Today, I completed my third (or is it fourth?) journey on the Pine Mountain Trail. The trail furthest east, in Meriweather County, is off of Highway 85/alt. 27 at the WJSP Tower near Warm Springs. This is one of my favorite trails, as it has a number of waterfalls and lots of rocks to crawl on. The pinnacle of my trek today was the Cascade Falls, which pours into a very cold pool, which is always good to dip your feet into on a blazing hot day.
But I came across something really neat as I approached the trail today. At the trail head, leaning against the stone markers that stand guard, were a collection of walking sticks. Obviously, these were left by fellow hikers, who know darn well that you’re better off with a stick in your hand on this trail. Not only for hiking up some steep hills and shimmying up rocks, but also for protection, lest you come across a rattlesnake, which has been known to happen on this trail.
What an act of hospitality! It gives you that sense of camaraderie with hikers that have come before you, and when you leave a stick for the next person, it connects you with those who will come after you. In leaving a walking stick at the trailhead, you not only make the journey easier for folks, but you also help them learn from the dangers you have come across in your journey.
This makes me think of the Church, and the work we all do to ensure the longevity of it. I’m not just talking about St. Nicholas, although that is where we most locally engage in the ministry of the Church. I’m also referring to the Christian Church that extends centuries before us and will extend centuries after us. We are a traditional church, in the best sense of the word, so we acknowledge that the things we do have significance now and later.
Take our Book of Common Prayer, for example. The BCP is a perfect example of prayers, liturgies, and theology that reach back to the original creators of those things. It also connects us presently with all the other Episcopalians and Anglicans who worship similarly. And as we continue to use it to form us as followers of Christ, we also continue to write prayers and liturgies, imbued with our developing theology, for our great grandchildren and beyond.
But speaking more physically, because not all of us write prayers and such to be used in future BCPs, the question remains what legacy are we leaving the future parishioners of St. Nicholas? We are such a new congregation in the grand scheme of life, and are not hindered much by “the way things have always been.” But do we take time to think about what kind of place St. Nicholas will be in 10, 20, or 30 years? If so, what are we doing to reach that goal?
A couple of months ago, we all worked on a vision for St. Nicholas that included being the center of spiritual nourishment for our community. What would it mean for us to start taking steps to reach that goal? What walking sticks are we leaving for our fellow “hikers?” Are the things we are doing now making life easier for those who come after us? Are they things that will help them learn from the dangers we have come upon from time to time?
Jesus left a stick of his own for his followers to use. He told them to take up their crosses and follow him. Remember that the cross was not a symbol of salvation or beauty back then. It was a vision of brutality and death. Yet Jesus even redeemed the Cross and made it something glorious. He put it at the trail head as a way for us to walk confidently and carefully. By taking that walking stick on our journey, we can serve more humbly, we can love more genuinely, and we can give more generously to those who come after us.