March 29, 2011

Blessing (and welcoming) the bikes

What would you do if a bunch of bicyclists rolled their wheels up to the front of your sanctuary? Would you bless them?

For the past 13 years, St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York City has welcomed bicyclists for an annual Blessing of the Bikes. This year's ceremony will take place on April 30 at 9:30 AM sharp. For Episcopal congregations who may be interested in hosting a similar event, check out the Create Your Own Blessing and The Event Program sections of the founder's website

Why should an Episcopal congregation have a blessing of the bikes ceremony? As a fair weather bicyclist, here's my rationale. Please add your own reasons in the comments section below. 

Hospitality and Evangelism
Bicyclists are a harried bunch. Whether riding your bike in traffic, on stretches of quiet roads or in bike lanes, bicyclists contend daily with the fact that U.S. towns and cities were built with the car in mind. Bicyclists who take to the road for environmental, health or cost-saving reasons will literally bump up against this fact, and many become advocates for bike lanes and greenways that make biking safer for everyone.

Welcoming bicyclists into your sanctuary and blessing their bikes is a simple yet powerful way of showing support for this community. As Glen Goldstein, the founder of the Blessing of the Bike ceremony, notes "There are many places in this city where we are not welcomed, yet [St. John the Divine] has always invited us to their Cathedral home every year." 

Real Risk
Every person I know who has ridden a bike as part of their daily commute has had a few close calls. And then, of course, there are the stories of bicyclists who die every year after being hit or crushed by cars. There's a profound need to acknowledge this risk as well as the lives of those who, in their own way, died trying to reshape their communities. 

This is handled movingly in the liturgy developed by St. John the Divine. Four people walk a rider-less bicycle up the main aisle and a moment of silence is held to acknowledge all who have died in the prior year. Another Episcopal parish, St. Stephen's in Portland, Oregon, has created a ghost bike ceremony which you can read about here. 

Thankfully, I also recently learned of the work of St. Cyprian Episcopal in San Francisco, a congregation that has added a bike safety education component to their livability program for folks in their neighborhood. I hope this will serve as an inspiring example!

What Good Does It Do?
There's a t-shirt that a lot of bicyclists wear that reads "One less car." It's a good reminder of what so many of our environmental efforts are: they are small, simple, and seemingly overwhelmed by traffic. Yet seeing a bicyclist with this t-shirt is a powerful symbol of a renewed community - something which Episcopal faith traditions speaks about eloquently. 

But perhaps the best reason to have a Bike Blessing ceremony is this dismissal prayer:

"May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be ever at your back. May all your journeying be joyous. And until we meet again, may the Lord hold you and your bicycle in the palm of your hand. Amen."