The Summer Send-Off Issue

Slow Walking into the Next 5 Years of the Bearings Pilgrimage

My friend Keith Anderson—a good friend of Bearings as well—has taken to the open road. He’s on pilgrimage along the famous, well-worn Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Portugal and Spain for eleven days. (You can follow his journey on his pilgrimage blog.) The start of Keith’s pilgrimage this past week reminded me that we continue to be on our own sort of journey here at Bearings—a theme not lost on Connor Holttum and Pam Shellberg and Aram Mitchell, the featured writers who launched our 2018-2019 publication year after a summer of graphic and editorial redesign for the magazine with features on a trek through the Pacific Northwest Trail and on the challenges and blessings of navigating literal and spiritual wilderness. As an unintended (consciously, at least) metaphor for the redesign of the magazine, it’s been pretty spot on.

Not long after the first issue in our new format, Pam announced that she’d be leaving The BTS Center for Wisconsin to serve as Director of Life-Long Faith Formation at Bethel Lutheran Church. A few months before Pam hit the road in January, the BTSC Executive Director Robert Grove-Markwood had announced that he, too, would be packing his bags for a a sojourn into the next phase of his life, retirement. And, not for nothing, the student assistants, Nick Nagy and Claire Dixon, who have supported publication and marketing of Bearings for the past two years, and have both contributed to the magazine as well, are graduating from college in a couple weeks. Nick’s off to the Peace Corps in Zambia; Claire’s snagged a dream marketing communications position in a Silicon Valley firm (though not before sharing her insights on social media ministry with young adults in “Social Media Ministry as Art“). Thrilled though I genuinely am by selection of The Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill as the next Executive Director, there’s a lot of moving on going on up in here!

Change, it turns out, just keeps happening. Or—to give it a Lao Tzu meets Gertrude Stein spin—wherever you go, the there you see there is never an eternal there. We keep walking on, losing our bearings now and again, eyeing the horizon to get them back. For a moment, at least.

Now, wearying as all this walking can sometimes be, it’s critical in real life-or-death ways. Apparently, our ancient humanoid ancestors hoofed between ten and twelve miles a day foraging for food and water, followed by a long, indulgent nap. The average American walks less than three a day. And we don’t get near enough sleep. Taken together, our resistance to walking and our failure to rest keep our bodies gunked up with all manner of crud that more or less slowly shuts down our hearts, our livers, our kidneys, our brains, and other essential human life systems.

Move it or lose it. It’s a metaphor. (And also not.)

The moves we made over the past five years, developing from a weekly blog to a more structured magazine, according to a small reader survey this spring, to be working out. You’ve told us that you’re pretty happy with the new design, with the range of topics we cover, and with the diversity (in multiple dimensions) of our contributors. We’re pleased with that, but not quite enough to call it a day and settle in for a long summer’s nap. About two-thirds of readers who participated in the survey told us that they don’t regularly use content from the magazine directly in ministry—for sermon preparation, study groups, bible studies, etc. As we talk away from publication through the summer months, we’ll be mulling how we can make the magazine more useful, beyond providing interesting background reading, in practical ministry contexts. (If you’ve got thoughts on that, feel free to leave a comment or email us at

The Reader Experience Survey did give us a tip in a direction that might move us to being of more practical value to readers. When asked what topics we might cover in the future, more than half of survey respondents suggested more coverage of social justice practices, with some noting in open-ended responses that translating social justice teaching and action into local communities can be particularly challenging, especially for smaller congregations and religious organizations. Said one respondent, “It’s good to have an understanding of the issues at a macro level. But how do we get better organized to act in ways that have an impact right where we are?” Look for more movement in that direction when we start up in the fall.

Other survey respondents (about 30%) focused on ministries of healing—through music, through engagement with pets, through practices of prayer, meditation, and contemplation. We’ve visited some of these topics in the past, but we’ll highlight a focus on healing and wellness in the new publication year. The current issue gets us a start in that direction, with Jaime Wright’s exploration of prayer and coping with terminal illness. His “Returning the Call” offers both moving reflection on his mother’s prayer-filled journey with cancer and notes on compelling research on exactly how prayer functions as a source of comfort and hope that goes beyond “cold comfort” even with those who are unlikely to recover from serious illness.

All said, we’ve got miles to travel with you as we move into what we hope will be the next 5 years of Bearings Magazine. We’ve been grateful for your companionship along the way.

But before we sign off for the summer, we have some more nourishment for the journey. Having started our publication year on the trail, it seems only fitting that we head into the warms months ahead with a remarkable video travel journal from The Rev. Dr. Ralph Basui Watkins, who has shared Creative Insights from a pilgrimage to Egypts, where he offers compelling visual and spiritual documentation at the root of African American Christianity. His two-part “Out of Egypt” is a visual story of faith and identity you won’t want to miss.

Finally, as Ralph’s travels make clear, it’s hard to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. With that in mind, we’re sharing contributions from our archives from Nick Nagy and Bob Grove-Markwood, neither of whom will be forgotten on the digital pilgrimage we’ll continue in the fall.

Until then, happy trails…

Gertrude Stein, journey, Keith Anderson, Lao Tzu, pilgrimage, walking

Elizabeth Drescher

Elizabeth Drescher, PhD is the editor of Bearings and a Consulting Scholar at The BTS Center. She is also an Adjunct Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University and the author of Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America’s Nones (Oxford University Press, 2016), Tweet If You ♥ Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation (Morehouse 2011), and, with Keith Anderson, Click 2 Save: The Digital Ministry Bible (Morehouse, 2012) and Click 2 Save: Reboot (Church Publishing, 2018). Her commentary on contemporary religion and spirituality has been published in Alternet, AmericaThe AtlanticSalon, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Jose Mercury News, Religion Dispatches, The Washington Post, and other national publications. She is a much sought after speaker for religious and academic groups engaging the changing religious landscape in the United States. You can find Elizabeth on Twitter @edrescherphd.

Featured image: by Banter Snaps, Untitled (April 11, 2015). Via Unsplash. CC2.0 license.

Body image #1: Ray Hennessy, “Turtle Crawling” (August 2, 2016). Via Unsplash. CC2.0 license.

Body image #2: Valentin Antonucci, Untitled (ND). Via Pexels. CC0 license.