The church without walls:
Sea to Sea cyclists testify to a different way of living
On June 26, 135 cyclists will begin a nine-week journey across Canada.
Sea to Sea cyclists reach the Atlantic Ocean at the tour's end in 2013.
“To me, this is an ideal time. This is the church without walls. If the government or anyone else were to ask, ‘What are you doing to celebrate Canada’s 150th?’ we can share what we are doing and why,” Peter Slofstra explained. “It allows us to testify to a different way of living that moves from inwardly-focused living to putting others first. It is the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) impacting a whole nation, inspiring people towards good.”
Brothers Peter and Bert Slofstra, both recently retired ministers in the Christian Reformed Church, together with their wives, Marja and Diane, will be joining this summer’s ride. They are cycling to end poverty by raising funds and awareness for World Renew and Partners Worldwide. The tour begins in White Rock, B.C. and will finish in Halifax, N.S. on August 31. The first Sea to Sea tour 12 years ago was planned to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Christian Reformed Church in Canada and raised funds for the purpose of ending poverty. Since then the Sea to Sea tours have raised more than $5.5 million to support over 100 organizations focused on ending poverty both locally and globally.
This will not be the first time participating in the Sea to Sea for either of the couples. Peter and Marja were involved from the beginning of the very first tour in 2005 ‒ Peter as part of the visionary team that dreamed up the idea as well as serving as a chaplain during the ride, and the two of them cycling together on a tandem bike! Peter was also one of the authors of the devotional Pumped that was read by the wider CRC community and supporters of the ride as a way to follow along the journey of the cyclists. Bert and Diane joined the next ride in 2008, which took them through the U.S. from Seattle to Jersey City, with a brief detour through Canada. Bert was one of the cyclists and Diane worked on the kitchen crew, cooking for up to 200 people every day.
When asked about their reasons for joining the ride originally, and again this year, their answers were similar – passion for adventure and for the cause of World Renew. For Peter and Marja, who retired last June after 40 years in ministry and now divide their time between Kitchener and Orillia, Ontario, they felt called to be part of the team because it represents what they feel the CRC should be about. Although they struggled with the decision to join again this year due to concerns about their age and safety, after much prayer they felt peace and are now excited to take part, once again deciding to ride their tandem bicycle, “Big Blue.” Peter will also be serving as tour chaplain again.
Bert and Diane, of Gateway CRC in Abbotsford, B.C., will be retiring from ministry on June 18. While their first experience participating in Sea to Sea nine years ago was part of a sabbatical, this tour will be ushering them into a new stage of life.
“The tour begins one week following our retirement from full time ministry, and we see it also as a good way to begin disengagement from a community where we’ve lived and served for 27 years,” Bert told Christian Courier.
A CRC Navajo group in New Mexico hands out water in 2013.
The shortest and tallest cyclists on that tour.
Cake prepared by a church in Cornwall.
Living simply and 1 Cor. 9
Both couples said that they are thrilled to do the 2017 ride together, and that their first tours created many great memories and taught them some important lessons too.
“The tour didn’t only impact others; it impacted the cyclists too,” Peter and Marja explained, saying that after nine weeks on the road, they learned to appreciate the blessings of their home and were inspired to live more simply. They saw evidence that the tour opened people’s eyes to a new lifestyle.
Bert and Diane agreed. In addition to learning a lot about small town America, as their route was mostly through regional roads, they learned that there was a lot of poverty within the U.S.
“The main thing we learned about ourselves was how little ‘stuff’ we really needed to live. We were only allowed two baskets each to store our stuff in the gear truck, and discovered that what we actually ended up using would have fit into one basket,” Bert said.
What do they think about during long hours on the road? Each person said that his or her focus is immediate – being aware of their surroundings and the need for safety, with lots of time to pray. Reflecting on the powerful metaphor of running the race in 1 Corinthians 9, Bert said:
“Aside from the obvious truths of the need for training and for perseverance, both in the Christian life and in an event such as Sea to Sea – which is a unique expression of the Christian life alongside many others – is that we never run alone. Jesus runs, or cycles, or walks, or rides – you name the metaphor – right alongside of us. You do a lot of praying while you cycle, for strength and endurance, and for protection on busy roads and in cities.”
Looking back, looking forward
Both Peter and Bert have seen a lot of changes in the denomination over their combined years of ministry in the CRC, some of them negative, but also a lot of positive developments.
“The Sea to Sea was a positive thing,” Peter enthused. “To see the church reaching out, being missional, becoming more visible. This was wonderful!”
Other changes they noted include a loss of loyalty to the denomination and ministry shares, a blurring of distinctive theological lines, less resistance to change and an increase in diversity.
“At the time I [Bert] graduated there was a lot less diversity within churches and almost no diversity among churches. Our diversity within churches – in terms of nationality, ethnicity and race – has increased dramatically, for which we thank God. Our diversity among churches has also increased dramatically; where once you could go to most any CRC in North America on a Sunday and find your own church’s liturgy followed almost “to a ‘T’,” the range of liturgical expression and style of worship is [now] all over the board, so to speak. That, too, speaks to the diversity within the church, and is a gift of God. The diversity of the church, after all, reflects the multi-faceted character of the God we worship.”
Peter echoed this sentiment, saying he regrets that our denomination has not always responded to change in a positive manner or a timely manner.
“People have left because of this. Other churches have learned to embrace things like changing leadership styles, changing worship styles, changing communities,” Peter explained. “I love it when the church becomes more inclusive, diverse, having a culture of grace. Yet we’ve seen a lot of resistance to this.”
As they look ahead to their immediate future and this adventure, both Peter and Marja and Bert and Diane also express their prayers and dreams for the CRC in 2017 and beyond.
“My prayer is that our church would be a church about which people would say ‘here is a church that is loving God and loving neighbour in such a way that I might just give Jesus a chance, or another chance,’” Peter said. “That we would be a church that is gracious, not judgmental, a church that makes room for each other and celebrates our differences.”
Adding that although we cannot help but be influenced by the culture in which we live, Bert’s prayer is that “we do not allow our Christian witness and life to be shaped by the culture in which we live, but work instead – armed with the grace and love we have received in Christ Jesus – to transform our culture for the Lord.”
For more information on Sea to Sea visit seatosea.org.