Delta. Southwest. United. American. US Air. In less than three weeks, thousands of Presbyterians will descend on Pittsburgh for the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Almost all will arrive by either plane or car.

Then there’s Sweaty Sheep.

On June 24, a hardy band of bicyclists led by Team Sweaty Sheep ― a new worshiping community in Mid-Kentucky Presbytery whose motto is “Re-creation Through Recreation” ― will embark on the 450-mile trek from the Presbyterian Center here to the convention center in Pittsburgh, where on June 30 they hope to wheel into the opening plenary of the Assembly.

“We see this as an opportunity to show the PC(USA) that God is moving through our denomination,” says Ryan Althaus, the “captain” of Team Sweaty Sheep, one of 11 ministries recognized this year as part of the General Assembly Mission Council’s effort to “ignite 1,001 new worshiping communities” in the next 10 years.

The bike route will take the riders across the Ohio River from Louisville to southern Indiana and then across mostly rural stretches of Indiana, Ohio and western Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh. Each evening, the bikers will stop at Presbyterian churches along the way, joining local Presbyterians for fellowship, worship … and hopefully home-cooked meals.

“We all too often forget the interconnectedness of our denomination and our Christian faith as a whole,” Althaus says. “This is an exciting event during which we can show how close we all really are while at the same time experiencing the uniqueness and individuality of various congregations.”

At least three riders intend to complete the entire 450-mile trek: Althaus, a recent M.Div. graduate of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and a veteran marathon runner and triathlon (bicycling, running, swimming) competitor; the Rev. Philip Lotspeich, coordinator for church growth and transformation in the Evangelism and Church Growth ministry area of the General Assembly Mission Council; and the Rev. Peter Barnes-Davies, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Scottsburg, Ind.

“The group is more than open to powered vehicles as well,” Althaus says. “Come on a motorcycle or scooter and ride the route with the cyclists or hop in the car and drive along, site-seeing during the day and meeting for nightly worship. This ride has unique riders and unique stops, and with that comes unique meaning for anyone who wants to participate with us,” he adds.

Those who are interested in participating ― in one way or another ― may contact Althaus by email at runningmango@msn.com; by phone at 443-223-7334; or on the Sweaty Sheep Web site. An Extra Commitment Opportunity (ECO) account has been established to receive contributions to Sweaty Sheep and the bike ride in particular ― E865715. Call PresbyTel, 1-800-872-3283, for assistance.

Althaus says the bike ride represents Sweaty Sheep’s support of several ministry emphases of the PC(USA), each of which also has an ECO account):

  • Evangelism, through the “1001 new worshiping communities” initiative (account E052128);

  • Environmental justice, “by showing that with creativity and faith, we can not only ride through and enjoy our beautiful country, but save gas, promote health and ride for sustainability of the environment”;
  • Peacemaking (account E865040) ― “With the congregations we’ll be visiting mere pedals apart, we are able to witness as siblings under God,” Althaus says, “and as we ride between these churches we see the communities that connect us all and their unique needs.”

If, as planned, Team Sweaty Sheep arrives in Pittsburgh in time for the Assembly’s opening plenary, it will be the grandest entrance since 1989, when the late Presbyterian poet Jim Gittings strode into the Assembly hall in Philadelphia after hiking the Appalachian Trail to kick of the PC(USA)’s bicentennial celebration. 

“Our riders ask for your prayers for the ride and encourage everyone to find their unique ways to keep the movement of God’s spirit alive,” Althaus says. “Peddle the gospel outside of the stained glass sanctuaries ... share the energy and good news ... have fun and don’t fear sweating a little bit.”