ELIZABETHTOWN — During the Lenten season, adherents to many denominations within the Christian faith observed a 40-day period of prayer, penitence, and self-denial. This season, one area church added another discipline — exercise.
Elizabethtown Presbyterian Church began on Ash Wednesday a program called Journey to Jerusalem, encouraging community members to collectively walk, run, swim, or cycle the distance from Elizabethtown to Jerusalem.
The Rev. Chris Denny, pastor at Elizabethtown Presbyterian, derived his inspiration for the idea from what he witnessed on social media.
“A friend of mine is a pastor in Idaho, and they did something similar during Advent,” Denny explained. “I saw it on Facebook and sent him a message asking for more information. I expanded on his idea, including not just the physical aspect, but worship, too.”
Denny set about encouraging the congregation to get involved in some physical activity and to log their distance on the church’s web site via a link created for the purpose. His initial goal was to cover 6,150 miles and to have 100 people involved.
“We tracked different groups of people walking, cycling, swimming, skiing, a little bit of everything,” said Denny.
The girls’ basketball team from East Bladen got on board with the idea, and calculated the number of miles that a team would run in a typical game and logged those on the site. On Ash Wednesday, the congregation, as part of their services, walked around the church building several times. With the 70 people who participated, around four miles were added to the log. The Lake Shore Riders, a cycle club, heard about the idea and added their collective miles to the effort.
“It started out as a church thing, but it grew community wide as folks shared emails or gave out flyers. Folks who are not members just wanted to join the journey,” said Denny.
At its culmination, the program logged more than 7,000 miles and included 134 groups or individuals participating. But, for Denny, it was never just about the physical activity.
“Our goal was to make the spiritual pilgrimage of Lent and Easter also a physical one,” he explained. “Faith is not just a heart thing or a felt thing or a mind thing, but it is lived out in a physical way. This is not just about the fitness component but about making faith more than just a Sunday thing, connecting it to everyday lives.”
Denny created almostdailyprayer.com, a blog to aid members in their prayer life as they made the metaphorical journey. By reading it, participants could, as they exercised or at any other time, meditate on ideas such as facing distractions while journeying through the Christian life, judging others, the loftiness of God’s thoughts and ways, and praying for the victims of violence such as was seen in Belgium. Denny said the blog’s purpose was to encourage repentance and prayer.
Each Sunday of Lent, the church received a message about Christ’s journey to the cross, culminating in Easter Sunday’s celebration of the resurrection.
“How do you measure spiritual growth?” questioned Denny. “I do know that many people commented on how they enjoyed it. It took the exercise they were already doing and gave it new depth or motivated them to do things they should have been doing. It gave them a reason to get back out and do those things.”
Denny added that he hopes, after seeing the success of this year’s program, to make the event an annual one.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.