Editor’s note: This post was written by Colby Henley one of Tucson Velo’s newest contributors. Henley is a daily bicycle commuter and advocate.
On a recent Sunday at Vineyard Christian Community, I asked Dustin Shaber if riding his bike to church was just a matter of convenience or if it meant anything deeper for him. “I don’t really think about it because I bike almost everywhere. But yeah, it naturally fits with my faith” he said. “I think riding a bike is probably more consistent with Jesus’ teachings than driving a big polluting truck.”
It’s not surprising to see bike racks filled at places of worship around the UA campus or near downtown because of the relatively high percentage of bicycle riders in those areas. But why don’t many suburban churches, mosques, and synagogues have bike racks? Is location alone the deciding factor? Do urban places of worship have a different ‘transportation’ theology than suburban ones?
With the growing “Green” trend over the past decade, Creation Care (the idea of humanity’s responsibility to take care of the earth because it is part of God’s creation) has seen an increased expression in faith communities. Some examples include Christian churches organizing an annual Bike to Church day, the Jewish environmental group Hazon, which advocates sustainable living and bicycling, and stories of Muslims completing a 9 month Hajj (journey to Mecca) by bicycle. There’s even a Buddhist Bicycle Pilgrimage.
Sean Benesh, an adjunct professor and church planter who has lived in Tucson and Vancouver BC, now lives in Portland and has written extensively about the deeper connections between the bicycle and faith. In his most recent book, View from the Urban Loft, Benesh writes about the growing trend of stewardship of creation and asks, “but has that led to how we imagine church? The proliferation of the mega-church goes hand-in-hand with the ongoing rise of the automobile. The two are compatible and without the auto there’d be no mega-church. Even if you look at the campuses of most mega-churches you’ll notice the actual building is a rather small footprint in comparison to the endless sea of parking lots. I’ve asked this before and I’m asking it again today, ‘What would church be like if people walked or biked to your gatherings?'”
In a blog post, Marcus Hathcock jokingly asked a similar question. “If one day we woke up and our cars were raptured (ha!), if our independence of travel was stripped away, what would church look like? I think it’d be pretty interesting. It’d be messy, for sure. You’d see petty stylistic things and doctrinal differences take a back seat to unity, because, as they’d say, “You’re all I’ve got.”
With chapter titles like High-Density, Walkable, and Bike-Friendly Cities, Theology of the Built Environment, and Pedestrian-Oriented Church Planting, Benesh goes further and explores how infrastructure and transportation choices impact the culture, inclusivity, and ministry of faith communities. Benesh argues that churches focused on neighborhoods within walking and biking distance are more rooted and in a better position to be a positive influence in their communities.
If you practice a faith, do you think the distance/method you travel to worship makes a difference? Would you be more inclined to attend a service that accommodated bicyclists or was within biking distance?