Out on the Matteson Trail

Back on April 4, 2022, I signed up to run in a 5K. This run would take place in Hampton, Virginia.

The event was a part of the Annual Conference of the Virginia United Methodist Church. Proceeds from the 5K will go to the leadership development of military chaplains.

Signing up to run in the 5K was a gamble for me. Although I have been running for years, on April 4 my left hamstring was one unhappy part of my body. For weeks, the hammy let me know how miserable it was feeling.

Gradually, the hammy’s whine started to subside. In May, I started with a couple of short runs, and slowly I stretched the distance of my runs so that I would be ready for the 5K on June 18.

When the organizers first planned the course with the Hampton Police Department, the route was going to be along the streets near the convention center/coliseum complex. But as they planned further, the location for the race was changed.

Planners realized that a conference at the convention center, and high school graduations at the coliseum were not a good mix for traffic and 5K participants.

On May 27, we were notified that an alternate site—the Matteson Trail had been secured for the 5K. Leaders in the Hampton Running Community helped to facilitate this change.

In my running memory, I recall maybe three races that I participated in that were all trail or partial trail courses. Running a trail course requires a different focus.

A trail can be more narrow in width. A tapered path can confine runners in their spacing along the way. Also, the trail running surface can vary. Stone dust, packed soil, or mud are all possible.

My Trinity friend, Art Utley, and I traveled to the conference together. At some point on Friday, I went into the display hall to pickup my bib number and t-shirt.

My friend Alex Joyner, a Methodist pastor and writer, was working the 5K table. He found my name, but noted for some unexplained reason my bib number had been duplicated more than once. So, I would receive my bib number on Saturday morning at the race, but Alex did have my t-shirt.

Start time for the race was at 6:30 on Saturday morning. Art wisely decided to let me borrow his car to travel to the Matteson Trail.

I awoke early on Saturday morning. My goal was to be driving toward the location by 6, and I was. With the address plugged into my phone, I followed the prompts and made no wrong turns.

Soon, I was pulling into a parking lot where I saw other runners in the bright red t-shirt of the 5K. I parked, and walked to the registration table where I was given a bib number.

I went back to the car and pinned the bib number on to the race shirt. Next, I made sure I had the key to the car, and I walked off to find a port-a-john for my old bladder.

Runners and walkers were assembling near the start line. I chatted with John Wright who I had worked with on the Board of Higher Education. I introduced John to Hung Su Lim, our associate pastor at Trinity, who had just arrived.

Over the next few minutes, the organizers grabbed our attention for some pre-race reminders and a prayer. With in a few seconds of the prayer’s closing amen, the 5K started.

We began on the road just beyond the parking lot, and then we looped into the trail head. I was surprised the trail surface was paved asphalt. Additionally, as the runners thinned out the trail itself was not narrow or confining. But the greatest surprise to me was this—the trail loops around The Hampton Golf Course.

To my right was a diverse assortment of forest and tall grasses, and to my left was a manicured golf course. I appreciated the vision of Tess Matteson who was the driving force for the creation of the trail and instrumental in making sure the trail is properly maintained.

The trail is in good shape. Race organizers did a nice job of marking uneven sections where tree roots or other forces of nature had protruded asphalt away from its foundation.

With a 6:30 start, the sun was up, but its paths of pale yellow and golden light were slowly finding the angles to gently pierce through tree lines.

On my right, I passed one section of shoulder high grasses that were just starting to feel the cast of sunlight. Buried deep in the footings of that grass, I heard the unmistakeable chorus of crickets letting the night slip away into a new day.

Further along, the trail on my left, I saw at least ten deer out near the putting green of a hole. I’m sure the greens-keepers would be dismayed by their unprofessional manicuring of the grass. In their amber and tan coats, the deer seemed at ease, oblivious to the red shirted humans on the trail.

At another point, I saw a good sized lake. The water was perfectly still, not a ripple. I love looking at the reflection of the landscape in quiet water. I wondered how often frustrated golfers had cursed this water for consuming their golf balls.

I plodded along the course. Made it to the water stop. Grabbed a cup, took a couple of sips. Kept plodding along, hoping that a finish line was ahead somewhere.

Though the course was flat with lots of twist and turns, the air was moist, humid. The promised cool front had not made its presence known yet—I was dripping.

Trudging like a turtle, in the distance I could hear some voices cheering. I knew the finish line was within reach. Each step pushed me closer, and soon the final turn and straightaway to the finish was in sight. Goal accomplished, I finished the race.

Just past the finish line, I grabbed a bottle of water, a banana, and a small pack of trail mix. That would be my breakfast.

When I run, my mind wanders.

This has been my fifth annual conference. In all honesty, I’m not sure I want to attend another one.

Out on the Matteson Trail, I saw the base of a young tree trunk.

