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Posts Tagged ‘Wallace Adams-Riley’

2013-04-26 07.24.30On Monday of this week a few of my colleagues and I met with Dr. Terry Whipple to continue our conversation on making Richmond “the healthiest city in America.” According to Forbes magazine we’re already number 12. What would it take to move us to 11, and then 10, and then 9? That’s what we talked about on Monday and Dr. Whipple’s interest, of course, is helping people who are sick and suffering get better. His brilliant strategy is a program called the Physician Within, an educational mission designed, as Terry say, “to keep people out of the emergency room.” So, if you or someone you know is suffering from back or neck pain, don’t miss the next session of the Physician Within, Saturday, May 4, from 9 – 11:30 in the dining hall at Richmond’s First Baptist Church.

But that’s only the half of it.

Because being the healthiest city in America involves more than not getting sick. It also involves getting, and staying, healthy. So, cities are rated on the number of walking trails and bike paths and public parks they have. They’re evaluated by the question: “How many people are out there, eating less and moving more?” Because that’s the kind of thing that can make a city truly healthy, and not just unsick.

So, my brother Ed came to visit at a bad time, when all that was still on my mind. On Thursday we loaded the canoe on top of the car and spent about four hours paddling on the James, downriver through some riffles and then back upriver, portaging around a dam or two and digging in to buck the current and get back to our starting point. By the time we got finished our arms were tired. But later that afternoon, I took him to the Jewish Community Center, where I work out, and while I was lifting weights in the fitness center he swam laps in the pool—lots of them. This morning I brought him along for ecumenical jogging with my friend and Episcopal priest, Wallace Adams-Riley, and although we didn’t run as far or fast as we usually do, I think we ran enough that Ed was beginning to wonder what he had gotten himself into.

I left him out there on the sidewalk, still talking to Wallace about his work as a missionary in Mexico, and how St. Paul’s Episcopal Church might want to invest in the work that he’s doing (God love ‘em, these missionaries never miss an opportunity to talk about their work). I came in to blog, and have breakfast, and recover from the run. Soon I’ll be dressed and ready for work, and out there on the streets again, thinking more about Richmond’s spiritual health than it’s physical health, and doing what I can today to bring heaven a little closer to earth.

For my brother Ed, heaven may come when he and his wife Debbie drive away from Richmond later this morning, and for the five-hour trip back to Rutherfordton, North Carolina (where they’re staying while on furlough), he gets to put his feet up and rest.

Adios, Ed. Come again soon!

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greetings-from-richmond-virginiaThe second thing on my agenda on Wednesday mornings is “Ecumenical Jogging” at 6:15. It’s a fancy way of saying I go for a morning run with my friend Wallace Adams-Riley, Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond.

We talk about a lot of things while we’re running. This morning I talked about something I had read in Ben Campbell’s book, Richmond’s Unhealed History, and since nobody says it quite like Ben, let me quote:

While metropolitan Richmond’s leaders were busy over the last forty years fighting among their fragmented jurisdictions, vying for businesses, abandoning and opening massive shopping centers, trying to keep poor people in other jurisdictions, struggling to build four identical balanced sub-economies, and worrying about race and income levels of citizens, other middle-sized cities in our region stole our entire banking industry, built light rail systems, renewed their downtown areas, acquired major league sports teams, and developed public education systems far more competitive than either metropolitan Richmond’s suburban or urban systems. They built the same highways, suburbs, and shopping centers as metro Richmond, but the resulting common wealth was much greater and the larger city prospered (pp. 211-212).

campbell-headshot

Rev. Ben Campbell

It’s that “common wealth” Ben is concerned about. He argues that metropolitan Richmond doesn’t have it because it’s divided among Richmond City, Hanover, Henrico, and Chesterfield Counties. He often talks about how in Charlotte, North Carolina, the city and county governments merged to form a single jurisdiction, and were therefore able to attract major industry and professional sports teams.

