Yes, it is. God’s Country, indeed.
On Friday morning when I packed my car, I knew that this would be an extraordinary weekend: fishing poles, yoga mat, hiking boots, cope& mitre, crozier, blue jeans, flannel shirt, clerical collar& purple shirt. Any trip that was going to make use of all of these things had a good time written all over it. My Northern Tier 3 Day Immersion Experience had been carefully planned by the Reverends Gibbons, Yskamp and Hinton and their congregations and I was going to get the “full treatment.”
Yesterday’s Holy Hike, Fishing Expedition and Covered Dish Supper was wonderful. The day dawned with crisp air that soon softened to lovely spring warmth, and the sky was the color of a robin’s egg with nary a cloud in sight. We – hubby and I – made our way from Welllsboro to meet up with our hiking party in Brookland at All Saints’ parking lot. We’d been told that the party was meeting at 9 at the church and leaving the trailhead at 10. Somehow, we managed to time our arrival for 9:30 and weren’t sure where to land- church or trailhead. “No problem,” I told my husband, “I’ll just give Janis a call.” Uh, no I won’t. Lesson #1 of life in the mountains: No cell signal. (at least for Verizon customers.) We had a few panicky moments trying to figure out what to do and finally arrived at the church. “No, drive on,” I told my husband. “That’s not the right church- there’s no parking lot. Janis said that there was a parking lot.” Uh. Lesson #2: That was the right church. Parking lots in the Northern Tier aren’t necessarily paved. This one was a grass pasture across the street from the church. We finally found our party at the trail head and after some apologies for tardiness and our seemingly city slicker mistakes, we headed out.
Lewis Russell, an All Saints’ parishioner and hiker extraordinare had planned the hike and mountain top eucharist with Mother Janis. Lewis’ passion is hiking and he has shared with me his stories of hiking the AT and the way that he ministers to others on the trail. He has a ministry of prayer and opening the scriptures to folks on the trail. I love that. We prayed at the trailhead and began our gentle 3 mile out-and-back. As we hiked we enjoyed each other’s company, the extraordinary beauty of the early spring day and the sights and sounds of God’s creation. We saw turkey scratch, budding trees, tiny wildflowers in bloom, hawks circling overhead and one big, scary bear print in the mud. Besides Lewis, the other leader of this hike was the ever-joyful, loveable Wayne Yskamp, Janis’ husband who, in camo pants and pink camo doo rag provided color commentary, rural know-how and general merriment. You cannot be anywhere with Wayne and not be in a great mood. Wayne is a treasure of the Northern Tier.
When we reached the half way point, we stopped at a little outdoor “chapel” and Mother Janis pulled the Eucharistic elements out of her pack. She had made two bandana-stoles for the occasion and compiled a really wonderful service using prayers from the brothers at the Society of St. James the Evangelist (Cambridge, MA) and the New Zealand Prayer Book. (I bet that she’d be willing to share this service if anyone would like to use it.) We prayed, read the scriptures, broke bread and shared God’s holy meal.
On the way down, we split into two groups- one that returned the way that we had come, and another that followed a more “adventurous” path, led by Lewis. I tagged along with the “adventurous” group, and we found ourselves at the top of the Denton ski area, peering down “Avalanche Hill.” I was glad to be in hiking boots and not on skis.
We enjoyed a quick pizza lunch back at All Saints and then it was time for fishing. Truth be told- I was a little anxious. I had a brand-new, first-time-out –of-the-box fly fishing outfit given to me as a consecration gift by my staff and I could not imagine how I was going to gracefully manage wetting a line on my first-ever fly fishing outing. (I’d brought my spinning rods in case I chickened out.) But the Lord- and Janis- provide… and my fly-fishing-guardian-angel was revealed to me in Dr. Pete Ryan, a parishioner of Christ Church, Coudersport who is a fly fishing expert, member of Trout Unlimited and director of Healing Waters, a program that takes disabled Vets out fly-fishing and gives them the healing benefits of enjoying nature, fishing, and the therapeutic wonders of the outdoors. Pete is a saint. We spent more than an hour on “dry land” training and he patiently explained all of the bits and pieces that a beginner would need to know. (10 and 2, paint the wall, use the hammer…. etc.)
I ended up doing some fly-casting (plenty of work to do to “refine my form”) and some spin casting, as well. And… we left all of the fish in the pond.
The congregations of All Saints and Christ Church were waiting on the porch of the parish house when we returned from our expedition. They were gracious to allow their bishop in her fishing clothes and muddy boots into the house and around the table. We had a wonderful meal of home-baked beans with slabs of bacon on top, corn and green bean salad, brown bread, pasta, jello salad, brownies, pineapple upside down cake… the usual amazing array of things that come with a covered dish supper.
What a day.
We climbed into the car and made our way back to Wellsboro, eager to rest up for a day of church at St. Paul’s and a regional confirmation service.
God is good.
(for a report from Day #1 of the Northern Tier Immersion Experience, scroll to the entry just previous to this one.)
*this is an edited version with some corrections made.
*this is an edited version with some corrections made.