At the bottom, there was a split in the trunk—a dark cavity. To either side of this dark hollow, healthy strands of gray bark shot upward. Eventually, this robust gray reforms into a healthy single trunk again.

The split in the base of that tree reminded me of the turmoil within the Methodist church.

Despite our outward appearance, we are a divided denomination. That divide impacts conferences, districts, churches, and most importantly people. Clearly, that divide takes a toll on Methodists, but the divide also impacts people searching for a church home.

That split, the divide, the darkness in the chasm of that cavity, are real. This division is not going to vanish in a blink.

If the Methodist church expects to reemerge from this longstanding divide, church leaders and members must enter into the cavity, the chasm that splits us. Entering into the divide is the only way for finding a path forward.

In civil, respectful tones, we must have conversation about our division. We must figure out how to change our darkness, our division.

At times during this year’s annual conference, the divide was clearly present. That divide isn’t helpful, it is hurting our future.

Later in the morning, race organizers informed the conference that proceeds from the 5K had raised $15,000.

That was good hearts and teamwork coming together to support a worthy cause.

Why can’t good hearts and teamwork pull the Methodist church out of this darkness, this division?

Is it because our political climate in America and our own Book of Discipline have blinded us to the love that Jesus attempted to teach us?

I’m not sure.

But, I do sense this.

If our divide is grounded in our inability to change our stubborn hearts, then I wonder if we are capable of making the needed changes to move us out of our division?

5k t-shirt Photo by Bill Pike

When luck runs out

My wife, the Commander Supreme, did some of her best logistical planning for this trip.

Early on the morning of Tuesday, June 21, we would fly from Richmond into one of the New York City airports. From there, we flew west to San Francisco. Two nights in San Francisco, then three nights in Santa Rosa, and ending with three nights in Monterey.

The main focus of the trip was the wedding of the Commander’s niece, Ashley, to her fiancé, Rob.

On the afternoon of Monday, June 20 in office of the Commander’s doctor, those plans disappeared—she tested positive for COVID-19. She thought a bad sinus infection had invaded her head.

The Commander was crushed. Deep inside, so was I.

I’ll give my wife credit. There was no nuclear meltdown with household items being destroyed. No unladylike verbal lashing out, and no emotional sobbing session.

No, she took the virus confirmation note from the doctor, and rapidly made all of the proper contacts to cancel the reservations that had been made. This included notifying the airline, and the company who carried our trip insurance.

The Commander did all of this while feeling lousy from the virus, and knowing the toughest communication was next—telling her sister, her mother, and our children that we weren’t coming for the wedding.

On Monday afternoon, I ran an errand for her to pick up an over the counter recommendation from the doctor to help with the sinus drainage and headache. Once home, I put together dinner, but the Commander had no appetite.

I stayed home on Tuesday. At various points during the day, we looked at each other and said things like—departing New York, out over America, landed in San Francisco, checked into the hotel, starting to explore.

Late in the afternoon, we followed the flight schedules of Lauren and her family, and our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, as they boarded planes toward San Francisco.

On Wednesday, I went to work at Trinity. I worked outside on the grounds around the Memorial Garden. Later in the week, we had two interment services in the garden.

Also, on Wednesday, the pain of not being in San Francisco became more real. Our daughters started sending us photos and text messages of their movements through the city.

We saw happy faces, blue skies, and sites where we had visited on our first trip to San Francisco in the summer of 1980. Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, a fog shrouded Golden Gate Bridge, a great park for the grand kids named after Joe DiMaggio, and of course—a streetcar ride.

For the grandkids, the San Francisco visit became even more exciting as their three cousins from Texas arrived. I hoped the hotel could withstand the energy of these five priceless children.

At some point on Thursday, the families left San Francisco and headed for Santa Rosa the site of the wedding.

Thursday evening was the rehearsal dinner, and Friday afternoon at 4 was the wedding. The wedding was being held at the B. R. Cohn Winery. For forty-five years, Mr. Cohn managed the Doobie Brothers.

More photos trickled in from Thursday and early Friday. Late in the afternoon on Friday, we started to receive some pre-wedding photos of the bride and others getting ready for the main event.

As we saw these photos, our minds were thinking—we are supposed to be in some of these pictures. But, our unwanted intruder nixed that.

After dinner on Friday, photos and videos started pinging our phones. These posts were all about the wedding, and after we went to sleep more video arrived.

On Saturday morning, we watched new video footage of toasts from the bride’s sister, Rachel, our daughter, Elizabeth, and Ashley’s father, Art. Their words were a real tribute to the newlyweds, Ashley and Rob. I know those heartfelt words moistened eyes at the post wedding dinner and here in Richmond too.

As Saturday morning progressed, the Commander received some phone call updates about the wedding. Some family members were heading back east on Saturday, others were departing on Sunday.

Besides the successful wedding, we had some good news in Richmond. Both the Commander and I were starting to feel better. That’s correct, both of us, I tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday morning.