I was telling Wallace about all this (or trying to while huffing and puffing along Franklin Street), and that’s when he said, “We should start a movement called ‘One Richmond.’”

“One Richmond,” I repeated. “I like it.”  And a few steps later I said, “Let the record show that ‘One Richmond’ was born on February 6, 2013, during a morning run.”

Sometimes I get criticized for talking about bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, even in my own church. Some of our members tell me they don’t live in Richmond: they live in Henrico County, or Hanover, or Chesterfield. And so I have to say, “You know what I mean—Metropolitan Richmond.” But what if I didn’t have to say that? What if Richmond weren’t divided up into “four identical balanced sub-economies” as Ben Campbell says? What if it were just one, big happy city?

I’m sure that the people who work for the county governments could give me lots of reasons why we shouldn’t become one, big happy city, and maybe they will, but the vision remains compelling. Why not One Richmond?

Wouldn’t that bring heaven a little closer to earth?

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hammering-v2On New Year’s Eve I wrote: “On January 2 I’m going to hit the ground running, eager to get back to the joyful work of bringing heaven to earth.”

Now it’s time to make good on that resolution.

I actually did hit the ground running this morning, doing something I call “ecumenical jogging” with my friend Wallace Adams-Riley, Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.  We covered seven miles and a host of different topics, including the importance of preaching in the Baptist tradition (extremely) as compared to the Episcopal Church (not so much; it shares the service with the Eucharist).  But at the end of the run I told him that I was ready to go back to work.  All these holidays and holy days have been wonderful, but I can’t sit around on the couch forever.

I’ve got work to do.

I often talk about the “joyful work” of bringing heaven to earth, but I’m becoming more and more convinced of the connection between work and joy, especially work that is meaningful and purposeful.  When I asked members of First Baptist to talk about the way they bring heaven to earth a few months ago I was struck by the common thread of joy that ran through each testimony. Shawnee Hanson would tell you that feeding hungry people is hard work, but joy radiates from her face as she says it.  Warren and Julie Pierce would tell you that helping refugees get settled in Richmond is hard work, but they would also tell you that it has brought them as much joy as they have found in any other pursuit.

So, while I’ve been feasting on the joy that comes from being together with family and friends over the holidays, I’m ready for the joy that comes from doing the work of the Kingdom.  How will I bring heaven to earth today?  I don’t even know.

But I’m eager to find out.

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When I started training for the Monument Avenue 10K last year with the team from Richmond’s First Baptist Church, I joked that there was “no pastor faster.”  In our Sunday afternoon training sessions I would try to run fast enough to protect that reputation, but not so fast that I couldn’t discuss theology with my teammates (which I’m sure they appreciated).  By the time race day came around I was running pretty well, and surprised myself with a time of 45:41. 

Which means that I trained even harder this year, and began to get serious about that “no pastor faster” thing.  “Honestly,” I thought, “is there another pastor out there running faster than 45:41?”  But then I started running with Wallace Adams-Riley, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and it became evident that he was not only a few years younger than me, but also a good bit quicker.  I justified it by telling myself that he wasn’t a “faster pastor,” he was a “faster rector” (which doesn’t even rhyme and therefore doesn’t qualify).

Wallace pushed me in our training runs, though, and when race day came around this year he ran with me and helped me maintain a brisk pace over the 6.2 mile course.  I came across the finish line in 43:41—exactly two minutes faster than last year—and exulted in my victory.  I couldn’t imagine that there was another pastor in Richmond who had run so well. 

Until I saw the results in the paper the next day.

I was looking at the names of the top finishers in my age group when I saw a name I thought I recognized.  Sure enough, there was David Benjamin, pastor of Winfree Memorial Baptist Church on Midlothian Turnpike.  When I checked online I discovered that David is two years older than I am, but finished twenty-five places ahead of me in our age group, with a time of 39:59—nearly four minutes faster than my 43:41.

