The spandexed and helmeted faithful gathered at Christ Church Cathedral Monday afternoon for a ceremony acknowledging Vancouver’s other religion: bicycling.
Anglican Bishop Melissa Skelton presided over the second annual “bike blessing” as part of a weeklong “Faith Commuter Challenge.” Eleven Lower Mainland faith communities have signed up for the initiative, which coincides with Bike Month, and encourages worshippers and non-worshippers to reduce their carbon footprint by using means of transportation other than the almighty car.
After several prayers and scripture readings, Skelton and local clergy led a procession of two-wheeled chariots out the front door of the church to a booth on the Burrard Street bike route. There, cyclists could get their trusty steeds anointed with chain oil or blessed with holy water, which also made its way to helmets, water bottles and the riders themselves. Transit users could have their Compass cards blessed, and those who preferred biped power had their shoes blessed, reinforcing the notion that they’ll never walk alone.
“Efforts like cycling, that people do for all kinds of reasons, actually advance the goal of the fifth Mark of Mission [to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth], and those who are riding bicycles are attempting to reduce their carbon footprint,” says Skelton, who doesn’t own a bike, but was given a loaner for the event.
According to the bicycle-friendly bishop, the bike blessing is an acknowledgment that the church is “riding along” with its environmentally minded followers.
“It’s not every day that someone will have an object like this blessed, but these kind of activities are the expression of what we do here inside this beautiful space,” Skelton says.
Reverend Christine Boyle, a minister at Canadian Memorial United Church in Vancouver and the director of Fossil Free Faith, which helped organize Monday’s blessing, says cycling has become increasingly popular among her congregation.
“My church has lots of cyclists,” says Boyle, who rides a Brodie “performance hybrid,” with a bike trailer in tow for her young son. “Certainly it’s a bit seasonal, but we’re pretty casual so people don’t have to worry about showing up in what used to be your ‘Sunday best,’ which I think has been historically an impediment in cycling to church. So we have bikes lining both of our bike racks on Sunday mornings.”
The way people worship in Vancouver has also changed the way they get to church, says Skelton.
“A lot of our churches that didn’t think about bike racks before are now thinking about them,” she says. “And many of our churches give directions to public transportation and bus routes, so that’s becoming a much more important conversation than a long time ago when people were in the neighbourhood where their churches were located. That’s not the case anymore because people are choosing different congregations that best express who they are and where they go to, even if they don’t live in the neighbourhood.”
Monday’s bike blessing wasn’t restricted to the faithful, either. Alan Chor, who isn’t a church goer, says he usually rides his “old clunker” to ball hockey games and learned of the event through Bike Month emails.
“I asked [the bishop] if she thought it would make me safer, and she believes it, so if it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me,” he says, laughing.
Then there are riders such as Tor Dekker, who brought his bright green, 1997 Specialized FSR bike to the corner of Burrard and Georgia for a little higher-powered protection.
“Your bike, like all machines, has a consciousness, so I’m just about the consciousness of my bike and I’m just observing and acknowledging its consciousness as my partner in getting me around town.”
Although Dekker can’t recall the last time he went to church, he does consider himself a spiritual person. “Besides, you can never have enough help when it comes to riding a bike.”