By Pastor Heath Wilson
When a representative of the World T.E.A.M. Sports’ Face of America bike ride asked Tom’s Creek UMC to host a rest stop on Sunday morning, April 24, for the nearly 700 riders who would be passing through the area, I was honored and elated.
While we knew this would impact worship, the church knew this is what it means to be the church. We are honoring those who sacrificed for our nation, so as a church, we could sacrifice to ensure they know the Body of Christ supports them and does not take for granted the sacrifice they made while serving.
Since 2006, the Face of America ride has brought together disabled veterans, active and retired military personnel, emergency responders, and citizens alike to honor and raise funds and awareness for the wounded warriors of our nation. This year, participants could choose one of two routes on their way to Gettysburg, Pa.: 110 miles from the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., or 120 miles from historic Valley Forge, Pa. Many of the participants, who had lost limbs during tours of duty, rode special recumbent bikes.
For several years, members of Tom’s Creek UMC in Emmitsburg had cheered on the riders as they passed the church on Sunday morning. Riders often expressed their gratitude for the outpouring of heartwarming support from the church. One rider shared with a volunteer, “We always looked forward to seeing you out there!”
So this year, Tom’s Creek UMC canceled Sunday School and its second worship service to be able to serve as a host of a rest stop for the riders, offering food, facilities, and a place to rest and re-energize before continuing on their journey. A bluegrass/gospel band from Calvert County, called The Unclouded Day, provided uplifting patriotic music. Many volunteers from the church served beverages, nutritious snacks
But more than providing a place of rest was the opportunity for the church community to show gratitude to the participants for their determination and resilience, not only for the wounded veterans but for all participants who embraced the meaning of the American spirit. Riders were greeted at the entrance with a large American flag, hoisted high on a crane provided by D.G. Johnson. Church members, volunteers, a fire truck from Emmitsburg Vigilant Hose Company with members of the company, and community members including the mayor of Taneytown lined the drive, waving flags, clapping, and offering words of thanks and support. The whole event was inspirational to spectators, volunteers, and riders alike.
On a Facebook post, a rider and pastor, Rev. Chris Bishop of FaithPoint UMC, later shared, “Many thanks from team FaithPoint goes out to the awesome pit stop today hosted by Heath Wilson and Tom’s Creek UMC.”
As I watched the bike riders reach the pit stop with the church community cheering them on, as I was told by the wife of the President of Face of America how amazing were the people of the church I serve. As I was called over to pray for one of the teams, I was overwhelmed and humbled by the call God has placed on my life. I was speechless when riders who have lost limbs serving our country said “thank you, to you and your church,” because, in reality, I have given so little compared to their sacrifice. I had a moment when eyes welled up with tears, proud of the church I serve and thankful that I have been given the opportunity to serve at Tom’s Creek.
As the riders set off for the next leg of their journey toward Gettysburg, volunteers could be heard promising, “We’ll see you next year!”
After all, as the Face of America website explains: “We all ride the same road…”
*Pastor Heath Wilson serves the Tom’s Creek UMC in Emmitsburg.