The Bikeable Parish: Values vs Committments

A couple of weeks ago I boarded a Southwest plane and flew from Minneapolis to Rochester, NY.  I am positive I wiped out my carbon savings from a year’s worth of biking, busing, and walking (I wiped out my previous savings with a flight to Kansas City last June).  I almost didn’t go to Rochester, but I felt it was important.

I went for a board retreat.

You see about 10 years ago the wonderful church I serve, Judson Memorial Baptist Church, pulled out of the Mid-American Baptist region (Iowa and Minnesota) and joined the Rochester (New York not Rochester, MN) Genesee Region (along with University Baptist Church of Minneapolis).  Both churches were (and still are) Welcoming and Affirming Baptist congregations.  For those unfamiliar with Welcoming and Affirming – it is Baptist speak for welcoming and affirming of the LGBT community.

The move has been great for both churches and regions.  But it does cause some quandary concerning sustainability and environmental commitments.  In fact, it flies in the face of the Bikeable Parish model.  How can a church be a part of a region that is 1015 miles to the east?

Here is where commitments versus values or values versus commitments comes into play.  Which is the greater need: environmental concerns or feeling of connection?  For Judson to be a part of the American Baptist Churches, USA we have to be a part of a region. And to be in a region without angst or turmoil we are members of the Rochester/Genesee Region. So for us the commitment to the American Baptist family, and the advancement of LGBT rights in ABC life, and religious liberty are deep needs for the local church.  To do this we have to hold our nose when we purchase our plane tickets, but it is the best situation we can imagine at this time.

I also think about the families and people who drive in to be a part of the Judson community, some drive 45 minutes to an hour.  Sometimes our values and need for community override our commitments.  This is not a copout or slick wording around an issue it is just the reality of life in America.  We are, not yet, a nation connected by public transit, high speed rail, bike highways, or even pilgrimage trails.

We are an interconnected nation – and in this nation we do the best we can with what we got. Sometimes we may have to drive an hour to find a church our souls can call home and sometimes we may have to hop on an airplane and fly 1,000 miles for a board meeting.  This does not negate the bikeable parish, rather it motivates me to cherish the relationships I have in my communities.   We mutually support, nurture and provide succor for one another.  One of the reasons I bike and do the things I do as a pastor is because of the support, nurture and succor I receive from the R/GR community.  Being alone or isolated is not fun or enjoyable, in our world today we need relationships more than anything to make it.

Perhaps for the next gathering I need to embrace MSP to ROC via the Empire Builder and the Lake Shore Limited on Amtrak.  Use the time to read.  Because I am seeing the Bikeable Parish more about doing things differently…  $522 Delta, $268 Southwest, $252 Amtrak.  Hmm…

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Reclaiming the Beautiful Tradition

It is that time of year: Lilacs are in bloom.  And every year when the lilacs are in bloom I think of the beautiful tradition of Baptists.  I doubt many of you naturally associate beauty with the Baptist tradition, but I sure do.  Sure there are portions and actions within the tradition that are closed, nasty, and uncouth.  But then again, every tradition (and family) has those elements.  But for me the tradition really is a beautiful tradition.

Which brings me to lilacs.  A number of years ago my mentor told me about a paper a research student once wrote called the Lilac Trail.  For the record I have never found this paper, it is like Q; I’m sure it’s out there, just haven’t found it yet.  Anyway, the paper told the story of northern Baptist migration in America from Providence, RI to Sioux Falls, SD.  If one follows this trail, one discovers a trail containing a disproportionate number historic Baptist congregations and historic Baptist higher education institutions: Brown University, Newton Theological Institute, Colgate University, University of Rochester, Rochester Theological Seminary, Kalamazoo College, University of Chicago (bet you didn’t know that),  Carleton College (for a few years it was Baptist related), Bethel University, and University of Sioux Falls to name just a few.  Now here comes the interesting part: along this trail one also finds a proliferation of (drum roll) LILACS.  The theory is that Baptists brought both higher education & lilacs with them as the migrated westward.

