For our family vacation this summer, Nate and I rode RAGBRAI, an acronym for Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. It is an annual event for cyclists, attracting between 10,000 and 20,000 bike riders for a week of riding west to east across the state of Iowa. Each day consists of pedaling a pre-determined route through Iowa's friendly and hospitable towns. The overnight towns that host the thousands and thousands of campers open up their local schools, gyms, and public spaces for tents and RV’s. It is quite a transformation for some of these small towns (population 2000 of Sigourney, Iowa this year) to suddenly be inundated with a mass of people, sort of akin to a plague of locusts.
Growing up in Omaha, I had uncles and cousins who rode RAGBRAI, and Nate has ridden a few times as well. This was our first attempt as adults, sans children and with adult friends. I was expecting a week of kid-free entertainment, and long miles on my bicycle to ponder and unwind from the stresses of life. I most certainly experienced this, but I was also deeply touched by the wonder of being in motion with that many people. RAGBRAI is advertised as a ride, not a race, and in that spirit, there are clear rules and ways of communicating and riding. For example, “ride right” is a catchphrase meant to remind slower rider to keep right and for faster riders to pass on the left…always communicating with a gentle ding of a bike bell or friendly word signal. When traffic of any kind is in the opposite lane (most of the ride has one lane closed for bike traffic) the whole groups hollers, in a sort of echoing communication, “car up!” or “bike up!” so that those who are utilizing the left lane for passing know to squeeze back into the group and look ahead before passing. Also, if there are items in the road that may entangle a bike tire, hand signals are utilized, and each person points at it along the road. This kind of clear communication and simple expectation of how to move made for a clear sense of belonging and community. And it is vitally necessary for the mass movement of so many people! This way of interacting, paired with our common goal of making it across the state altogether made for a temporary community experience that inspired my pastor’s heart. Being united behind a common cause and with a common language is part of what makes Prince of Peace such a special church. Our mission statement calls us forth to love, serve, and strengthen. And the language we use is the language of faith…with grace, open communion, and radical hospitality.
RAGBRAI was a deeply moving experience for me (pun intended!) filled with beautiful conversations with people from all over our country. In a time where we so often highlight our differences instead of our common hearts and hopes, RAGBRAI reminded me, again, why communities with a common purpose are so life-giving and world-changing. As your pastor, I am so grateful to be with you in this endeavor, and thank you all for the wonderful respite that it was to be away on vacation!
Reverend Nathan Winterhof and Reverend Sara Pearson have been Co-Pastors at Prince of Peace Saratoga since April 2015. In addition to shepherding the congregation, they have two children and a dog to keep them on their toes and provide sermon material.