In June, hundreds of Presbyterians will be climbing into airplanes, cars, or buses bound to Portland, Oregon, for the 222nd General Assembly (2016). But one group of assembly-goers will be traveling to Portland in a more unconventional way—on bicycles.
Sweaty Sheep Ministries (www.sweatysheep.com), a new worshiping community devoted to “Re-creation Through Recreation,” is sponsoring Pedaling Pilgrimage 2016, a ten-day ride from Santa Cruz, California, to Portland.
“The goal is that we have a positive, energizing experience going into the General Assembly,” says Sweaty Sheep founder Ryan Althaus, a candidate for the ministry currently working as development director of the Homeless Garden Project in Santa Cruz.
The bikers will begin their ride June 8 and head north from Santa Cruz on Coastal Route 1. They will travel 40 to 100 miles per day, spending the night at churches as they traverse four presbyteries: San Jose, San Francisco, Redwoods, and Cascades. The goal is to arrive in Portland on June 18, opening day of the General Assembly.
“As we go from church to church, we’ll have a worship service and fellowship dinner that centers on where each church’s mission passion lies,” Althaus explains. He envisions the trip as a way of “promoting the unity of our Presbyterian congregations while highlighting their diversity.”
This will be the second time that Sweaty Sheep, which originated in the Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky, has sponsored such a pilgrimage. In 2012, some twenty people rode bicycles all or part of the 450 miles from Louisville to Pittsburgh, site of the 220th General Assembly (2012).
“We got lost a fair amount,” Althaus says wryly of that trip. The 2016 route, while twice as long, will be a bit simpler to navigate.
Planners of the pilgrimage are encouraging people to participate even if they can’t ride the entire 850 miles. A caravan of cars and vans will carry supplies and pick up bicyclers who need a rest. Althaus hopes people will join the group along the way and ride their bikes for a day or even an hour. He expects a contingent from Louisville to participate.
Althaus would like to see presbyteries across the country get involved, either by sending a rider or committing funds to sponsor a rider and/or a day of the trip. Once expenses are covered, all funds will be donated to mission causes. Participants also will have opportunities to take part in service projects along the way.
“My hope is that riders will raise funds for some ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that they feel passionate about,” Althaus says. “This will allow us to lift up a variety of Presbyterian initiatives.”
The bicycle trek will mark the public launch of Sweaty Sheep California, says Althaus, who has been building a leadership team for a West-Coast branch of the ministry since moving from Louisville to Santa Cruz a few months ago.
The pilgrimage comes just before Active Life Sunday, June 26, on the 2016 Presbyterian Planning Calendar. The special Sunday grew out of Active Life Church (www.activelifechurch.org), which Althaus describes as a Sweaty Sheep–birthed initiative “to help churches integrate physicality into their worship and fellowship and to get more healthy in their mission.”
Pilgrimage participants will use smart phones, blogs, and social media to document their trip. During the 2012 ride to Pittsburgh, “I was taking pictures and posting on Twitter while I was pedaling,” Althaus recalls.
He says the media posts also will highlight the missions of sponsoring presbyteries. “The goal is that we demonstrate that there are positive things going on in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).”
For more information about Pedaling Pilgrimage 2016, contact Ryan Althaus at (443) 223-7334 or firstname.lastname@example.org.