bicycle

Why Some Pastors Are Taking Up Bicycles to Better Love Their Cities

bangkokhappiness / Shutterstock
Bangkokhappiness / Shutterstock

A BEEPING, BUSTLING Boston intersection is a strange place for a sanctuary, but on a blustery August evening, the corner of Beacon Street and Massachusetts Avenue becomes just that.

“This is holy ground,” says Rev. Laura Everett to several dozen people who form a semicircle around her and a lily-white bicycle chained to a concrete pole. Flowers overflow from the bike’s front basket.

“We’re here to dedicate this ghost bike,” Everett tells the growing crowd, “a visible sign of an invisible reality—that we’re fragile humans, and we’re only here for a little while.”

Everett, clad in religious vestments, and the crowd around her, wearing bike helmets and messenger bags, are installing the “ghost bike” as a memorial to 38-year-old cyclist Anita Kurmann, a beloved endocrine surgeon in the city, who was killed 13 days earlier when she was struck by a flatbed truck. A cyclist reads Psalm 23 into a megaphone and another reads a letter from Kurmann’s lab supervisor before Everett leads the congregation in a simple call-and-response prayer.

“When we choose to take a bike instead of a car,” Everett prays, “when we choose to listen instead of shout, when we choose advocacy instead of complacency, when we choose to get curious instead of cranky, when we choose to heal a broken world instead of cursing it, when we travel past this spot, remind us of Anita.”

“Holy One,” the crowd responds, some with eyes clenched shut, “hear our prayer.”

It’s a remarkable thing to witness (even on YouTube months later): a Christian minister leading a wildly diverse community of cyclists in prayer and lament for a fallen sister, and for each other. Her bike ministry extends beyond presiding over ghost bike ceremonies, though. Everett—a United Church of Christ minister and executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches—leads a “blessing of the bikes” each May where she prays for cyclists’ safety and anoints dozens of sets of wheels with chain lube. And as a four-season commuter cyclist herself who’s officiated three ghost bike ceremonies for fellow cyclists in a little over a year, she’s become a fierce advocate for transportation infrastructure that respects and protects cyclists.

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