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Congregations open their doors to long-distance cyclists

by Mary Boland

First United Methodist Church of Pensacola, Florida, hosts long-distance cyclists who need a place to stay along their journey.

Hospitality and movement go hand in hand. While many of us travel cross-country in automobiles of all shapes and sizes, traffic on the highway, or a delayed train or flight, is typically the most we have to worry about. For a long-distance cyclist, though, traffic is less a concern than the distance your legs have to carry you to the next place of rest. In such a vulnerable position, cyclists often must rely on hospitality wherever they can find it.

After his own experience as a touring cyclist, Jeb Hunt, creative director at First United Methodist Church (FUMC) of Pensacola, Florida, experienced a wave of hospitality you don’t often find at a hotel. Through the kindness of complete strangers, Hunt had a place to rest over the course of the 76-day journey along the Trans-America Trail cycling route, which runs from Astoria, Oregon, to Yorktown, Virginia. “During the first few days of the trip,” he writes, “I quickly realized that I needed to pay it forward when I finished.”

Most well-traveled cross-country cycling routes are listed by the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA), which also provides contact information for host facilities along the route. Pensacola is along the Southern Tier route for touring cyclists, so Hunt saw an opportunity to pay it forward and open up FUMC as a host facility. Within a month of posting FUMC’s contact information, FUMC hosted their first cross-country traveler, and the ministry swung into full force. Since December 2013, FUMC has hosted over 200 cyclists—young and old, solo cyclists, families, and groups—from all over the world.

Interestingly, Hunt notes many cyclists have not been on church grounds for many years or perhaps at all. Hunt advocates for hospitality with “no strings attached,” but the church setting often lends itself to the subject of faith. Over their breakfast together, Hunt often has the chance to discuss faith with the traveling friends. Hunt explains, “These breakfast conversations often include talks of faith, as they try to figure out why the church would open their doors to complete strangers. It’s a beautiful experience.”

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