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?