Screenshot (4)

Baptists = Beauty.

Every year when the lilacs are in bloom I think of Baptist beauty: the intimate beauty of immersion baptism, the inward beauty of liberty of conscience, the relational beauty of congregational polity, the political beauty with the separation of church and state, and the natural beauty (and aroma) provided by my ancestors.


So those of you who call B/baptists home I hope you will consider joining me and seeing and appreciating our beauty.  And if you are not part of the Baptist tradition I hope you will see us in a more positive light.

And if you need a foil or a straw religious body for your plans allow me to offer the Puritans (modern day Presbyterians and Congregationalists).  Why would I do such a thing?  Well because…it’s a long story that Marilynne Robinson has just about purged out of my system.  Nevertheless, the Puritans are responsible for Dandelions; they brought them over from England.  IMG_2713

Sure dandelions are edible and sure they provide the first run of honey of the year.  But for sheer beauty and delight they don’t even come close to comparing to Lilacs.

And I know someone is going to say something like, “weren’t lilacs also planted near outhouses?”  yes they were, but for purposes of this blog entry I am ignoring that fact.

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Biking as a Spiritual Discipline

A few weeks ago a friend of mine pedaled from St. Paul to Judson for morning worship. Her act made me think, “I gotta get out of my normal biking route and start biking farther from home.”  The other day I pedaled over to the U for a continuing ed class.  And yesterday I had the wonderful idea: I would pedal from Judson Church to St. Paul’s Monastery for my monthly spiritual direction meetingScreenshot (2)

This seemed like a great idea, key word here is seemed.  Most of my ideas seem like great ideas at first.  I come up with a, seemingly, great idea, jump right in only to discover I am in over my head and quit.  But yesterday…I was on my bike and a friend had inspired me and I had an appointment with my spiritual director and it was a beautiful day…so I stuck with it.

The ride over started fine, 1st avenue to the Greenway, to the river parkway, then over the Franklin Avenue bridge and onto the U of MN’s transit way.  So far so good.  As I merged onto Como Ave I thought, I might as well cut some time off by hopping on the #3, ride down to the southeast edge of Como Lake, then pedal away.  But I got on the 3B, the 3B slides south onto Energy Park Drive and onto Front Street. By the time I realized this we were a couple miles down the road; I exited the bus and started pedaling again.

No big deal, after a few minutes I was back on track.  I just had to find out how to get on the Gateway Trail.  As I pedaled on Arlington Ave, eventually, I found the Gateway State Trail.  Although it would have been helpful to have known about this.  St. Paul is a beautiful city but it confuses the Presbyterian out of me.  If not for my superior sense of direction I might still be traversing the streets of the capitol city.  I found the Gateway trail again but then ended up on the Bruce Vento trail which hooked me with Larpenteur Avenue. On Larpenteur Ave I saw the Metro Transit signs and when I looked behind me I saw the #64 lumbering.  I stopped at the next stop and hopped on the bus.  I thought would take me to the monastery, busing error #2.

Once I corrected my error and started pedaling, again, on Larpenteur Ave I passed Hill-Murray school.  I was sweaty, starving, and had a sore rear when I saw the words from the Rule of St. Benedict. This sign set my heart in motion for spiritual direction.


And the women Benedictine community did welcome me as Christ: cold water, freshly baked cookies, prayer, hospitality, and spiritual direction.  Oh how I love the Benedictines!

I arrived for spiritual direction late, 30 minutes late.  But I can’t think of a more worthwhile session.  For one I was deeply in tune with my body.  Two, I had been silent for 2.5 hours.

Despite my spiritual high I still had to pedal back home.  The trip back started smooth, Larpenteur Ave to Furness Parkway to Maryland Ave to Phalen Blvd then things got hairy. Due to road construction I lost my Phalen Blvd connection and ended up on Pennslyvania Ave with a concrete barrier six inches on my right and cars six inches on my left (did I mention this was during rush hour?).  Somehow I made it back to Como Ave and found the Green Line where I happily hopped on with my bike and rode it to Prospect Park.

