Tour de' Central North District
District Superintendent Morris Matthis has long been biking for causes. This summer he’s pledged to ride to all 52 churches in his district to rally with leaders around the importance of “the connection” and the significance of apportionment participation.
He’s calling it the Nothing But Sweat Ride. In 2008, biking enthusiast Morris Mathis (currently serving as District Superintendent of the Central North District) rallied a group together to ride to Ft. Worth to raise money for the internationally-focused Nothing But Nets campaign to fight malaria in Africa.
Flash forward to 2013 and he’s at it again, only this time his cause is a local one and he has 52 much-closer destinations. By mid August he will have ridden about 335 miles -- many in almost triple digit heat. Upon arrival Morris holds a brief meeting with church staff and leaders that begins with a brief devotional, prayer, an explanation of the purpose and significance of apportionments and a brief time of fellowship.
According to Frances McKneely, Day One of the tour was Morris’ birthday, so First UMC, Humble greeters had a birthday cake waiting. His sidekick for that inaugural day was fellow rider Eddie Erwin, District Lay Leader for Central North. Eddie notes, “When I heard Rev. Matthis was planning to ride his bike around to the churches in the district, I was eager to join him. It is easy for local churches to think that we are often just working in our own local communities. This renewal of circuit riding is a great way to connect with all of our district and let churches know that they are loved and supported.” Adds Eddie, “It is one thing to visit churches while isolated in a climate-controlled car, but dramatically different, experiencing the Texas summer by riding through the neighborhoods and communities that our churches are reaching. It was a special opportunity to pray -- pedal stroke after pedal stroke -- mile after sweaty mile, for our pastors and parishioners of the Central North District.”
First UMC Humble volunteers Betty Jo Phillips and Juanita Schott were amazed with the whole idea of the bike circuit ride in the heat of the summer, but said, “We thoroughly enjoyed meeting Morris and hearing his explanation dating back to John Wesley’s travels.” Juanita adds, “I was impressed with everything he said, and still can’t believe he rode 45 miles that day to visit our church and others in this area. That was more than thoughtful of him!”
“I have long been planning to ride the circuit of all my churches, and this seemed to be the right time. My biking tour will hopefully strengthen the significance of our roles in a connectional church, and the role of apportionments in making that happen.”
Atascosita United Methodist Church Pastor Andy Noel believes this bicycling adventure “certainly builds a bond between our local church leadership and the district. It is an illustration of how important apportionments are.” Rev. Todd Jordan, Strawbridge UMC, Humble, knows churches can sink into isolation from time to time, so he particularly loved the circuit rider symbolism drawing attention to the connection of United Methodism. “As a pastor, I was glad to see the district leader literally putting sweat equity in this adventure to build support and raise awareness of the importance of apportionments in the connection process. It was a powerful gesture.”
Agrees Rev. Cynthia Hinson of St. Paul’s UMC, Conroe, “Yes Rev. Matthis donned his spandex and packed his bottles of cucumber-melon Gator Aide to reinvent the traditional United Methodist historical figure of the circuit rider. He is sharing words of encouragement as a reminder that every local church is connected to every other one, sharing in missions and ministries and enabling the members together to accomplish what no one church can do alone.”
His devotional in Conroe on Monday afternoon was inspired by the first chapter of Ezekiel with its unforgettable words about wheels within wheels. “You might think, as a cyclist, that I might find a parallel between Ezekiel’s words and biking,” Morris shared, “but what I’m seeing today is the same thing that our founder, John Wesley, saw back in 1778 when he wrote his sermon 131, The Late Work of God in North America. Every church is like a single wheel in a greater mechanism of good. There are bigger wheels, and smaller wheels; but they are all-important and have a great job to do. I was reminded of that this week when one tiny part in the rear wheel of my bike gave way, and I had to replace the entire wheel. Never underestimate the significance of any part of the Body of Christ.”
After a 30-minute visit, he mounted his bike again as the congregation at St. Paul sang “Happy Trails to You!” He was headed to The First United Methodist Church of Conroe, to continue encouraging and strengthening the churches under his care. Matthis not only knows how to keep the wheels turning, he knows how to keep the churches rolling in the right direction, too!
“I am excited about this circuit cycling adventure,” Morris adds. “I hope it makes a positive statement about who we are as a district and why the things we do year after year are important. Hopefully it will be a good reminder for all that we are not in this alone!”