#BeUMC RAGBRAI Team, churches brings Connectionalism Across Iowa

#BeUMC RAGBRAI Team, churches brings Connectionalism Across Iowa

August 10, 2023

Written by Liz Winders, Director of Communications, and Courtney Levin, Communications Officer. Edited by Katie Dawson, Assistant to the Bishop

Hundreds of bicyclists from all over the world experienced the power of The United Methodist connection during the 50th Anniversary RAGBRAI. 
RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) is a festival of bicycles, music, food, camaraderie, and community. It is the world's oldest, largest, and longest multi-day bicycle touring event. RAGBRAI L was an 8-day, 500-mile route from Sioux City to Davenport, Iowa.

United Methodists Biking Across Iowa

Rev. Craig Ferguson, a church planter and pastor at Johnson River of Life (JROL) UMC in Johnston, IA, and Hopkins Grove UMC in Madrid, IA, had a vision back in October of 2022 to sponsor a team of United Methodist bicyclists on RAGBRAI's 50th-anniversary ride. Ferguson wanted to form a team of riders from United Methodist Churches across Iowa that could demonstrate the UMC connection, serve the needs of the riders and the local communities, and offer an experience of the sacred and the common merging.

"Although I grew up in Iowa and had often wanted to ride RAGBRAI, life seemed to make it impossible. I rode for the first time in 2022 in memory of Steve Cary, a founding member at JROL, who loved RAGBRAI," said Ferguson. "As I rode solo and self-supported across Iowa that year, it gave me a larger vision of what connectionalism could look like. I witnessed the UMC in every town I rode through, some serving meals or pies, some offering hospitality to strangers, free water, and simple shade. I also had great conversations along the road, met UMC members from other states, and simply shared life and faith. At that point, I felt the Holy Spirit pressing a thought on my heart." 
View a gallery of images from the ride.
Ferguson wondered why, with United Methodist Churches everywhere in Iowa, in these fifty years, we have not had a UMC team. Could we support local churches by promoting their meals and highlighting their UMC presence? Can we support a team of riders and host them in churches all the way across Iowa? The question burned in him: What could United Methodist connectionalism look like in Iowa and the world today? He saw RAGBRAI as the perfect opportunity to reclaim our UMC identity. 

That vision became a reality with 30 biking team members and seven members providing support from July 22 – 29. The 2023 #BeUMC RAGBRAI team consisted of first-time riders, couples, families, lone rangers, and seasoned riders. Some started before sunrise and finished the day around noon. Others took their time riding through towns and finished around sundown. The team provided overnight air-conditioned accommodations at churches and homes, bathrooms, showers, a trailer for hauling luggage, coolers of ice-cold drinks, a full-size pickup, and a 12-passenger minibus for picking up tired and hot riders. On average, Iowa's last week of July is usually hot and humid. But this year's high temperatures ranged from 87 to 98 degrees with heat indexes of over 110. With the extremely uncomfortable temperatures, team members were grateful for the generosity and support of each local church that opened their doors to them.

“Between the mileage, hills, and heat, this was the most challenging RAGBRAI I’ve participated in. Having a team of riders, support crew, and churches along the way made a huge difference this year,” said Rev. Nate Nims, member of the #BeUMC team and pastor at Walnut Hills UMC in Urbandale, IA. “While it’s possible to ride RAGBRAI alone, RAGBRAI isn’t about isolation; it’s about creating connections and finding community. From conversations with Texans about the United Methodist Church they are members of to a chance meeting with a woman that went through a Chrysalis flight I helped at years ago and hearing her say she’s proud of the new directions the United Methodist Church is heading in, hearing stories of hope reminded me that church, like RABRAI, is better together.”

United Methodists offer hospitality, a good meal
The Iowa Conference hosted a #BeUMC expo booth in Sioux City where riders and their support teams could pick up a daily prayer guide and route map highlighting local United Methodist Churches and receive a free #BeUMC koozie. United Methodists from Alaska, Florida, New Jersey, Texas, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, California, South Carolina, Illinois, Utah and more stopped by to introduce themselves. Presbyterians, Disciples of Christ and people of other denominations thanked us for being present during the ride. Many also wrote down their prayers for everything from good weather, tailwinds, safety, and traveling mercies to healing, salvation, and peace. A special highlight of the booth was the opportunity to have their bikes blessed by Bishop Kennetha Bigham-Tsai. 

Many United Methodist churches have been a part of RAGBRAI through the years as it is a beautiful way to fundraise and a place for connection for churches, towns, and those participating, and this year was no exception. Churches served breakfast, lunches, dinners, and an enormous number of pies but also provided hospitality, including overnight accommodations, showers, cool-off spaces, and campgrounds.

The future of United Methodists and RAGBRAI

The #BeUMC team is already looking forward to RAGBRAI 2024, which will take place July 20-27.  They would like to start getting the names of people who would like to join as riders and/or support. Not only would they like to see each UMC Conference represented, but they would also like to welcome people from all over the world to join the team. If you want to learn more, please join their Facebook group at RAGBRAI L Team #BeUMC or email [email protected].
The #BeUMC team’s advertising was sponsored by a generous grant from United Methodist Communications.