“It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s not a race. This is a ride, where we’ll be with thousands of people, from around the world,” says Bishop Laurie Haller of the one-week journey that she’s readying to take. “RAGBRAI is known internationally as one of the premiere rides in our world for ordinary people like me, who just want to go out and have a good time and see this beautiful state.”
Bishop Laurie will ride across Iowa in the 2017 RAGBRAI. In this Iowa Conference Conversation, she also reflects on the year since her election to be a bishop in The United Methodist Church, on July 14, 2016.
From July 23-29, Bishop Laurie will be part of a team called the Circuit Riders participating in the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), and she’s looking forward to connecting with people all along the way. “Every United Methodist Church along the route, we’re going to stop at. And if there aren’t any folks there from the church, I’ll probably just leave a note and a ‘thank-you’ for their ministry.” The bishop and her companions will also be staying the night at various UMCs along the way, either in the church itself or at parishioners’ homes. “I’m just so grateful that they have opened their churches to us along the way,” she says.
Bishop Laurie notes that she will be evangelizing on the road with her jersey, which bears the name of the United Methodist Church along with this year’s annual conference theme, “Creating Difference Makers.” Meanwhile many of Iowa’s UMCs will be doing their own difference making during RAGBRAI by acting as depots where riders can come to buy food and connect with church members.
As Bishop Laurie rides across Iowa, she will also have an opportunity to reflect on the first year of the journey of a lifetime, serving as a bishop of the United Methodist Church. It was last summer that the announcement was made that she had been chosen to take on the responsibility. “I just felt almost like it was a dream,” she says of that day, July 14, at the North Central Jurisdictional Conference in Peoria. “I knew that it was a reality, and yet I wasn’t prepared for what it would feel like, and the support and the warmth and the love and the affirmation that I felt at that point. Also, with the knowledge that my life was going to change—from that moment on.”
Although she had allowed her name to be included as a candidate because she felt that God and her experiences were nudging her in that direction, it was still surreal. “To see familiar faces up there on the platform to greet me, bishops that had nurtured and encouraged me over the years, it was a pretty overwhelming experience. I’m just so grateful to God for leading me to this place. I know that I can only be in this position because of the prayers and encouragement of the laity and the clergy in the Iowa Annual Conference, and their support has just been amazing over this past year.”
During this first year of her service, the bishop has felt privileged to help the conference move along in its strategic priorities, which she describes both as an incredible challenge and as wonderfully stimulating. “And to have our annual conference approve this wildly important goal for every congregation to have an intentional path of discipleship by the year 2020, it’s a great challenge, but what an opportunity it is for us. I’m already seeing growth happening, and people wanting to be difference makers and being more conscious of wherever they’re at, knowing that God is calling them to make a difference in the world,” says Bishop Laurie.
“I think one of the most amazing things for me over this past year is how, in working with the cabinet and conference leadership and being able to get out around the state and meet with laity and clergy, I have felt a deep connection with the state of Iowa, with the hopes and dreams of the United Methodists.”
Now, by participating in the RAGBRAI ride, the bishop will get to connect with people across Iowa in a whole new way as she continues her journey.