Around five o’clock as I crossed the Mississippi I dont think I’ve ever felt more thankful for Minneapolis than at that moment.

All told I was on my bike for 5 hours.  All told I rodeIMG_2706

But you know what I did it!  And next time I’ll be a little better prepared.  But a soul/body can’t grow unless it is stretched.  And sometimes you need a friend just being who they are to inspire you to stretch yourself.

Furthermore: how does one say “my ass really hurts” in bicycle?

Lastly, I would rather ride in winter with a snowplow behind me in Minneapolis than ride in construction season in St. Paul…


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The Bikeable Parish and Urban Agrarianism

Distrust the “big picture.”  Where you live is where you matter most, and arresting those gullies on the slopes of your hillsides is more important than seeing the Grand Canyon.  Commentary: I have never seen the Grand Canyon.  I suppose I really should make an attempt someday.
-from The Tenth Commandment of Agrarianism according to Maurice Tellen –
which is from The Essential Agrarian Reader  edited by Norman Wirzba

This “commandment” is the guiding principle for me and my idea of the Bikeable Parish. Where I live is where I matter most and getting to know every dip, stream turn, elm and oak tree, neighbor, and restaurant is more important than (insert big picture idea here).

Disclaimer: the connection between the Bikeable Parish and Urban Agrarianism is tangential at best.  This is really a post about growing wheat.  Maybe over time the connection will be clearer, maybe…

I have noticed all kinds of things while I biking around my fair city, but one of the most interesting is the lack of wheat growing. I have seen lots of hops, fruit trees, tomatoes, garlic, kale, grape vines, lots of rhubarb (but no citywide rhubarb festival), potatoes, even a few pot plants, I even saw a cow over at the U of Minnphoto (1)but no wheat.  Odd that the home of General Mills & Gold Medal Flour & Betty Crocker & the Pillsbury Doughboy contains no wheat farms.  Odd that a place full of grain elevators with active rail lines and shipping lanes would not have a few acres of wheat growing.  Odd that a place with such a vibrant bread community, bakeries, amazing doughnut shops, and food co-ops would not have a field or two of wheat growing in it.

What if we altered this passage from Jeremiah: O People, O People hear the word of the Land!photo 2 (2)

What if the land is saying to us: do you really think I want boring green grass growing on me?  Grass that does not provide you any nutrients, requires toil, and depletes my soil.  Why not grow the staff of life?  

Why is it important for folk like me and you to grow wheat in our front yards and community gardens?  Wheat is representative of the many things we take for granted as city folk.  Growing wheat also represents one of the most creative possibilities for urban centers.  Currently, most of the wheat grown in the United States is not organic (luckily it is not GMO).  You can find organically grown wheat, you can even find it grown within 250 miles of the Twin Cities.  But within that 250 mile circle are many other non-organic wheat farmers whose drift may contaminate the organic growers.  But one of the best  (and protected) places to grow wheat?  You guessed it: an urban core.  First, the freeways and buildings provide an unusual buffer from non-organic wheat drift; because the build out of urban cities has driven away once close-to-the-city wheat farms farther away.  

This year, I started a small project (five test plots) of urban wheat production.  This project is modeled after the Lawns to Loaves project in Vancouver, British Columbia (that’s in Canada).  I went the local co-op and bought 5lbs of Minnesotan grown organic spring wheat berries.  I planted a couple lbs in my test plot then gave the rest away to others throughout the city (I still have some if you want some).  Wheat is easy to grow, it wants to grow!  It is not fussy just broadcast it, water it, and then sit in an easy chair and enjoy.

photo 1 (2)photo (2)

Some fun biblical facts about wheat and bread.

Bread is mentioned 435 times in the Bible, Love is mentioned 442.

