Members of Twin Cities Spoke, a Christian cycling group, prayed during a recent ride.

Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

Riding in tandem with God

  • Article by: CHRISTY DeSMITH
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • August 21, 2011 - 3:23 PM

"By the intercession of Our Lady of Ghisallo, may the riders who use this bike enjoy safe and pleasant travels."

After giving this blessing, Johan van Parys, director of worship for the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, crouched beside a parishioner's bicycle and daubed a little lubricant along the chain.

"Holy oil," he explained.

And who is this Ghisallo character?

"She's the patron saint of cyclists," he said.

The basilica introduced its "Blessing of the Bikes" event three years ago. More than 50 cyclists participated in this year's blessing earlier this summer at the Catholic church.

The basilica isn't the only congregation to embrace bicycling. Others have installed bike racks. Several Protestant pastors, too, have taken to endorsing bikes in what is primarily a Christian movement. (Biking to synagogue on Shabbat is discouraged by many in the Jewish faith.)

Throughout the year, the basilica's leaders guide congregants on an exploration of stewardship, or fulfilling one's responsibility to the world. One focus is ecological stewardship.

"That includes a look at our transportation," Van Parys said.

To encourage bicycling to church, the basilica installed bike racks on its property. In order to raise the status of bicycles, though, Van Parys opted for something uniquely Catholic in its theatrics -- the blessing event.

At the basilica, the message is that bicycling protects God's creation by lessening a person's footprint. At Redeemer Lutheran Church in north Minneapolis, the emphasis is on human dignity.

"We see bikes as a metaphor for life," said the Rev. Marilu Thomas, executive director of Redeemer Center for Life, the church's community development arm. "It's transportation; it's movement. But it's also a way of seeing yourself as independent."

Two years ago, the center started accepting donated two-wheelers. A staff of North Side teenagers took to refurbishing the fixer-uppers, gaining technical skills along the way. The bikes were then donated to residents who couldn't afford them.

"Suddenly, Minneapolis is this big bike city," Thomas said. "Having something like a bike when everybody else is riding, it makes you feel less isolated."

Thanks to a $350,000 federal grant, Redeemer is putting even more people on bikes. The organization is opening an expanded bike-walk center, designed to promote bicycling on the North Side. Until then, volunteers have organized a series of Bike Fests in parks throughout north Minneapolis. Attendees are treated to free tuneups and drawings for free bikes.

In Eden Prairie, members of Wooddale Church launched Twin Cities Spoke, a satellite of the International Christian Cycling Club. Although Wooddale doesn't officially sponsor the club, Twin Cities Spoke was founded under the guidance of the mega-church's pastoral staff. The ministers keep involved by plugging the club's events and discussing its impact during Sunday sermons. The Rev. Bruce McNiel even rides with the club.

There, the emphasis is on nurturing personal relationships -- with God and fellow riders.

"It's not about how fast you go," said Tim Turnquist, a member of Twin Cities Spoke. "It's about walking with God and making sure your priorities are in order. Along the way, why not have some fun and meet like-minded people?"

In addition to Wednesday night group rides, which depart from the Wooddale parking lot, the club hosts a Tuesday night racing series and come-one-come-all cookouts in area parks. Look for the friendly people sporting bright orange jerseys embroidered with tiny crosses at the collar.

"We started at Wooddale, but now we've got people from a dozen and a half churches that ride with us from all over the metro area," Turnquist said.

Thanks to that welcoming spirit, the club also picked up stragglers.

Said Turnquist, "Now we've got some Unitarians, some Jewish people, even some atheists who ride with us."

Christy DeSmith is a writer in Minneapolis.

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