On Thursday and Friday, I felt like a person caught in a confrontation between a bad head cold and flu symptoms. Chills, aches and pains, and a nose dripping like a leaky faucet were annoying me.

For two plus years, COVID-19 and its variants have created lots of challenges around the world. Despite having all of the required vaccines and being careful, our luck ran out.

Yes, the timing was rotten. We missed the opportunity to support Ashley and Rob as they start a new chapter in their book of life.

But this is what I must remember—luck in this situation was still with us.

Here’s why—taking all of the vaccines and our own good health made our unwanted encounter with COVID-19 bearable. That might not have been the case for us early in this pandemic. We might not have been so lucky as I think about people who did not survive their encounter with COVID-19.

Unless California burns to cinders, shakes into a pile of rubble, or mudslides into the Pacific, we’ll work to reschedule this trip.

Alcatraz, the Anchor Steam Brewery, the Charles Schulz Museum, the 17 Mile Scenic Drive, and the Monterey Aquarium are ready for our return.

But for now, this becomes a story for the future.

At a family gathering around a dinner table long after we are gone, this question will come up—do you remember when that COVID-19 virus kept Nana and Papa from going to Ashley and Rob’s wedding in California?

And someone will speak up, and say—yes, I remember that cruel afternoon when Nana told us.

But, you know there is another part of this story that is often overlooked in family history. Uncle Andrew was scheduled to attend the wedding too.

And there will be a pause, and everyone will look toward Uncle Andrew, and his wife, Kathryn.

After a few more seconds of silence, he’ll explain that COVID-19 intruded on his family many days before the trip. Andrew and Kathryn and their two daughters became sick.

In sharing more, he will state, “the challenge for our family was that the virus lingered too long. It did not exit quickly. The stubbornness of the virus forced me to rethink my travel plans. In order to help care for my family and to manage my work schedule, I opted not to attend. Yes, this was an aggravating decision, but under the circumstances—the right one.”

At the top of the stairs just outside our bedroom, our empty suitcases have quietly sat for days. I guess these suitcases felt some disappointment too.

From June 21- 29, they would be out of a hot attic.

But, then they would enter the unstable world of being roughly stacked into the cargo bays of large jets. Then frantically heaved onto the baggage handling system at the San Francisco airport. They would exit the conveyor system worn and weary just like the passengers who picked them up. With hardly a chance to gather themselves, their owners briskly grab their handles and find their way out of the terminal headed toward an unknown hotel destination.

Who knows maybe those suitcases didn’t feel the disappointment like we did.

Maybe, they felt lucky to be resting quietly at the top of the stairs.

I guess I’ll have to ask the suitcases about this before our next trip.

And, by now, you are thinking— Bill must be losing what is left of his mind. Conversing with suitcases is surely a sign of mental instability.

I think your observation is correct.

So, I’ll close with this.

Ashley and Rob, I hope your marriage has lots of stability, including a pinch of luck when luck is needed.

Empty suitcases Photo by Bill Pike

Blue tape

More From Bill Pike
June 24, 2022 by Bill Pike (Virginia, USA)
Related Devotionals: Rejection and Acceptance

It’s June. Some Methodist churches find themselves in transition with their leadership. After nine years at our church, and serving 35 years as a minister, our senior pastor is retiring. We’ll be welcoming our new pastor on July 1. Between now and then, life inside the walls of our church is a bit hectic.

Our retiring pastor has been working to clear out his office. The chair of the Trustees and I have been working on improvements to the pastor’s office—a new paint job, electrical work, and a thorough cleaning are in progress. Our staff parish-relations team has been busy planning the farewell for our current pastor and a welcome for our new pastor.

Even before the pandemic, the role of pastor, the leader in a church, was full of challenges. In our constantly changing world, a pastor can’t be a one-dimensional leader. A pastor must have a wide range of skills to be able to lead a congregation.

In my role as the director of operations for our church, I too have multiple responsibilities. One of my least favorite chores is painting, but for the last few days, I’ve been working on painting the pastor’s office. I started with the prep work. A bit of dusting, removing picture hooks, spackling the holes from those hooks, and using blue painter’s tape to tape edges at various points along the walls. The taping requires precise placement as I don’t want to create more cleanup work when the painting is over.

During the last ten years, I’ve learned a lot about churches. Often churches think a fresh coat of paint will make church life better—attendance, finances, community outreach, and helping people to grow spiritually will improve. In truth, that puts quite a bit of pressure and hope on a new coat of paint. Coming out of the pandemic, churches will need to do lots of thinking. Sometimes, this will mean doing the unthinkable—making overdue changes.

As I think about painting the pastor’s office, I keep coming back to the prep work. That blue painter’s tape was critical to the final product. The tape was both a guide and a shield. New pastors will also need a dose of guidance and shielding as they start to learn about their new assignment. It doesn’t matter the type of organization, there is always a lot for a new leader to learn about “the turf” and the personalities in a new environment.