Wheat is mentioned 52 times, Grace is mentioned 159.  (for every three times you say the word grace in a sermon, you need to say wheat at least once).

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Reclaiming the Parish Model


noun par·ish \ˈper-ish, ˈpa-rish\

  • 1:  the ecclesiastical unit of area committed to one pastor (2):  the residents of such an area

  • 2:  a local church community composed of the members or constituents of a Protestant church

    When you hear the word parish perhaps you imagine the opening scenes from The Vicar of Dibley (as below)


You imagine a small self-contained British town with a church (a quaint but beautiful stone and wood and stained glassed ecclesial edifice) served by a “parish-priest,” and included a cemetery, a publick house, small shopping district (village baker, cheesemaker, tanner, & etc.), served by local professionals (a doctor, a veterinarian, a lawyer), and surrounded by fields of wheat, barley, orchards, cattle, & etc.

In this world one could walk from one end of the village to the next.  You knew everyone within the boundaries and lived with them–for good or for ill.  For me pastoral ministry in this setting is idyllic but also suffocating.

Reclamaing the Parish Model

America is not Great Britain.  And America is not the close proximity of villages and towns of Europe.  Nevertheless, I think that if local faith communities thought of themselves in terms of parishes, started thinking more locally, and started concentrating their energy on their communities/”parishes” they would have a better chance at long-term flourishing.

I am defining the parish both geographically, a 3 mile circle with Judson at the center And congregationally, the close-knit resilient community of people who call Judson home.

In his book Deep Economy author Bill McKibben wrote that we do not need anymore banks too big to fail, instead we need communities so small they’ll succeed.  We need resilient close knit-intimate communities with the capacity to make it through climate change, to help us learn how to get along, to lean on one another, to work through differences, to laugh and cry with; that are just a few steps, or a quick bike ride away!


We are living with a false reality with our current church non-parish models.  The current church model only works if gasoline remains under $2.50.  We know the day is coming, sooner rather than later, when gas will be $4 or $5 a gallon.  When that takes place how many churches like this can survive?eagle-brook_lg

When gasoline costs $5/gallon many will be forced to discover the church around the corner:

-the church you can get to via the side walk,
-via the bus line,
-the church with ample bike parking,
-the church with no parking lot.
(For the record, Judson Memorial Baptist Church excels in all of those areas! just sayin’, but so do many others in the Twin Cities; remember reader, and author, it’s not a competition)
By investing in the community now, before $5 a gallon gasoline, you can strengthen your community’s resiliency, knowledge of one another, every hill and vale, oak and elm tree, robin’s nest and bees’ nest, grape vine, barking dog, wandering cat, and nosy raccoon.
I don’t claim or have the audacity to say I am THE PASTOR for my “parish” but I do want to know my parish.  How can  I be of service?  How can Judson be of service?  Where is God at work already blessing that I/we need to find?  And I want to know the other religious leaders in my “parish” (if for nothing else then connecting others with them.  I love the ministry of referral – remember it’s not a competition).  For too long local faith communities have been in competition with each other, but for mutual thriving and flourishing communities we will need a new spirit of cooperation.
Small case in point.  Judson, for all of its loveliness, does not have an outdoor labyrinth. But guess what, Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church does (and it is within the Bikeable Parish).  Not only do I use it, I invite others from Judson to use it.  IMG_2677
Although I think this will be a difficult model to adapt I do think it will be easier in the long run.  I think it is a better model to know, intimately, one section of the city rather than barely know the whole metro area.  If we, Judson, can do our part in our “parish” and we trust that other faith communities are doing their part for their “parishes” then together we can bring substantial and long term change for a more healthy, more just, and more thriving/flourishing city.
Next post: The Bikeable Parish and Urban Agrarianism 



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The Bikeable (and for sure let’s include the Walkable/Busable) Parish

The Bikeable Parish

For nearly 2.5 years I have pedaled around Minneapolis, St. Paul and points here and there.

For nearly 2.5 years I have bicycled, primarily, for environmental reasons.

