Building trails, building relationships

Building trails, building relationships October 11, 2014

Duke University’s Faith and Leadership blog always has some good thoughts for leaders in both churches and workplaces. A recent story there by Jason Byassee told the story of how one church and community came together to help both flourish  by building a community trail.

Here’s the beginning of the story from Jason:

I don’t know what else I know about leadership, but I know this: I believe in the generative power of creative friendship.

Here’s what I mean. When I first arrived at Boone United Methodist in 2011, I tried to get to know the campus ministers in our North Carolina town right away. After all,9348_418585574915748_1114838893_n-600x397 revivals historically break out on campuses, and I come from academia. Plus, campus ministers keep me in cool music.

I hit it off right away with Eric Heistand, the campus minister at Appalachian State University who works with the Cru (formerly Campus Crusade). We share a love for Tim Keller’s work on the church’s calling to bless the city — in Keller’s case, New York.

We wondered together whether that approach could work in Boone, our university town of 18,000 permanent residents and 17,000 students.

“I tell you what a church in this town ought to do,” he said. “Build a trail up Howard’s Knob.”

Howard’s Knob is the highest peak in Boone. It features a county park with breathtaking views of the valley, great spots for hanging hammocks and space for students to just be. If you’ve seen our local outdoor drama about Daniel Boone, “Horn in the West,” you know that Widow Howard is one of the main characters. I’ll let you guess where she lived.

The hairpin-curve road up to the park is a wonder, but it’s not hiking-friendly. The outdoor community has always wanted a way to hike up Boone’s greatest peak.

I searched through the mental database of my congregation and found that our church owns some 50 acres up Howard’s Knob, on the side away from town. It has a conservation easement on it, so we can’t develop it, and the donors who gave it had suggested we build a trail on it.

“I think we could do that,” I told Eric.

That was two years ago.  In June 2014, the trail was dedicated:

We recently inaugurated the trail with bounce houses, free trail mix (bless you, Earth Fare) and barbecue (bless you, Kickin’ Mule). We expected 300 people and had north of 400, including town council members, chamber of commerce leaders and friends we’ve never met who came for the party.

We’re far from done — one extra loop needs digging, and the whole thing needs fortifying. But we have digging volunteers we never had before. And after two years of investment, Eric and his fellow trail bosses will see the thing through. Boone has its newest hiking trail.

Our slogan for it has been “Welcome to our backyard.”

10312600_593254647448839_700325886566638802_nRead more about how this project transformed a church and a community at Faith and Leadership.  And ponder Jason’s conclusion:

Some might wonder why a church would bother with a trail. We have enough projects to tackle within the church, Lord knows. And besides, isn’t building a trail more of a civic-do-gooder sort of thing?

But we see it as a way of blessing our town, of showing that we love what our community loves, of getting us in new relationships with folks we’d never have met otherwise, of making our backyard theirs.

My predecessor John Fitzgerald spoke of seeing prayer mountains on a pilgrimage to Korea — places of prayer that have fueled revival in that country. Why not here? Big God-things happen on mountains: Abraham’s near sacrifice, Moses’ and Elijah’s meetings with God, Jesus’ most famous sermon, his ascension. We can’t say in advance what will happen on ours, but we expect to be changed by it.

We can say it’s a lot easier to get up the mountain in our backyard now. And we expect strangers to meet on it and become friends, friends to gather on it and meet God, and everyone who walks up it to come down changed.

Creative friendship births things that otherwise would not have existed. It’s not easy, but it is profoundly good.

Photos: from Boone United Trail Facebook page.

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