Saturday, June 14, 2014

Interview with Medford Bicycle Commission: How faith in bicycles can make a better community

I was interviewed by the Medford Bicycle Commission for their Blog about the Grace Episcopal Church Blessing of Bike on Sunday, June 15, 2014.  Here is the re-post of the interview.

A wonderful thing about Medford is that if you take a bike ride through the city you will invariably pass by many houses of worship, and within them are people who practice their faith in many different ways.

One of these sacred sites is Grace Episcopal Church, which has been located on High Street since it was built in 1868. It is remarkable for many things, like being listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the oldest surviving church designed by H.H. Richardson, or being the home of the GraceWorks Childcare center where Medford children of all faiths spend hours engaged in educational activities.

Now if you were to ride by the church this Sunday morning, June 15th, at 11:30 you will see something unusual and special there: a crowd of cyclists gathered around a new bike rack, with the church's reverend, Noah Evans, blessing bicycles, tricycles, helmets and all things cycling related.

We wanted to know what this is this all about, so we asked Rev. Evans a few questions.

Where did the idea of blessing bikes come from?

In the tradition of the Episcopal Church we bless many things, marriages, children, houses, teachers and even backpacks. We bless things not as a way of somehow making them special, but in order to hold up their importance in our lives.

A number of churches have blessed bikes, so it is not an idea that we invented. We decided that this is a good time to do it because we just installed a new bike rack at the church. Many folks in the community are discovering biking as a way to live out their faith commitment to care for creation, and for their own health and wellness.

Blessing bikes is a symbolic act, but installing a new bike rack provides a very practical amenity. Are these ideas connected?

Deeply connected.

At Grace Church we like to look at our church building as a model for the caring of creation that people can apply in their own homes and buildings. Installing the bike rack is a way we can encourage and support biking to church or toGraceWorks.

It also serves as a visible symbol for all to see of how we are trying to live out our faith commitments by living our lives differently. The blessing of bicycles is a way of nurturing, encouraging and supporting people who wish to practice these ideals.

Grace Church has embarked on a number of environmental initiatives, such as the Greening Graceprogram. Is this part of the Episcopal Church's mission or tradition?

The traditions of the Episcopal Church flow from the Church of England. It originally served a very rural, agrarian society, so there has been a long tradition of praying for the earth and for its care, especially as it related to the cycles of planting and harvesting.

More recently there has been a growing understanding that climate change is the largest moral issue of our time and we, as people of faith, have to respond.

This has piqued our passions at Grace Church and over the last five years we have worked hard to address these issues. We have replaced our old heating system with a high efficiency one and installed solar panels. We have also done a lot to reduce our energy usage and increase the proportion of materials we recycle.

We have developed and run the GreenUp CleanUp program to help maintain Medford’s green spaces.  More recently we have put in a vegetable garden to grow food for local food pantries.

Our environmental commitments have touched every part of the life of our community and the bike rack is just the most recent manifestation of our ongoing commitment to caring for creation.

How can riding bicycles help address some the social and environmental challenges facing our community? 

Bicycling, instead of driving, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming. It also decreases congestion on local roads.

I have also come to believe that bicycling—and walking—brings people closer and makes them more connected within their communities. Just getting people outside of cars brings them closer to the particularities of a place and the people within it. This can help to draw folks together, build awareness of community and make them feel invested in building a society that comes closer to reflecting the values we profess.

Motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians need to work together to make transportation safe and efficient. Are there lessons from your tradition that can help us do this?

Everyone plays a role in developing a transportation system that is safe and environmentally friendly. It is important for bicyclists and motorists not to see themselves as competitors, but instead as partners working together for safety, community and care of creation.

If you would like to have your bicycle, or any other human-powered vehicle blessed, Grace Church invites you to come. Cyclists of all faiths, ages and abilities are welcome to celebrate and share in their tradition.