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Newberry to Salisbury: Pastor’s walk raises funds, awareness for Lutheran Services Carolinas

SALISBURY — About an hour from the end of his almost two-week, 128-mile walk from South Carolina, Lutheran pastor Ron Brown took up the offer Thursday to sit on a truck tailgate for a brief rest.

He had stopped in the parking lot of Fleming Candy Co. off U.S. 29, and with some gentle coaxing, he soon reached into his hiker’s backpack and pulled out a green, translucent ukulele.

Brown made a quick tuning adjustment and launched into a verse of Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again.”

No song better fits Brown these past five years, as he has made long-distance walks for different causes an annual thing, even writing a book about taking on the Palmetto Trail.

This walk, which started at Newberry College in South Carolina on April 27, is intended to raise money for Lutheran Services Carolinas — more specifically, South Carolina’s “Love One Another” campaign.

“Newberry to Salisbury — that has a nice ring to it,” Brown said.

Salisbury proved to be an appropriate final destination, since Lutheran Services Carolinas is headquartered here. The folks at Trinity Oaks held a reception for Brown after his arrival Thursday afternoon.

Brown averaged roughly 20 miles a day, staying nights at friends’ houses, a cousins’ home, in a church basement and in a tent on occasion. Only once did he stay overnight in a hotel room.

He stayed hydrated during the walks by carrying plenty of water and Propel drinks, and he has found a particular mixture of instant coffee, Swiss Miss and water makes a fairly decent mocha.

He prefers small packs of Belvita snacks for energy, but he made stops now and then at convenience stores and fast-food restaurants. He liked to get started early in the morning — about 6:30 or 7 — to beat the heat.

Brown made sure to make Thursday’s final leg his shortest at 12 miles — after a 23-mile stretch Wednesday.

Brown started out Thursday from Sandy Ridge AME Zion Church in Landis and stopped for coffee at the Holy Grind in China Grove, where he was invited back to do a music program someday.

They must have seen his ukulele.

Brown, 66, is a free and easy-going spirit. His trek wasn’t meant to raise a set amount of dollars or cents per mile. He just made the Lutheran community aware of his walk. “I let people decide what they want to do.”

This past Sunday night, he decided to worship at a Baptist Church, where the congregants learned about this walk. Brown ended up giving out offering envelopes, and he’s heard back that three offerings came into LSC from the Baptists.

He appreciated that, for sure.

• • •

Brown relied on Google Maps to plot him a course with the help of a walker icon that points to less traveled byways. About three weeks ago, he and his wife took a day to drive the route, just as a way of scouting things out and planning the logistics.

“I thought the pioneers didn’t have that option, but I do,” he said.

Brown said he didn’t have any rain on the trip, though there was a heavy construction area on the Mount Holly-Huntersville Road where the red clay mud bogged him down.

“My shoes weighed a ton,” he said. “I felt like a man on the moon.”

Brown described himself as more of a cycling enthusiast in years past, until he felt it was becoming too dangerous on the roads.

His wife is a strong, regular walker, so she was an inspiration. He started his first long-distance hikes for causes five years ago to raise money for a Latino congregation in South Carolina.

Then came a walk to raise funds for water missions in Charleston; a walk for the Shriners  hospital in Greenville, which holds a special place in Brown’s childhood history; and the Palmetto Trail to raise money for Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s World Hunger campaign.

Brown laughs that his book related to the Palmetto Trail has earned him about $17 on Amazon, enough for him to fill out a separate form at tax time.

• • •

Brown has led an interesting pastoral life, perhaps forged by a sometimes challenging childhood. He was born with four fingers on one hand and two on the other. One leg was shorter than the other.

As a boy, he was in and out of the Shriners hospital in Greenville (and one in San Francisco, when his Air Force father was stationed there) about nine times for various surgeries and procedures.

“I owe being able to walk fairly normally to them,” Brown said.

The doctors arrested the growth on his longer leg so his shorter leg could catch up.

At 14, he was in a body cast for three months. He used it as a time to learn the guitar, which comes in handy for his backpack ukulele today.

He also spent that time driving his parents nuts by playing to death the newly released Beatles album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

Brown’s first Lutheran pastoral assignment came in 1981 for three country churches in southeastern Georgia, “where there were very few paved roads,” he recalled.

He later served a church in Lexington, South Carolina, for three years before becoming chaplain at Lowman Home Nursing Center in White Rock for 12 years.

Brown spent a year as associate director at an Episcopal home in West Columbia, then returned to pastoring churches in Charleston and Columbia. He would go to work for the S.C. Department of Mental Health as a chaplain before retiring.

“I retired from there because I was afraid they might admit me,” Brown said.

• • •

Brown, who lives in Prosperity, South Carolina, said his original trip from Newberry to Salisbury was supposed to be 140 miles.

He confessed to skipping over 12 miles so he could drive an hour-and-a-half to attend a granddaughter’s sixth-grade band concert. It lasted only 15 minutes.

But that’s what you do for grandchildren.

Three grandchildren, his wife and pastor started the journey with him in Newberry. His family dropped out at three-and-a-half miles; his pastor, at 14.

“I kept losing people, but that was the plan,” Brown said.

Salisbury’s Katie Scarvey, communications specialist with Lutheran Services Carolinas, also joined Brown for a 6-mile leg around Sharon, South Carolina. She was taking photographs and shooting video for the S.C. Synod, as well as taking notes and pictures for a Lutheran Services magazine.

Brown’s walks are always a time for reflection. They give him, he said, a chance to talk to God, himself and the drivers who irritate him.

He also might find a shady spot now and then, dig out the ukulele and play a song. He says he can walk and play but has found that to be a bad idea.

“If I play a song with a slow tempo, it slows me down,” Brown said.

That’s never good, when you’re on the road again.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or mark.wineka@salisburypost.com.

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