Congregations can’t lose sight of the fact that they need guidance and shield work too. Congregations who continue to shield and protect programming that has lost its effectiveness will need to become more open minded—open minded enough to really see and understand how a new pastor might see their long cherished program from a different angle.

In fact, if we really think about the ministry work of Jesus, that might just be what he was trying to teach us—take a step back, and look at what your church offers from a different angle. Peering at your church from a different perspective might present an opportunity for asking relevant questions and having productive conversations that lead to change.

And when a congregation and a new pastor decide to initiate some changes, I hope these words from John 13:34-35 remain fresh in their minds: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (NIV).

Remember that love is just as critical as blue painter’s tape.

Blue painter’s tape Photo Bill Pike

Author’s note: This piece appeared in the Upper Room on 6/24/2022 as More From The Author.

Rejection and Acceptance

June 24, 2022
Rejection and Acceptance
Bill Pike (Virginia, USA)

The Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV)

I enjoy tinkering with words. There is no better feeling than when a piece I have written is accepted by an editor, and it hurts to receive a rejection notice. But that hurt is nothing compared to the hurt we feel when rejected by someone we know.

We all are different. Yet, deep inside each of us is the desire to be accepted. We want to fit in, we want to be heard, and we want to be understood. I am an imperfect Christian. I remember times when I have not accepted or understood people in my encounters. I’m sure my rejection hurt them.

Jesus loved people who were rejected by society. He demonstrated for us how we should live — especially when we encounter a person who is struggling to find acceptance. The last sentence in 1 Samuel 16:7 offers time-tested wisdom: “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

As we look to improve our hearts and our interactions with people who are searching for acceptance, we can be encouraged by Psalm 66:20: “Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!”

Today’s Prayer
Father of us all, help us to see people’s hearts and not just their outward appearance. Help us to love like Jesus. Amen.

Today’s Reading: Psalm 66: 16-20

Thought for the Day: I can offer God’s gift of acceptance to each person I meet.

Prayer Focus: Someone who needs my acceptance

Author’s note: This devotional appeared in the June 24, 2022 edition of the Upper Room.

A church picnic and a thunderstorm

Anytime a church proposes an outdoor event, there is a weather risk. On Sunday, June 12 a farewell picnic lunch was planned for our retiring senior pastor.

For a few minutes on the morning of Sunday, June 5, I sat on the steps in front of the Welcome Center at our church. Trinity member, Mike McCullough, was walking up the steps. He stopped to chat.

We both commented about the weather on this Sunday morning—it was perfect. Nice sky, comfortable temperature, and that’s when I made my mistake. I said to Mike, “I hope next Sunday will be this nice.”

Weeks of planning go into putting together a retirement picnic lunch. Ideas bounce out of the minds of staff parish members, the church staff, and assorted committees. Gradually, some ideas begin to find traction. A consensus is reached. Assignments are given.

Communication goes out to the congregation. Some of that chatter is not designed for the ears or eyes of the senior pastor. This clandestine work comes together, and so do the other pieces for catering, volunteers, and logistics.

Of course tucked away in the minds of the planners is the matter beyond the control of these control freaks who have blueprinted every piece of this celebration except—the weather.

At 2:30 on the afternoon of Friday, June 10, a team of determined women: Teresa Given, Anne Burch, Sarah Shutt, and Christine Helms arrived to do preliminary staging of tables and chairs.

Just as we were starting this staging, Sunday’s weather forecast became a topic. The word “iffy” was used. I tried to downplay this weather fretting.

With an assist from Associate Pastor, Hung Su Lim, a good foundation of tables and chairs were staged and covered in front of the Welcome Center.

Staged tables and chairs from Friday afternoon Photo Bill Pike

The staging went well on Friday afternoon. We had another crew for setting up on Sunday morning.

No wayward soul came by on Friday or Saturday evening to play with the sleeping chairs and tables. But early Sunday morning, an unwanted intruder arrived—a steady shower of rain. Now, the Friday afternoon fretters were privately whispering—“I told you so.”

A bit after 8 that morning the sky was a puffy gray. Yet, we were still holding firm to our outdoor plans. Weather forecasters gave us a break in the weather at some point after 11.

Mary Neary, her husband, J.D., and Eric Zimmerman wrestled another chair cart from Trinity Hall to the picnic area. Light raindrops were being squeezed out of the gray ceiling. They parked the chair cart under the overhanging branches of a tree.

Left front Mary Neary, back left J.D. Neary, and right front Eric Zimmerman. Photo Bill Pike

Our one worship service of the day at 10 was quickly approaching. At the same time, local radar was beginning to look bleak.

Above the church’s steeple, a conspiracy was brewing. Up drafts and down drafts of unsettled air currents were shifting and colliding. Clouds were thickening. The darker they became meant humidity and dew points were forming massive raindrops.

