Why I Will Not Do Archery Anymore

I’ve been reading articles recently that testify to the growing popularity of archery. Here’s one, for example. These articles point to the influence of Katniss Everdeen, the main character in the The Hunger Games books and movie. For the uninitiated, Katniss is an exceptional archer. Surely, it doesn’t hurt to have Hawkeye from The Avengers as an expert archer. All of a sudden, archery has become hip, especially among the generations that love The Hunger Games and The Avengers.

But I will not join in. Not now, not ever. I swore off archery almost exactly twenty-one years ago. That was the last time I ever touched a bow and arrow.

Am I anti-archery? No, not at all. Is this some sort of moral stand on my part? Hardly. It’s more a matter of image and pride. Let me explain.

In the summer of 1991, I had just begun as Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in Southern California. During one week of the summer, the elementary aged kids from my church went to camp at Forest Home in the mountains near San Bernardino. As the new pastor, I figured I’d go up an visit for a day. What a great way to get to know the kids in the church!

I sat in on a camp gathering and joined one of the groups for lunch. After lunch, it was nap time. After nap time, free time. During free time I roamed around, talking with my campers as the did crafts and recreation. I wandered over to the archery range and watched as several kids took their best shot at hitting the targets set up maybe 25 yards away.

As I was standing there cheering them on, all of a sudden one kid says, “Pastor Mark, you try it.” I declined, politely, but he kept up. “Pastor Mark, shoot an arrow. Pastor Mark, shoot an arrow.” Soon other joined in. My polite refusals became more adamant. Why? Because I did not want to embarrass myself in front of these kids. I had not shot an arrow since I was a camper at this very camp some 25 years ago. Back then, I was lousy. I had no reason to believe my skill at archer had improved over time. So, I was afraid that if I tried to shoot an arrow, I’d probably miss the target completely. The kids of my church would think I was a complete nerd, and all that goodwill I had gained by visiting them at camp would be lost.

Yet, as more and more campers were chanting, “Pastor Mark, shoot an arrow. Pastor Mark, shoot an arrow,” I knew that I had no choice. I could not decline their invitation. I had to shoot an arrow.

“Okay,” I said ruefully. “One arrow. That’s it. Only one.”

That seemed to satisfy the mob, and they stopped chanting. So I took a bow and an arrow that look relatively straight. I placed the bow string into the notch of the arrow and brought the bow and arrow up to the side of my face. I’d seen plenty of Robin Hood movies, so I knew how this was supposed to work. I’d look great, I figured, until the arrow actually missed the target. Carefully aiming the arrow and drawing the bow, I tried to relax. A few seconds later, I let the arrow fly.

It seemed like minutes between the release of the arrow and its impact, though I expect is was just a second or so. The arrow hit solidly. It hit the target! And not just the target, the bulls eye. And not just the bulls eye, but the very center of the bulls eye. No lie. No joke.

The kids from my church were ecstatic. So was I, but I tried to remain cool. Even those folks who oversaw archery were impressed.

Immediately, a new chant started: “Pastor Mark, do it again. Pastor Mark, do it again.”

“No,” I said firmly. “That’s it. One shot. I’m done. I’m here to cheer you on.”

I handed back the bow and stepped away. The kids stopped chanting. I think they were in a bit of awe. They weren’t going to mess with me.

As I watched, I thank God for his help. And I vowed that I would never shoot another arrow again. Why not go out on top?

Later, I learned that the story of my archery display soon made its way all around camp. Later that summer, parents came up to tell me how impressive I was.  I told them, “It was a miracle.” But I think they believed I was just being humble. But I meant it. I believed – and still do – that God looked down with pity and said, “That pastor needs some help.” Boy, did I ever get help!

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