In the Fall 2019 issue of The Appalachian Mountain Club Outdoors magazine, I found a strange parallel to what Church is supposed to be.
In an article titled “Going His Own Way” about an African-American adventurer named J.R. Harris, the seventy-five year old Harris was quoted as saying, “I really believe, even today, that when I come back from a trip, I’m a different person from the person who went out there” (page 47).
In another article, titled “Trail Daze,” a young woman who recently hiked the entire Appalachian Trail said essentially the same about her backpacking experience. “The trail changes you….It creates this disconnect with the world” (page 34). She made her comment when explaining why she continued to return to the little town of Damascus, Virginia each year for a trail event called “Trail Daze.” She wanted to be with other people who had experienced a similar change, who shared her partial disconnect with what we think of as the ordinary world.
As I read these articles, I thought to myself that worshipping in Church should be like embarking on an outdoor adventure. It should change us, make us a little different from the people we were before. Joining with others in prayer and song and worship and sharing the sacraments is a way of entering more deeply into the very presence of God. That should do something to us. It should open up a little distance between Christians and the world that surrounds us. We should be different somehow, and our values should be different somehow.
And, I thought, Church should be the place where those who have been changed by an encounter with God come to be with others who have experienced a similar change. It should be a community of faith where the faithful find fellow-travelers.
We Church people routinely fail to experience worship as transformative or the community as a true gathering of faithful pilgrims. But that is not a surprise. I have backpacked enough to know that not every moment is transformative. What has changed me over time—and I am sure Harris and the thru-hiker would concur—is the cumulative experience of many days in the wilderness.
That has been my experience of Church, too. Over time, God has touched me. And repeatedly I have found comfort and support from other Church people who know what it is like to have been touched by God, however briefly, to have been changed by God, however faintly.
And so I give thanks for Saint David’s, my community of the changed.
Fr. Harvey Hill
This blog is my occasional reflections on life, God, Christian faith, and the Church. I hope you find it helpful!