biking

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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VIDEO: Muslim ‘Female Heroes’ Bicycle Across Iowa to Inspire Women Around the World

Screenshot via RNS / Youtube
Screenshot via RNS / Youtube

To celebrate their 50th birthdays, Mara Gubuan and her Urbandale, Iowa, high school classmates invited six elite Muslim female athletes to RAGBRAI, the annual bicycle ride that took place July 19-25 across the Hawkeye State.

The idea was to “create a counter-narrative” to dispel the misconception that Muslim women don’t compete in sports. The riders of Team Shirzanan, from mostly Muslim countries, showed it could be done, even while wearing headscarves during July’s summer heat.

Born to Pedal...

THE FIRST BUG was a surprise, glancing off my front teeth to lodge in the nosepiece of my fashionable clip-on sunglasses. Note to self: When biking to work, keep your mouth closed. So the second bug was totally my fault, but I defy you to bike three whole miles without exuberantly singing songs from Broadway musicals. (“Oklahoma” is particularly susceptible to bug ingestion.)

Fortunately, the second insect was quite palatable: chewy, of course, but with an aftertaste of fresh clover and just a hint of oak, suggesting it might go well with a nice pinot noir or, on a particularly hot day, a carafe of iced sangria. (Note: When June bugs are out in force, replace wine with a mint-flavored mouthwash. And flossing is a necessity.)

I BIKE TO work these days because the District of Columbia has strongly suggested I do so, in lieu of spending a year in jail and up to $5,000 in fines. Frankly, I could use the time incarcerated to catch up on my reading, but it seems to me that in imposing a fine they’re just trying to punish me. (Although there’s a chance that was their point.)

This was communicated to me in a letter from the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (SATAN). Using the terse and unforgiving language of a junior high school principal, it informed me that my license has been suspended for 180 days. But I can explain:

You know how it is when you’re northbound on I-95, a highway of mind-numbing flatness, like Kansas, but with more Starbucks. And you know how it is when you’re driving your hybrid electric car and feeling your oats—or, for younger people not familiar with that expression, feeling your Red Bull—and you want to see how fast you can go while STILL getting 58 miles per gallon.

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