COURTESY OF KAILUA UNITED
Kailua United Methodist church members are walking, running, cycling and stretching to tick off the 18,000 miles westward to Jerusalem. Above, Alex Tom sprints.
18,000 miles through faith
A Kailua church takes part in the "Walk to Jerusalem" program
Jerusalem is the destination of 150 members of Kailua United Methodist Church.
They aim to reach the Middle Eastern city, where the events of Christ's last days on Earth played out, by Easter, April 16, the celebration of his resurrection.
It's not a package tour, no air fare involved. People are walking, running, cycling and stretching to tick off the 18,000 miles westward to their destination in this "virtual journey."
The Windward church is one of dozens of churches to use the "Walk to Jerusalem" program combining spiritual devotions and physical activity to "increase the health of the body, mind and spirit," said Sue Pignataro, coordinator of the program and a registered nurse.
She keeps track of the miles logged weekly and posts geographical and cultural vignettes from the places they've reached on the virtual journey.
This week, there's information on Tokyo with a postscript about a former pastor who lives there on the church's Web page at kailuaumc.org. And now, it's on to Seoul.
They have logged 11,000 miles thus far. This is not an extreme sport. The miles are collective, the total effort of all participants.
"There's a spiritual connection to good health; it's not just physical," said Nancy Evans, creator of the program and a parish nurse like Pignataro. She presented a workshop on the program Thursday at the Castle Medical Center parish nurse class.
A nurse with St. John Health in Detroit, a part of the Ascension Health system of Catholic hospitals, Evans was concerned about parishioners who can become housebound and inactive in the dire Midwestern winter. That concern, and someone's anecdote about a meditational walking program following the steps of Jesus, were the inspiration for program. "I say the idea came from the Holy Spirit," Evans said in an interview.
It was such a great idea that the St. John Health ministry team at Lake Shore Presbyterian Church in St. Clair Shores outside of Detroit launched it before getting it thoroughly organized. That was in January 2002.
Since then she has prepared a curriculum of weekly scriptural readings and reflections and had the program copyrighted and trademarked. A church has only to purchase the book and CD for $30, and "they can copy it as many times as they want within their church."
COURTESY OF KAILUA UNITED
Harriet Butler does her part in the "Walk to Jerusalem" program.
The idea has been adopted by churches around the United States and in one Canadian city. Some add variations on the theme, such as congregational T-shirts and "walking with God" cards on which participants write their own reflections.
Evans said it's especially successful in church schools where teachers combine history and geography lessons for the countries on the way to Jerusalem. Those who start from the Midwest have a quicker passage. She figures it's 6,675 miles from St. Clair Shores to Jerusalem, heading east.
A lot of the "mileage" is over the oceans, and "there's a lot of Scripture about water. It works into the devotions."
For adults as well as children, visualizing the journey puts fun into it, she said.
"It's satisfying because of the accountability. You put your name up on a sheet, and you have committed. It is a team effort," Evans said. "I'd like to see more small groups walking together, identifying with each other."
The slow and the lame aren't benched. Evans gave credit for one mile for each 20 minutes of aerobic activity such as swimming and tennis. The program can give credit for yoga, tai chi and weight training.
"I have an elderly congregation. For some people, to even get out of a chair is a major effort, and they deserve credit," said Evans, a nurse for 13 years. "If they do armchair aerobics, for every 20 minutes they get one mile."
Evans has done the walk 10 times and is doing it again with the three churches she serves as parish nurse. "I walk for two miles inside during snowy weather."
She developed a variation, "Walk to Bethlehem," geared to end at Christmas.
This year, she adapted the program as a "community walk" and has interested mall walkers and a weight-reduction class. "I added a passport to good health, where they check off vegetables and fruit they eat. I wondered if a mall group would go for the devotional thing, and they were responsive to it."