As the ten o’clock service was underway, thunder rumbled in the distance. Within the next few minutes, the fury of a severe thunderstorm warning would be upon us.

We quickly shifted energy to Trinity Hall. Here more volunteers set up tables, chairs, and serving lines. The rain pounded. Sharp lightning flashed. Instantly, the lightning was followed by loud clapping thunder.

More lightning, the lights for the entire church flashed off. Several seconds ticked. The lights made a feeble attempt to return. Their attempt was thwarted by another big blast of lightning and immediate thunder. Minus emergency lighting, Trinity Hall went dark.

In a neighborhood known for losing power during intense weather, this wasn’t a good sign. More seconds ticked. I guess God must have felt bad for us as the lights slowly flickered back to life. HVAC motors in mechanical rooms struggled to regain their circular whirring. But gradually, they came back on line.

Slowly, winds aloft began to push the mean storm out of the neighborhood.

I left Trinity Hall to check other parts of the building.

In the Welcome Center, it was reported to me that a wind whipped tree limb came too close to a power line in the yard of one of the houses across Forest Avenue. This collision caused a quick, intense flare up of a bright orange flame. Observers from the Welcome Center believed the house had been hit by lightning

I was anxious to check Eaton Hall, the original fellowship hall below the Sanctuary. Sometimes that old fortress doesn’t like downpours from fierce thunderstorms.

Sure enough, a drain in the landing of an exterior stairwell had misbehaved. Rainwater was intruding under the thresholds of two doors in that area.

The worship service ran a bit long. But eventually, it ended. The congregation was directed to Trinity Hall where thanks to our volunteers everything was ready.

A few years ago, the Trustees put a new roof on Trinity Hall. That was a brilliant decision. Otherwise, this now indoor picnic would have included rain puddles on its floor.

Trinity Hall was packed. The presentations to our retiring pastor, Larry and his wife, Amy, went off without a hitch.

And during this time of fellowship, I noticed something else—the congregation, the church was at peace. I wish we could bottle that peace.

Eventually, the picnic came to an end.

Another crew of volunteers started the cleanup process. Trash cans were emptied, tables and chairs returned to their resting places. Miraculously, the volunteers even gathered up the pre-staged tables and chairs in front of the Welcome Center.

I walked down to Eaton Hall to start the drying out process. I am thankful for two inventions— the wet vacuum and fans.

And, I reflect some more. Even though I don’t always understand the thinking of the good Lord, I will say his timing this morning was perfect.

Despite the inconveniences the thunderstorm created for the planning team and the neighborhood, that storm forced us to make a decision—move the picnic inside.

Perhaps, James 1:5 sums up our situation this morning the best: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

This morning, we experienced the good Lord’s generous wisdom, and I’m thankful we did.

At Hampton conference, Virginia Methodist must confront change

Bill Pike Guest Columnist The Virginian—Pilot and Daily Press Thursday, June 16, 2022

On Thursday, the 240th session of the Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church opens at the Hampton Convention Center. Courtesy of COVID-19, this will be the first in person gathering in two years.

I’m attending as a district delegate from Richmond. This is my fifth annual conference. I’m a rookie compared to other attendees.

The template for the conference is predictable: singing, preaching, special presentations, project highlights, pastors retiring, new pastors blessed, closing some churches, and delegates asking questions and debating assorted topics.

And then we have the elephant in the convention hall — the United Methodist Church’s marathon wrestling match over same-sex marriages and the ordination of openly gay clergy.

This isn’t the first time the Methodist church has been conflicted. Professor Sarah Barringer Gordon wrote in the Jan. 16, 2020, edition of the Washington Post about the split in the 1840s over slavery.
Before the pandemic, churches in America were struggling. Churches faced multiple challenges: declining attendance, financial loss from the dying members of the “greatest generation,” facility upkeep and perhaps the most troubling — a resistance to change.

Change is never easy. Yet, for methodical Methodists, change can be difficult to embrace. I’m an imperfect, lifelong Methodist. Change is difficult for me too. However, I’m afraid if Methodists can’t change, we will continue to miss opportunities to help people.

To me, this extended spat about congregational and clergy sexual orientation is not about meeting the needs of people in church communities. No, this quarrel is really about pennies, real estate and the endless complicated doctrines of the Methodist Church.

For a variety of reasons, Methodists have been unable to resolve this issue. Yes, like a divorce, splitting a church is complicated. But, how much longer can church leaders continue to drag this issue out?
From my perspective, the longer we procrastinate, the more the message becomes that Methodist leadership cares more about the pennies, the real estate and its doctrines of protocols than it does about helping people in our communities who are different.

Clearly, this matter is not going away. The gap of our divide is too broad. Attempts to diplomatically narrow this gap haven’t been productive. I’m not optimistic that any compromise will satisfy either side.

