On the Road to Damascus


Since March of this year, as in every year, a collection of individuals travel to Springer Mountain, GA to begin a five to seven month “Thru Hike” of the Appalachian Trail. This trail wanders across the tops of the ridges which form the Appalachian Mountain range stretching from Springer Mountain to Mount Kathadin in Maine. And this trail wanders through Hudson River Presbytery, crossing the Hudson on our very own Bear Mountain Bridge, over Anthony’s Nose and Breakneck Ridge heading across I-84, Route 52 and then Route 22 near Pawling before heading to Connecticut.  Each hiker sets out on this journey with a goal in mind, ready to discover what effort is necessary to complete the task.  Those early hikers endure snow in Georgia and North Carolina in hopes of September or October clear days in Maine.

Along the trail there are conversations of encouragement or looking for information.  After a few days on the trail hikers discover folks who are traveling at a similar pace and loose groups form.  People you can look for to welcome in the shelter each night or who will be at the best vista of the day for a lunch break.  Some days the conversation is bubbling sharing of sights and animals seen on the trail.  Other days the quiet conversations are encouragement after a day wondering “What did I set out to do?,  This is really hard and all I see are trees?,  Will this rain ever stop so I can feel dry feet again?”

As in the stories of road experiences on the way to Damascus (Saul – Paul) or Emmaus (Jesus asking a telling of the Easter Story), walking requires effort.  Effort which is often made easier when conversation is possible. Saul had his friends and they were planning a strategy for events in Damascus – but God had other plans.

This past weekend was a celebration of “Trail Days”  in Damascus, VA.   This large group of hikers who began the Appalachian Trail in March/April found time in their journey to gather in a welcoming village.  Some had already passed, but took the time to travel back to encourage and support those behind.  Some had not made Damascus yet, but jumped ahead to find encouragement and energy from those clearing the path for them.  And of course there were outfitters and vendors in town to share their wares and provide a change of pace from a rather solitary life style on the trail.

IPicture1n the midst of this group “Chaunce” and “Sprout” found each other.  They have common roots, but only had heard of each other until they met in Damascus.  “Chaunce” is a mid 20’s veteran of the Pacific Crest Trail and the Colorado Crest Trail.  She could not resist this East Coast challenge of lower altitude and very different surroundings.   “Sprout” is a mid-career pastor/yoga instructor finding another challenge in her creative life.  She is breaking up the routine of trail life engaging in worship on Sundays in churches with thoughtful and powerful women pastors. They finally met in Damascus and shared stories, encouraged each other and will look for other connection points on their way north.  “Chaunce” is Juliana Chauncey from the Nauraushaun Church and “Sprout” is Cari Pattison who left the Bronxville Reformed Church to take on this change of pace and enlightening experience.

Who is waiting to meet you on the road in the days ahead?  How will God use you or your new acquaintance?

Peter Surgenor recently retired as the Executive Director of Holmes Presbyterian Camp and Conference Center.  He was the moderator of Hudson River Presbytery in 2017.  He and his wife Cathy were Accompaniers with the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia in February of this year.  Peter and Cathy are regular volunteers with Habitat for Humanity in Newburgh where they now reside.

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