Featured Columns

Written by Don Walter
From his column A Minute with Donminute-with-don-01-16-1

Folks who know me know I like to ride my bicycle. Somewhere in my psyche I’m probably trying to reclaim lost youth. Truth be told, there are moments when riding that I recall the freedom and excitement I had as a youngster on my bike.

One of my favorite pastimes on a bicycle is riding Rail Trails. Rail Trails are simply abandoned railways that have been converted to bike paths. There are thousands of miles of them all over the U.S. There’s a certain nostalgia one experiences when riding pathways that long ago served as the transportation arteries of the nation. Furthermore, these trails provide great exercise in a safe and enjoyable environment.

I discovered these trails about 10 years ago. Since then, I’ve traveled in six states and visited long forgotten landmarks of yesteryear. Every spring I look forward to my first ride, and each autumn I take that last ride of the season with a touch of sadness. Last year, I had the privilege of introducing my grandson to the trails. He turned 10, and I’ve told each of the grandkids they can join grandpa for a Rail Trail ride when they're 10.

Whenever I ride a Rail Trail, I try to learn something about its history. Across the Midwest, where I do most of my riding, trains provided both passenger and freight service—taking people and development to the towns along their paths. Years later, their desertion generally signaled the decline of the communities they had served.

I often wonder about the young men and women who gazed out those train windows as they departed or returned from military service. For many, these would have been the last scenes of familiarity before encountering what may have been the most harrowing experiences of their lives. Those who did return home likely would have viewed the countryside much differently than when they left.

As I visit restored depots, I think about those who once lived here. How many final farewells were said? How many greeted new family members or returning loved ones? And how many “modern” conveniences entered the lives of rural families via these old freight platforms?

As I ride past communities, sometimes I see churches where people continue to worship, but in many cases, church buildings have been repurposed. Now they are quilt shops, diners, town halls, and residences—their glory days gone, as is their spiritual impact on their communities.

These experiences have prompted me to think about the congregations I have been part of or served. I vividly recall financial campaigns when people truly sacrificed to create (or save) a place for their spiritual family. How would they react today to see that which once was such a great focus of their attention, love, and sacrifice as a thrift shop? 

It is at such times God reminds me I’m dealing with two realms of reality, and I must not confuse them. What happened at a train depot, while dramatic, perhaps even life changing, is far different than what occurs in a church—at least, it should be. Most of the consequences of events at train stations ended with the lives of those who experienced them. But the events that occur within churches often produce eternal consequences—at least, they should.

The current status of a building has little relevance to the human transformation that occurred there. Jesus spoke about this when He reminded us to avoid trusting in things that will pass away, while embracing things that are eternal.

Many items are “repurposed” these days. Perhaps it has even affected you. Maybe you long for the glory days of yesteryear—like the excitement of long ago railroad days—but time has taken its toll and your life travels at a pace that is more like that of recreational cyclists than that of the roaring California Zephyr. You might even be tempted to believe your past efforts and sacrifice were for naught, a waste of talent, a bad investment. Don’t yield to that deceit.

The current state of temporal things has no relevance to the everlasting impact of transformation brought about in the lives of those you served, preached to, led and nurtured in their walk with Christ. And for those who are serving congregations today, don’t be discouraged with what seems to be slow progress or depressed growth. The long-range influence of lifting up the Master isn’t measured by years, decades, or even numbers—it is measured by eternity. 


Don Walter is director of Pensions and Benefits USA for the Church of the Nazarene.

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