EPISCOPAL PRIEST MELDS RELIGION, OUTDOORS.
Bicyclists, pedaling furiously, sweat spraying off their bodies, flew by the Aspen Vista parking lot on the ski area road the morning of Aug. 3 as the Rev. Jon R. Anderson read a collect from A New Zealand Prayer Book:
"The passage called on the God of 'unchangeable power' to open our eyes to the wonders of creation and teach us to use all things for good."
Anderson and about a dozen other people -- as well as two dogs, Toby and Jane -- gathered at the trail head for a "liturgical hike" and celebration of the Eucharist. In the woods, there would be no pews, no organ music, no traditional homily, but a chance to walk and talk with each other and enjoy the mountain vistas.
Anderson, an Episcopal priest, began Worship in the Wilderness -- a ministry of St. Bede's Episcopal Church -- three months ago with a four-mile hike along the Borrego/Bear Wallow Trail. "I've always loved the out-of-doors, and I feel most close to the holy when I'm outside," he said.
Anderson, who has an MBA from Kansas University, was in corporate banking, venture capital and public utility finance before earning his Master of Divinity degree from Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, Calif. "Because of the things I did before, I thought I ought to be entrepreneurial as a priest. So this is it," he explained.
The group of hikers included a seminarian, who is also interested in outdoor worship, an Episcopal priest living in Placitas, a parishioner from St. Michael's & All Angels in Albuquerque as well as members of St. Bede's.
Anderson said he is hoping to attract others -- especially "nonchurchy" people from the area who would describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious."
The liturgy is similar to the one used in Episcopal churches. "The only thing we don't do is the Nicene Creed," the Christian statement of faith, Anderson said. "I haven't heard one complaint and I'm not expecting any."
After a short walk to a wide section of the trail, Anderson read the second lesson for the day from Romans, Chapter 9. Farther on, by a large rock and a bit of shade, the group stopped for lunch. Once people had finished their snacks, Anderson read the gospel, the story from Matthew 14 about how the disciples fed the crowd that had gathered on the shore to meet Jesus with five loaves and three fishes. Then Justin Cannon, a divinity student who had traveled from California, led the Prayers of the People.
Instead of a homily -- "When you go to other churches, you hear enough preaching." -- Anderson invited the hikers to reflect on the gospel. "What does it say that so many can afford to pay a lot for food while others struggle?" he asked.
Susan Odiseos, who is involved in developing an interfaith shelter for homeless families, observed: "One of the great things about (my) ministry is bringing together people who have never been next to a homeless person they could engage with."
Cannon pointed out that in contemporary Jewish culture, eating with someone was an intimate affair, and to share that experience with 5,000 others, as the gospel reports, was "quite radical."
In preparation for the Holy Communion, Anderson set two squishy red bowls from REI on the rock behind him. In one, he placed the host, a homemade roll; and into the other, he poured red wine from a plastic water bottle. After they were consecrated, each hiker passed the communion to the next person in the circle.
After the service, some of the worshippers continued on toward Tesuque Peak for a distance while others turned back to the parking lot.
"The occasion of getting together and going some place together to celebrate the Eucharist is a powerful experience," concluded Tim McIntire, a teacher.
The next outdoor liturgy is scheduled for Sept. 7. Anderson is thinking of adding a second, more strenuous, hike each month if there is enough interest.
The next liturgical hike is scheduled for the first Sunday in September. Check the Web site for information on the location.
Contact Anne Constable
at 986-3022 or email@example.com.
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