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Active Faith

A young woman with a hydration pack wanders up and asks, “Mind if I use your prie dieu? I smelled the incense from all the way up the hill and I wanted to come say a rosary before I did my eight-mile loop.” “By all means,” I reply, and then shoot the other two clergy a smile of utter delight. The Rev. Travis Helms had fired up the thurible an hour earlier, while the Rev. Brin Bon brewed hand-ground coffee with the rest of the Hounds of Heaven.

What had started as a few parishioners from St. Matthew’s Austin (Lisa Hobbs, Brad Banister, Nicole Banister, Clark Hughes, Kelli Hughes, and Caroline Watt) inviting their friends to run a race with them had turned into a full-blown, officially sanctioned prayer tent at the Ragnar Hill Country Trail Relay in Comfort, TX. Intentionally connecting our spiritual lives to the way, we already move through the world is what Active Faith is all about.

My old divinity professor, Dr. Ted Smith, said that ethics isn’t something you grab hold of as much as it is something you swim around in. Active Faith is a lot like ethics in that sense. Some days we’re curating a prayer tent at a trail running race and some days we’re learning how to march and sing hymns with St. James, Austin as we move from the steps of the Texas State Capitol to Huston-Tillotson University on MLK Day. Yet at every turn, Active Faith is pairing up spiritual intentions with everyday passions. Here are a few more examples of the waters we’re swimming in.

My wife, the Rev. Madeline Shelton (St. Christopher’s , Austin), loves the water and so when she found a canoe for $100 a few years back, it was all the catalyst we needed to try one of those new-fangled Canoecharists the young folks down at Christ Church Cathedral, Houston were doing. Four of them later and we’re seeing twenty folks an outing and lots of smiles from all the people walking around Town Lake.

The Reverends Brin Bon, David Peters, Shannon Preston and I all love to run, so after a successful Ashes on the Hike and Bike Trail, we decided to keep meeting and praying every week around Town Lake. Parishioners, walkers, Austin High students, and canines come and go, but every week someone gets a little extra dose of the Holy Spirit during their morning walkabout.

Over a meal with St Matthew’s parishioners Anne Webster and Stephanie Koller, I learned about Camp Gladiator, a fitness-based organization that was doing some really great community building (Camp Victory). A few burpees later and we’re in a quid pro quo relationship with them—they use St Matthew’s parking lot for camps in return for running obstacle courses for our young families and anchoring our first annual Wellness Fair (with more to come) for the entire Northwest Hills community. One of their vice-presidents, Brandon Brickley, even came to our adult formation hour to share his story of how faith, fitness, and community helped him get through the murder of his family.

And the connections keep on coming: Tough Mudders with the Episcopal Veterans Fellowship; Spartan Races with the Reverends Sean Steele and Micah Jackson; church-sponsored family campouts, led by the Banisters, in the Texas State Parks; and monthly contemplative Eucharists following community yoga in the St Matthew’s Day School Fun and Fitness room.

The St. Matthew’s staff provides the hub for these Active Faith connections. Clergy members—the Reverends Merrill Wade, Travis Helms, and Christian Hawley—encourage, empower, and train the laity to start their own small groups or organize their own events while our communications director, Christine Havens, keeps the parish and wider community informed of activities through the website and social media outlets. Business Manager, Chris Schumacher, Sexton, Jose Prada, and Administrative Staff, Margaret Carpenter and Mickie Dunn, schedule, clean, and maintain our seven-acre campus for optimal active usage.

The Spirit blows where it chooses, and those of us participating in Active Faith are having a lot of fun realizing just how much it’s on the move in the communities around us.

The Rev. Christian Shelton Hawley is the associate rector at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, Austin, TX. Outside of traditional parish activities, he spends a lot of time with veterans, trail runners, conservationists, bouldering friends and his adventure partner, the, Rev Madeline Shelton Hawley. More information about Active Faith can be found here.

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