Mark Twain once said: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Fransisco.”
For me, the coldest first day of summer I ever spent was at the Berglund Center in Roanoke, Virginia on Friday, June 21. I was attending the annual conference of the Virginia United Methodist Church as a Richmond district delegate for Trinity Methodist my home church in Henrico County.
A family of three sitting up behind me was wrapped in fleece throws. They might have well been sitting outdoors in a football stadium on a cold, gray, blustery December day.
It was so cold in the Berglund Center that I’m certain I could have churned and made a quart of ice cream.
A side of beef could have been hung from the rafters with no fear of spoiling.
And while I didn’t witness this, I reckoned that spilled hot coffee might have turned immediately to a slippery patch of ice as soon as it hit one of the concrete steps on the aisle leading to my seat.
Kudos to the engineers who designed the system. It works. The largest rain forest in the world could have been cooled down with these chillers.
But, I suppose from a preacher’s perspective, the frigid Siberian air kept attendants awake!
So just before 5 on Saturday morning, June 22, I awoke to ready myself for the conference sponsored 5K run. I was still chipping ice off my old frame as I found my running gear. Out of all of the races I have signed up to run, this one had the earliest start time— 6:15.
From the Hampton Inn airport location, it was a short drive over to the Best Buy parking lot. That was the gathering point for the runners, walkers, and bike riders who had signed up to participate. The group was hard to miss. Everyone, but me was wearing their bright yellow t-shirt commemorating this first annual run.
I wore a bright blue t-shirt from the Mission Footprint 5K that we organized for a few years at Trinity. Despite not wearing the new shirt, I was treated kindly.
About 300 had gathered, and shortly after the announcements, we started walking toward the Lick Run Greenway trail. We walked parallel to the interstate and then crossed over the highway via a sturdily constructed footbridge with all of the safety trimmings in place. Some truckers and motorists seeing this lemon colored mass shuffling across the bridge tooted their horns in approval.
At the end of the footbridge the path started, and slowly participants began moving out.
The first steps of a 5K are like being jostled in a bag of pinto beans. We are all looking for a bit of elbow room. It takes some maneuvering, but gradually the path opens up.
I overheard an early comment about the terrain. We started off going down hill. The course is a loop. So that means getting back to the finish line will require recovering this ground, but going uphill at that time.
The course is nice. A wide path of asphalt, lots of green vegetation on both sides. There is even a quietly chatting creek running with us for a while. Birds are chirping a greeting as I slog into their domain.
Must have run under a walnut tree as I see a good sized green walnut laying on the path. I recall an early childhood lesson about how the oil from a walnut hull can stain clothing.
I admire the vision of the planners who carved out this trail. I wish I had that kind of foresight. Saving green space like this is good for all Roanokers.
There is a short trek on a quiet neighborhood street, and then we reconnect to the trail. Further along we loop into the Brown/Robertson Park. Briefly, we leave the smooth asphalt for a terrain of worn turf and dried mud. I grabbed a cup of water at the water table.
Course marshals keep us properly directed, and out of the park we return to the trail. We have already encountered the really fast runners who will finish this 5K in a blink. On the way back, we encounter walkers and runners plodding along. All appear to be content.
Slowly, I work my way back over the course. Finally, I’m at that downhill section where we started. My old body can feel the pull of going up hill. But somehow, I keep lifting my legs. I cross the bridge, and push toward the next incline.
A good crowd lines the path on both sides as I approach the finish line. Gentle applause and words of congratulations greet the participants. My goal for any race is to cross the finish line.
That too is the goal for everyone who works behind the scenes for the annual conference, get to the finish line.
But, just because annual conference has a natural ending, that doesn’t mean our work as Methodists comes to a stop.
Out on that 5K course, I remember a section of posted signs about Kids Soar, but also some significant scripture on a sign: “love one another.”
Just like that singular walnut out on the trail had the capacity to stain my clothing, I hope my take away from annual conference is that I need to be stained by those words—“love one another.”
If we Methodist expect to endure the challenges we face as a church, we must embrace those three words—“love one another.”