In March 2019, I had the privilege to attend the National School Board Convention in Philadelphia. Arch Street United Methodist Church was an easy walk from my hotel. Before convention sessions started on Sunday, I attended the 8:30 a.m. service.

As I found a seat in the chapel, I read with interest the morning bulletin about today’s services and activities in the life of the church. One announcement caught my attention: “At the 11 a.m. service, LGBTQ members and constituents will be ushering.”

After the service, there was an invitation to join the group at a local restaurant for brunch. The topic for discussion during the brunch was “If The Church Were Christian.”

I wonder what the response would be if that topic was on the agenda at the 240th gathering of the Virginia Annual Conference?

Swirling silently, in this longstanding conflict is an unspoken agenda item — morale. A weariness is present among pastors, their staffs and congregations. I question whether the leaders of the Virginia conference comprehend how challenging life is in the trenches of church work.

A while back, I cut this quote out of a newspaper: “The only sense that is common in the long run is the sense of change, and we all instinctively avoid it.” — E. B. White

Methodists can no longer avoid change. Failure to change contradicts our motto: “open hearts, open minds, open doors.”

Do we really want to be known as the church with “closed hearts, closed minds, closed doors?”

Photo by Bill Pike

Bill Pike is the director of operations at Trinity United Methodist Church in Richmond.

Old, ugly legs in the long shadow of the morning sun

Back on Saturday, March 26, 2022, I made a unwise decision.

I ran in the Douglas Freeman High School Maverick Miles 5K.

This was a careless choice because my left hamstring was misbehaving.

In fact, the unhappy hamstring had started to annoy me as early as March 20. That morning, I cut a run short. In a miserable voice, the hamstring’s order was clear—“stop.”

I tried to make the hamstring happy. Heat treatments, moderate stretching, ibuprofen, and aspercreme rubs failed to settle down the irritated hammy. And early on, I consulted with our son, Andrew, who from his high school running days knows the temperamental hamstring.

Since, March 26, I have impatiently waited for the hamstring to heal.

A part of that impatience has been watching other runners trek through our neighborhood without a care in the world. They freely stride straight stretches, curves, and hills. My old sack of bones wants to join.

During this road absence, I have ridden our stationary bike in the basement. I’ve tried to enlighten myself by listening to interviews on the NPR show Fresh Air. The variety of guests is diverse, but more amazing are the stories of the resilence of the human spirit during challenging times.

I have also supplemented the bike workouts with a few neighborhood walks.

Plus each morning, I revisit some ancient calisthenics from Miss Alma Joyner’s fourth grade class on the blacktop basketball court at Hillcrest Elementary School. I guess Miss Joyner would be proud that I did retain something from her year of attempting to teach me.

With the pandemic still hovering, I have not returned to the Tuckahoe YMCA. So, sit ups, push ups, and light weights are in my early morning routine.

But on the morning of Monday, May 23, I resolved to go for a run. I had to find out if the hammy would allow me to return to the sluggish pounding that my soul had missed.

Around 6:20, I took a few, short tentative steps on Sweetbriar Road.

The hammy was quiet.

My feet took me down Stuart Hall’s winter sledding hill, across Baldwin, and back up another Stuart Hall hill heading toward Forest Avenue.

I hooked a left into the Trinity UMC driveway that parallels Forest. Took another left on to Rock Creek Road and headed for a right on Baldwin.

The hammy was still quiet, but I was battling my brain. Should I take one of my traditional routes, or should I alter my route, and not push the luck of my hamstring?

Luckily, my brain chose a shorter route. I curved left on to Westham Parkway, worked through the crisscross at Brookside, and headed up Brynmawr’s challenging hill.

At the top of the hill, I turned left on to Woodberry, and another left back on Sweetbriar, and then I was home.

The hammy was attempting to speak, but in a whispered tone.

Overall, I was pleased with my twenty minute slog. Mentally, I made a note to venture out again on Wednesday morning.

My old soul has missed my runs.

I know if I continue to pound the pavement, at some point, my body will say to me—“you’re done.”

I live in fear of that day.

My old, ugly legs Photo by Bill Pike

That disconnect will spin my mind into recalling snapshots deep in the vaults of my old noggin.

I’ll travel back to hear the clear hoots of an owl on a crisp fall morning.

See a misplaced deer nibbling on tender new foliage in a neighbor’s front yard.

Watch the silent, but efficient glide of the heron in a gray sky heading toward Westhampton Lake.

Enjoy the teasing swirl of snowflakes in a gust of winter wind.

Encounter a weary, young mother pushing a stroller with a crabby passenger.

Hear the whirring of tires and chatter of bike riders as they zoom past my tired legs.

And miss cleansing the meanness of my soul when summer heat, humidity, and dew point collide, and drench me in perspiration.