For nearly 2.5 years I have not given much thought to how bicycling has changed how I pastor the church I serve, how bicycling has changed my sense of time, interaction with nature, other people, or how I understand pastoral ministry.

But over the past few months I started to think anew.

It began with the research I did for my Winter Cycling Congress presentation (especially a conversation with the Executive Director of the Massachussets Council of Churches, a fellow cycling clergyperson),
-continued with a interview/conversation with an author (which may even appear soon in a Sojourners article),
-continued with a coffee discussion organized by the amazing and talented Councilwoman on Bicycling and Equity, plus the post-coffee discussion.
-continued more with a conversation with a local bicycling bread baker,
-then another conversation with Nice Ride folks and others,
-then a conversation with a Macalester environmental studies professor,
-and conversations with folk from church, family and friends,
and then the worship service and second hour yesterday.

For the record, the conversations noted above were the inspiration and genesis of the Bikeable Parish.  I dont think any of them were specifically about it.

Deep Breath.

Suffice to say I am now embarking on a new project. I thought it had the makings of a book, but I’m not so sure about that anymore – feels more like a series of blog entries.

Here you go world: The Bikeable Parish

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 9.38.29 AM

Above is a three mile circle with Judson Memorial Baptist Church in the center.  Three miles, you know about a 20 minute bike ride.  Why this circle?  Well, I used my abode as the outer limit (actually I live within the circle but the application only allows whole miles) and since I am creating this project I reckoned that gave me the permission(power) to create the circle 🙂

Phase One of the project, from the congregational perspective: to discover all that is within this “parish.”

From the pastoral perspective: to reflect more on how bicycling has transformed me and my approach to pastoral ministry.

Next post: What is a parish anyway?

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When Rooster Crowed Christmas – Sermon-in-Verse 2015

When Rooster Crowed Christmas
Sermon-in-Verse – Advent 4 – 20.Dec.2015
Judson Memorial Baptist Church – Minneapolis, MN
The Rev’d G. Travis Norvell

Kids you need to know about the battle
The ancient Rooster and Dove spattle 1
For thousands of years doves have received
All of the praise, all have agreed
Except for roosters
The new day boosters
The roosters say, God does not like the world chaotic
God likes it orderly night from day, separated and robtic 2
God wants a worthy bird to announce the day
Not one who just carries a branch and shows the way 3
But doves are arrogant and full of themselves
Like Donald Trump and all of his elves 4
Doves say everything taste like dove, not chicken
But everyone knows they only eat dove in Great Britain
Hold onto this thought, it will make sense soon
Or else this story will fall flat…

Years ago Rooster met Miriam the wooo-man 5
In the ancient land of Caaana-an 6
She was singing a beautiful song
It made Roosters heart long
He was so caught up in her tune
That he did not see the spoon
Miriam struck on his head
She almost knocked him dead
She felt bad for her deed
He was such a beautiful breed
When he came to she offered him a deal
Ill teach you to speak in my home while you heal
A deal was struck hand and feather
Friendship forged forever 7

One day Miriam introduced, Yosef her beau 8
I think he’ll like your crow.
Yosef and Rooster became fast friends
They helped each other with odds and ends.
When Dove came around
Yosef would run him out of town
And Rooster kept Y & M happy
Especially when they got crabby

Yosef and Miriam were not yet married
And their feelings were varied.
Dove came by to start some trouble
He said to Yosef Miriam’s love is double
Yosef was very upset
Walk with me Miriam I need an outlet
Yosef, Miriam and Rooster went walking, all in the garden green
There were berries and cherries as thick as may be seen
Then Miriam said to Yosef, so meek and so mild
“Yosef, gather me some cherries for I am with child”
The Yosef flew in anger, in anger flew he
“Let the father of the baby gather cherries for thee
Then spoke up Rooster perched on Miriam’s womb
“Bow down ye tallest tree that this mother might have some.” 9
Rooster told Yosef about the angel Gabriel
The miracle of Miriam’s child dear Yosef is no fabiel. 10

