by Dineen O’Rourke, Community Outreach Coordinator for the Western MA team
During our long travel days it has always seemed to be that the steepest and most challenging hills appear right as we approach our destination, a cruel final test of our strength for the day. It’s almost perfectly timed – for right when our frustration and fatigue levels are at their highest and we’re ready to lie down or jump in the nearest body of water it’s that church sign, showing a name we recognize from our notes and spreadsheets, that instantly rejuvenates us into song and smiles- a sudden harmony of sighs-of-relief.
Arriving at the Hope United Methodist Church in Belchertown easily encapsulated all of these feelings – we rode into the small driveway cheering in song and laid ourselves on the grass, stretching, sighing, and laughing. As we were waiting to be let into the church, a woman approached us with six popsicles in hand and a determined smile on her face.
“I saw you all ride up and knew you must need these.” She handed the classic-childhood-plastic-tubed popsicles to us and introduced herself.
Her name is Debbie and later on we learned that she is the heart and soul of keeping the church safe, clean, and in working order – the “caretaker of the church” as the Pastor would later call her. She expressed pure joy at our arrival and assured us to come to her with any questions or concerns we could run into.
When we met Pastor Aida we knew our short layover here was going to be memorable. She welcomed us with hugs, showers, and laundry at her home (perhaps the closest way to get to a Climate Summer riders’ heart…) And when we came across a housing conflict for our next stop, Aida didn’t hesitate to host us for another night – excited about us being able to attend service on Sunday, meeting her congregation, and getting to know us better.
Belchertown was not supposed to be a place where we’d be doing organizing work – it was scheduled as a single day layover as part of a 3 day, 100 mile trip frocm Lowell to Holyoke. But when Aida knew we’d be there Sunday, she quickly tailored us into her Sunday service and gave us a significant amount of time to talk about the program and the pipeline fight we’re working on. We took questions from the kids during children’s time, spoke with the congregation at coffee hour, and tabled at the farmers’ market talking to people about the pipeline.
Everyone in this community was extremely welcoming and eager to know more about our program – how we were doing biking everywhere, what our interests were, what communities we’ll be visiting… It was a truly gratifying experience to be so welcomed and appreciated by a community who didn’t even know we were coming and who we met just one Sunday morning.
As we were packing up our bikes to ride to Holyoke that Sunday afternoon we heard a voice coming from the house next door.
“Wait!” It was Debbie; she came running to us with a bag filled with spare change. “I have to give this to you all…I gathered it from around my house. Thank you for all that you’re doing.”
Serendipity is beauty; often the greatest experiences are the ones that weren’t even planned (or on the spreadsheet.) Thank you, Belchertown and Hope United Methodist Church. Thank you Pastor Aida, Debbie, and everyone we met there. Thank you for reaching out to us, for showing us the beauty of community, and for inspiring us to give help whenever it may be needed.