Body, Mind & Spirit

In John Wigger’s astounding biography of Francis Asbury, American Saint, we learn that no individual in the colonies, not even George Washington, was more famous than the Methodist bishop prior to the Revolutionary War. Asbury, the first bishop of American Methodism, met people face-to-face and he did so by riding an estimated 300,000 miles on horseback during his ministry, all the while preaching thousands of sermons and meeting tens-of-thousands of people.

Mobility has always been a part of the Methodist ministry equation. In the early days, horses were provided to the pastors. A congregation or circuit that did not provide a horse (along with feed and water) did not receive a pastor. Today, clergy have travel allowances and usually drive cars. And when clergy are ordained, they are asked many questions, one of which is: “Will you visit from house to house?” This question hearkens back to the frontier days and has been a part of Methodism from its beginning.

During the week I wrote this column, I also submitted my monthly mileage reimbursement. I see that I travelled 535 miles – an average month for me – as I’ve not only gone from “house-to-house” but “hospital-to-hospital” and “lunch- to-lunch.” And, if I parlay that number into nearly 30 years of ministry, that means I’ve travelled more than 190,000 miles so far or more than 7½ times around the earth. This doesn’t even include air travel to various conferences, or the times I’ve paddled my kayak to church. Other clergy I know have traveled much further and more often than I.

We don’t use horses anymore, but our automobiles reflect our history with equine travel – as we still refer to a car’s “horsepower.” We also like to think that Methodists have “horse-sense.” And John Wesley, founder of Methodism, reminded his preachers they should not waste time or “horse around.”

We are still living our history.

But perhaps the largest questions in this New Year will involve our mobility and our willingness to travel, whether lay or clergy. Where are we willing to go? What needs are we willing to meet for the sake of Christ? How far are we willing to travel, and how quickly can we get there? How many people can we touch with the Gospel – and meet face-to-face – especially in our own towns and communities? To what disasters will our church respond? Will we visit from house to house? And if God calls us to go – when can we begin?

In this age of instant access and extreme mobility, we may also hear echoed the words of Jesus, “Come, let us be on our way.”

Todd Outcalt travels around Brownsburg and environs and frequently composes essays and poems sitting behind the wheel of his car, but he doesn’t text. His most recent book is He Said, She Said: Biblical Stories from a Male and Female Perspective (with Michelle Knight). He also contributes frequently to Rev!, The Christian Century, and Youth Worker magazines, and writes a daily humor blog.