It was difficult for Yosef to believe
He knew the family must leave
Onto the land of bread they went 11
They would find there a place to rent
And of course the pesky dove was nearby
Waiting till the hour was nigh
The ride on the donkey
Made pregnant Miriam plea
Get me a place in Bethlehem
Or there will be mayhem
Joseph tried, he really tried
But all said no even when he cried
Until an innkeeper said you can use my horses stall
But not past tomorrow’s nightfall

So Yosef told Miriam and she started to cry
Give birth to my babe in the open sky?
Oh well, get me in their fast
So I can birth this baby at last.

At the manger were many animals that night
All were worried and filled with fright
They knew something was going to take place
They didn’t know it was the birth of grace
The sheep kept bahhing
The goat kept nahhing
The cow kept mooing
And Dove that awful bird, kept cooing
Rooster knew once the baby was born
Dove would act like a horn
Dove not Rooster would tell the earth
About the saving savior’s birth

Miriam screamed throughout the evening
What in the world was I believing? 12
Yosef of course was a nervous fit
Rooster, luckily, kept his wit
Breathe Miriam, it will be okay
The child will emerge soon I daresay
Miriam’s labor was long and hard
It was smelly and drafty in the backyard 13
Then with one great internal shove
Miriam gave birth to a Supreme Love
Jesus was a gigantic baby boy all round
He weighed a whopping 15.3 pound 14
Which explains Miriam’s downtrodden face
Birthing Jesus was not full of grace
When Miriam laid the babe near her heart
Rooster this event do impart
How God gave all this huge and wonderful child
And through him we’ll lift the meek and mild
How peace will reign
And love will gain
Tell it Rooster loud and clear
So all creation will hear

Rooster went to the highest part
As he readied his crow to depart
Below him Dove flew asunder
Dove flew off to steal Rooster’s thunder
That nasty Dove was going to share
And Rooster didn’t have a prayer
As Dove looked back
There was a great thwack
An Eastern Imperial Eagle caught Dove in one swoop 15
Took him home and made Dove soup

Rooster crowed, announced the birth of the child
His act made even God smile
Rooster’s crow awoke the angelic host 16
Altered the shepherds on the coast
Reminded the star to shine as the signpost
And made chickens of the world rejoice the most

So kids on your Christmas day
Do you part to show the way
Crow for justice, scratch for mercy, peck for love
And don’t be arrogant, cruel and greedy like Dove. Amen and Amen.

1 Thanks to Rev. Mary Miller TABCOM Executive Minister for suggesting this change to the original opening lines.
2 Ditto.
3 Genesis 8:12 And he stayed yet other seven days; and sent forth the dove; which returned not again unto him any more.
4 Donald Trump was a 2016 Republican candidate for President of the USA; he covered the continuum from demagogue to doofus.
5 Miriam is the Hebrew version of Mary.
6 Please see Mike Myers’ beat-style poem in So I Married an Axe Murderer.
7 Here one can see the influence of the author Brian Doyle, please read Mink River for a deeper appreciation.
8 Yosef is the Hebrew version of Joseph
9 Lyrics from the Middle Ages carol, The Cherry Tree Carol – popularized by Peter, Paul and Mary. I prefer the Joan Baez version.
10 Please insert your own groan for this false rhyme.
11 Bethlehem, technically, means House of Bread.
12 Luke 1:30-31, And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
13 Luke 2:16, Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
14 John 21:11, Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken. See James David Duncan’s book The River Why to fully appreciate this reference. My lovely bride suggested, after I delivered this sermon that I take 153 ounces and convert them to the size of Jesus, but I preferred the hyperbole of Jesus as a 15.3lbs baby.
15 When the Eastern Imperial Eagle migrating from Spain eastward, in December, stops in Israel.
16 It is a well-known fact that angels, although beautiful and attendant, spend most of the day in a deep sleep.



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