On Tuesday, May 24, my legs, especially my quads are not happy. They feel the strain of not running since March. Courtesy of my wise friend, Bruce Bowen, I know the cure—an even slower run on Wednesday morning.

Somewhere, in this hamstring whine, the good Lord has been at work too.

All the scenery, all that beauty, and the wonder of this world that I have enjoyed on my runs are courtesy of his touch.

As I continue to age, I must commit to helping preserve all that beauty and wonder.

Failing to commit only hurts the future.

And that isn’t acceptable as our grandchildren are in that future.

My shadow in the early morning sun Photo by Bill Pike

Commentary: We must repair our social infrastructure to reduce gun violence

Friends, today Friday, June 10, I was honored to have the following op-ed piece published in the Roanoke Times.

Pike: We must repair our social infrastructure to reduce gun violence
Bill Pike

On Tuesday, May 24, I called a college friend. May 24 is a tough day for my friend and his wife. Three years ago, they lost their youngest son to an encounter with a stranger and his handgun.

Later that afternoon, my wife reported to me the tragedy at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. My wife has a niece with three children in Texas.

Even though her niece doesn’t reside in Uvalde, my wife was concerned. Doesn’t matter where you live in America, there is no immunity from gun violence.

For too long, Americans have become senselessly skilled at taking human life with firearms.
For 31 years, I had the privilege of working in the public schools of Virginia.

As an assistant principal at a large high school outside of Richmond, sometimes we found ourselves working with a student who brought a handgun to school. Fortunately, we never had to deal with a tragedy. However, the real tragedy was that a high school student could so easily gain access to a handgun.

Situations like that forced school systems to work to improve security. Consultation with local police departments resulted in resource officers being assigned to schools.

School personnel participated in staff development programs presented by experts who had researched data and conducted countless interviews with responding officers, school officials, survivors, and sometimes the shooter. From this work, security plans were developed and implemented. Safety drills occurred at every grade level.

Concerned community leaders worked with local, state, and federal agencies to advocate for new legislation with the goal to make purchasing a firearm more difficult.

And despite these efforts, we continue to be confronted with unacceptable shootings in our schools and communities.


Have we become numb to this epidemic and lost our compassion to care?

Have we lost our ability to recognize and understand the truth about the challenges America faces?

Do we realize America is a mess, and that we have been slowly eroding for a long time?

With regard to those questions, here are my thoughts.

I think we still care. But I’m not sure we care enough. If we did, we should have solved this madness a long time ago.

The last few years have clearly illustrated our desire to believe more in disinformation rather than digging out the hard truths of our dysfunction.

No one wants to admit we are a mess, but America is a mess. We need to do the unthinkable — sit down with our differences and division, and in a civil, cooperative manner resolve to stop this murderous mess.

Our post tragedy templates are very predictable. Lots of talk, lots of finger pointing, lots of promises, and no solutions developed.

We were wise to support and fund the ongoing restoration of our aging infrastructure systems. But when will we realize that our vicious human infrastructure cycles of poverty, housing, mental health, education and justice are in critical need of support, too? Which is more important: spending billions to explore space, or solving the desperate needs of our human infrastructure?

The longer I worked in schools, the more I realized how fragile our families had become.

According to a 2019 Pew Research Center study, the United States has the world’s highest rate of children living in single-parent households. That rate topped out at 23% — almost a quarter of our population.

Even in a normal family setting, parenting is challenging work. I can’t imagine the challenges a single parent faces trying to manage day to day living in an unstable environment.

How many challenges for schools, communities, and juvenile justice systems emerge from those single parent environments? How many shooters materialized from America’s inability to stabilize our families?

As a parent, grandparent, and retired educator my heart has ached through too many of these senseless tragedies.

America is overdue to develop and commit to a plan to stop this unacceptable loss of human life. It is shameful that America with its public and private resources can’t come together to solve this cruel sickness.

This matter is urgent. It is not going away.

The quietness of our collective voices can no longer be silent.

If we remain silent with no moral fiber to stop these deplorable tragedies, then we will continue to see the human erosion of America from sea to shining sea.

Our stubborn, inconsiderate, divided hearts must do better. We must stop our procrastination. Failure to respond will mean more of the same, and that isn’t acceptable.

Pike is a retired educator who has served on his local school board in Henrico County.

The Passion of The Rockers

I’m not sure of the exact moment that Brad Bennett and Steve Hodge were bitten by the music bug. But, I do know this—once that bug was flowing through their bloodstreams, it never left them.

I first encountered their music bug in 1971.

Late that summer, I started my freshman year at Greensboro College. So did Brad and Steve. They were roommates. Both were from Winston-Salem, and if my memory was correct, they played in the same band, Freiburg.

Gradually, I became friends with these guys. Music was the connector. We listened to records in their room. I recall Brad was a huge Moody Blues fan. And Steve might be listening to a band just under the radar, like Dan Hicks and The Hot Licks.