What could I do?

Sunday morning, before I went to church, I called David and left a message on his voicemail.  “For more than a year now I’ve been telling people that there is no pastor faster than Jim Somerville, but that’s not true.  You are the faster pastor, David Benjamin, and today I confer that title upon you.  Congratulations!”

I meant it sincerely, and walked to church feeling better (a little stiff, but better).  Honest admission, humble confession—these things are good for the soul.  And I’m sure that in the years ahead, as I watch countless pastors, rectors, and imams stream past me in the Monument Avenue 10K, my body will breathe a little sigh of disappointment,

But my soul will be at peace.

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Here’s an essay by Wallace Adams-Riley (Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond and my regular running buddy) published in yesterday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch.  In it Wallace provides some valuable insight into the seasons of the Christian year, and especially the traditions of Ash Wednesday, which was  observed yesterday by churches around the world.

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Late last fall, my family and I moved to Richmond from Florida and, at my wife’s suggestion, I bought an overcoat for the first time in my life. I wasn’t sure I needed it, but she, a Vermonter, told me I would. Only a couple of months later, I was glad I had listened to my wise wife.

We had lived in Florida for only five years, and yet I was amazed at how much I had lost touch, in that short time, with what it was like to live somewhere with actual seasons; first the colors of autumn’s leaves; then the wind chill and snow (or snows) of midwinter; and then, mercifully, the tantalizing first hints of spring, with the delicate green beginnings of budding and leafing, the steady and unmistakable uptick in the bird population and, as noticeably as anything, the exponential increase in birdsong.

I’ll always remember walking through the Fan last spring, with my mouth practi cally agape at how the robins, finches, and sparrows filled the trees and all the air around with their ever expansive, ebullient song.

To be conscious of the seasons is elemental, one of those things most essential to being alive. Therefore, it should be no surprise that since time immemorial, and long before the major world religions were born, human beings have looked to the seasons as primary metaphors for the human experience — and, in particular, the human experience of the Divine.

When, in time, Christianity emerged, it was only natural for Christians to follow that same essential pattern as well. Over the first few centuries of the life of the Church, Christians worked out a year-round calendar of feast days and fast days to commemorate the life and teachings of Jesus; and they arranged the architecture of the church year to maximize the metaphorical potential of the annual seasons.

For example, the Church situated the annual celebration of Christ’s birth in the very depths of winter, when the days are shortest and the world is darkest, thereby co-opting the entire natural world into the symbolism of the “light shining in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

And so it is with Lent and the approach to Easter, that moment in the Church’s calendar we now enter. The natural, seasonal dynamics of death and rebirth, winter turning to spring, become a grand metaphor for the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. As with Christ’s birth in midwinter, so with his rebirth in the spring, the natural world joins in the annual remembrance of Christ’s Resurrection.

Indeed, the word “Lent” itself comes from the Old English lencten, used to describe the lengthening of days that marks the coming of spring. And, in the Church’s calendar, by dependable calculation (the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox), Easter always falls in spring. In fact, the word “Easter” was originally the name of a pre-Christian spring goddess.

That the Church takes such care to draw the whole natural world into the act of remembrance and the experience of worship is nothing less than sacramental. The sky, and the trees, and the birds, and the day and the night, like water and bread and wine, all become, as we say of sacraments, “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace,” signs of what God would do and is doing in our lives and in our world. For a faith which holds that, in the name of love, God took on the earthly stuff of flesh and blood, this correspondence is only natural.

Today, as the sign of the Cross is made on countless foreheads, with the words, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return,” we are reminded that, as divine as any faith may aspire to be, it is where that faith meets the lived experience of humanity that true colors are shown. Ash Wednesday is a day when we are especially aware of our creatureliness and mortality; and it begins a season of reflection and prayer, of rethinking and re-examining; a season to prepare for a change, a transformation, even a rebirth.

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