We need to run together
On today’s to-do list: buy some champagne (or some cheap substitute). The reason? Tomorrow morning we celebrate the first birthday of the Ormskirk parkrun. And for a bonus the 110th runner to cross the line will complete the 5,000th parkrun on the magnificent Edge Hill outdoor fitness trail. To say that it has transformed my life might be seen as an overstatement – but this weekly Saturday 5k timed run has certainly transformed my running. The parkrun movement began just 11 years ago when Paul Sinton-Hewitt, a keen runner, found himself not just out of a job but far, far worse: injured. So he decided to invite some friends with a few others to do a timed run, just 5k, in Bushy Park near Twickenham. And that was it for about three years. Then, for some reason they formed a second parkrun on Wimbledon Common, adding a further three that same year. But then it took off in a big way, relying totally on volunteers, an online presence and some brilliant software. Now 875,57 (excluding me) people of all shapes, sizes and variety of fitness do a 5k run each Saturday morning in some 560 parks, mostly in the UK. IT IS NOT A RACE. Last Saturday I beat 77 runners to come 50th. but devastated to be beaten (again) by Victor. For at the heart of parkrun is running together. There is simply no way I could run under 30 minutes by myself – that’s over five minutes slower than my usual parkrun. We just run better together: that’s the way it is. Just as in the Christian life. It was the 17thcentury Puritan George Swinnock who observed that “Satan watches for those vessels that sail without a convoy.” This is one of the main challenges facing Christians today – the sense that we don’t need each other. In fact, only this week I received an email typical of today’s spirituality: “I just don't go to church at present but pray and read the Bible daily and try to follow God’s commandment.”
Sadly, this aspiring disciple can’t be reading the Bible that closely and not trying that hard to keep God's commandments. This is a challenge facing the Church from the days of the New Testament. So the writer to the Hebrews urges his faint-hearted readers“Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24f) Of course, how we relate to each other in church is important but just the fact of turning up each week is in itself significant. I know that when I miss some parkruns for whatever reason (two strange birds out there –where’s my camera? I must describe them to Laurence) several of the regulars jog upto me to say that they missed me. And I don’t normally hang around after the race - oops, run – but over the year I have got to know quite a few of my fellow parkrunners, something I have grown to appreciate. In fact, it is the only thing I do in Ormskirk when I am not in role. It is so easy to underestimate the effect on us of the regular Sunday-by-Sunday attendance at church. I often have a conversation with a parent who has spent the whole service sitting on their young child. They think they get nothing out of it while distracting those around them. Nothing could be further from the truth. “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice,” writes the apostle Paul, “holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1).
Where we are, where we place our bodies so to speak, is hugely important. All kind of things are happening without our realizing it, not least by encouraging our fellow disciples with our presence (and sometimes, with our presents). So tomorrow morning at 9.00 am, by God's grace, I will be there. Usual parking place, usual warm up (about 2k), usual gathering at the start catching up with folk. Then our organiser, Paul, will insist on reading us some poetry in true Vogonesque1tradition before the countdown – and we’re off. “So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out. And run for it!”
(Hebrews 12f Message translation)
1 The Vogons, as described in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, insist on reading their poetry to you, even though the write "the third worst poetry in the universe"