Brad played guitar and Steve played bass. Both could handle lead and background vocals. Throughout their four years of college, their band played assorted shows in all types of venues in the Piedmont triad area of North Carolina.

Sometimes, I helped as a roadie, and once I was a mock manager. I recall landing them one job at was then named Elon College.

At some point, Steve and Brad pulled off a major coup. They convinced a college administrator to allow them to store their band equipment in a large, empty storage area, and to use the adjoining lecture hall as a setting for rehearsals.

Frequently on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the band, Freiburg, rehearsed. I often found myself sitting in that lecture hall hearing the band practicing songs in the set list, or learning a new one.

Perhaps, because I have no singing voice, and I never learned how to play a musical instrument, I was drawn to the friendly access of Brad and Steve’s musicianship.

If you know a bit about rock and roll history, keeping a band together is challenging. After we graduated from college, I believe Freiburg eventually went their separate ways. But, Steve and Brad’s friendship and their love of music never left them.

Both have participated in recording sessions for their own individual material, and with other bands too. They managed their music while maintaining careers, and doing the most important work being husbands and fathers.

If you are a musician, you also have lots of equipment. Miles of cords, amplifiers, keyboards, sound systems, and the latest gadget to enhance your sound, and of course guitars—lots of guitars.

I know quite a bit about Steve’s guitar collection, but not as much about Brad’s. In some ways, those guitars are like family members. Each instrument has a story. Each has a special quality and purpose whether for a concert, a recording session, or just goofing off.

For better or worse, Steve Boone, Dan Callow, Steve Hodge, Doug Kinney, Butch Sherrill, and I have maintained our friendships after graduating from Greensboro College. Since 1975, at least once, and sometimes twice a year, we find a date and gather in North Carolina, Virginia, or Maryland. Wives, significant others, children, and grandchildren have been part of those gatherings.

During the weekend of May 13-15, 2022, we all made our way to Greensboro. The home of Butch and Marian Sherrill was our base for the gathering. And it just so happened that Brad and Steve were playing an early show at the Roar in Winston-Salem on Saturday evening May 14.

Located in downtown Winston-Salem on North Liberty Street, the Roar is housed in the former home of the Twin City Motor Building. The extensive renovation has turned the large multi-floor building into a food hall and entertainment center.

We left Greensboro, worked our way into downtown Winston-Salem, and since it was Saturday night finding a place to park was tricky. But, we found a couple of places and made the short walk to Roar.

Inside the building, it was like COVID-19 was a speck in a rearview mirror. People were everywhere. As we got our bearings, we walked to a large open area in Ford’s Food Hall, and off to our left Brad and Steve were set up and playing.

We scrambled around and found some chairs to set up in front of where The Rockers were holding court. Brad’s wife, Sue, a Greensboro College graduate too, helped us to get settled.
Steve was playing bass, Brad acoustic guitar, and he had access to an electronic keyboard too. I don’t recall the song they were playing when we arrived. But as we listened and watched, The Rockers played a very diverse set list. A set list that could reach the mix of the audience as well.

It was clear with each song that Brad and Steve had worked hard to capture the original musicality of a song. To do this means The Rockers have paid their dues with practice time.

They have pride in their musicianship. No short cuts were taken in the rendering of any song they played. Without a doubt, it was still very clear to me that Brad and Steve have the same passion for music as they did when they first picked up their guitars as teenagers.

During a break, we chatted. I peppered Steve with questions about the guitars he had on stage, and he patiently answered in detail.

The next set started, and they worked in some originals including Steve’s “Cheese Sandwich” which I think he wrote in tribute to the dining room food at Greensboro College.

At some point for our group, our ears started hearing the whine of our bodies for dinner. We politely waved goodbye and started our walk over to the Cugino Forno Pizzeria.

After the delicious pizza, we walked back to our cars. Dan, Doug, and Steve Boone decided to stick around and be roadies. They helped those old rockers do the equipment load out.

I had an excuse for not being a roadie. I was needed back in Summerfield where I was going to relieve a babysitter who had been watching over our three year old grandson. The rest of his family was at a dance recital where his sister, Caroline, was performing.

It was good to see Brad and Steve playing live at Roar. I love and admire their passion for music. I hope their ability to keep playing is like the title to the Neil Young song “Long May You Run.”

For Brad and Steve, long may your fingers run along a guitar neck, may your vocal chords quiver in harmony, may your minds muddle through song lyrics without a stumble, and may you ears keep you in tune.

Long may the passion of the music run in the hearts of The Rockers.

P.S. Maybe the time has come for a reunion of Freiburg. I can see the group on the cover of Rolling Stone, or at least a front page story on The Yadkin Ripple.

The Rockers, Brad Bennett and Steve Hodge, at the Roar in Winston-Salem, North Carolina 5/14/22 Photo by Bill Pike