever we wondered if we were still going the right way, we would look for paint on a tree ahead of us. But the color on the trees along the Fisher Peak Loop wasn’t orange. The second trail was blazed with blue.
“Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God.” That’s what the apostle Peter tells us (1 Peter 1:18--The Message). Life is a journey, and a life of faith is a particular journey traveled with an awareness of God. For those of us whose life journey is traveled with that deep consciousness of God, worship marks the way. Worship is the blaze of paint on the side of the trees that lets us know that we are going in the right direction. Or, when we have strayed off the trail, worship is the blaze that leads us back to the right path.
Communities of faith hike the trail of faith together. We have a collective journey. Like distance hikers who sometimes get separated during the day and gather again at a campsite in the evening, we come together each week for worship. Together we look at where we have been and where God is calling us to go. Sometimes churches decide God is calling them to take a different direction than before. So together we set out on a new path. And a new path means a new color to mark the way. For the past forty or so years, green was the dominant color in the sanctuary of Spencer Presbyterian Church where I am pastor. Green was the color that marked our collective journey. But now we are starting a new leg of our journey. Now the color that blazes our trail is blue.
Psalm 145 says that one generation will laud God’s mighty works to the next. The youngest children of my church will not remember green pew cushions and carpet. They will grow up not knowing how to dial a rotary telephone or turn on a television set without a remote control. They will not understand how anyone would not know how to use a computer, or how the world existed without them. They will rely on technology that hasn’t yet been dreamed of, and the technology they use will shape the way they think and learn. We will have to find new ways to tell these children the old, old story of Jesus and his love. And that won’t be easy for us long-timers and old-timers. Like the Fisher Peak Loop, the way ahead will be more strenuous that the path we have taken up till now. It is not a trail that we have chosen. The changes in society and technology have left us with no other way to go. We either stop, or we go forward. The question is, will we rise to the challenge? We will keep on hiking up the steeper trail?
Our new blue carpet and pew cushions are given in memory of a long-time member. They remind us of the many ways she contributed to the life of this church and our journey in faith together. But the new carpet and cushions do not only prod us to look back. They prod us to look ahead. They are not just a memorial to someone who worshipped at Spencer Presbyterian Church the last forty or so years. They are a testimony to those who will worship with us the next forty years. The carpet and cushions are an investment in the future. They are an expression of hope that our congregation will, indeed, rise to the challenges that each generation presents to us. They are a statement of confidence that we will keep on hiking in our journey with God, no matter how steep the terrain. Amidst all the changes, we follow our Lord, looking for the blazes to keep us on the right trail. And now, our blazes are blue.
What color are the blazes on your trail?
The Rev. Dr. Barrie Miller Kirby is pastor of Spencer Presbyterian Church.