Eagle River Presbyterian Church Pastor Rob Wilson midway through sabbatical
AVON — For Rev. Rob Wilson, of Eagle River Presbyterian Church in Avon, life is a journey of prayer, family and cycling — a trinity of passions that truly makes his heart sing. Over the course of three months, he’s reconnecting with all three on a sabbatical journey he hopes will take him from the heights of Mt. Evans on his road bike to the hills of Tuscany and the grave of St. Benedict.
Thanks to a Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Grant from the Christian Theological Seminary, Wilson delivered a final sermon on Sunday, July 2, and won’t return until the final week of September. In his absence, Wilson’s longtime friend from seminary school, former private investigator, restaurateur and current presbytery executive, Alan Adams, will fill in.
“One of my fears with the sabbatical is people will think the church is taking a vacation,” Wilson said. “I’m trying to make clear that the church is not going to stop visioning and growing. What I love about sabbaticals is that it kind of puts some responsibility for the church back in the hands of the congregation.”
Wilson said Adams’ focus has long been on missional theology, which dictates that the church exists for the world and the community it’s in and that congregants need to “get our faces turned outward.” That’s especially important during times of national and global turmoil, he said.
“How do you be a positive solution instead of just complaining about the problems?” Wilson said of the renewed focus on missional theology. “It’s great timing.”
Meanwhile, after more than a dozen years of leading Eagle River Presbyterian Church — including the tough transition from Minturn to its new home along the Eagle River in Avon — Wilson is ready to turn his own focus inward in prayer and outward by reconnecting with his wife, Barb, and their four children.
In his application for the Lilly grant, Wilson was asked what things he’s most passionate about and how he could best reconnect with those aspects of his life.
“The big things that emerged for me were reconnecting with my family, reconnecting with prayer and reconnecting with cycling,” Wilson said. “Those are the three things that just really make my heart sing.”
First, the whole Wilson clan spent a week on the Caribbean island of Nevis, and then Rob went off on an individual weeklong adventure trips with each of the four Wilson children, renting a car and heading off in whatever direction they wanted to go. After that, Wilson’s devotion to cycling will kick into high gear.
“Disgraced cyclist Floyd Landis has an inspiring quote,” Wilson said of the one-time Tour de France winner. “He once said that cycling is the monastic sport because you just spend so much time alone and in your own head, and of course, he was raised in a Mennonite home and prayer was part of his life early on.
“I actually used that in my (Lilly grant) proposal, and I just said that’s why I love cycling, because I’m in my own head and I can pray, so prayer is kind of the big focus spiritually for me,” Wilson added, “and I’ve always been infatuated with St. Benedict, who was a monk in Italy who founded the Benedictine monasteries and kind of a whole method for praying and discerning and being quiet.”
After Wilson spends a week in a monastery in Snowmass and embarks upon several intense bike trips in Colorado and around the region — including his first ride up the highest paved road in North America on Mt. Evans — Rob and Barb Wilson will wrap up the sabbatical on a cycling tour of the Tuscan hills of Italy, where they’ll visit the grave of Saint Benedict in Monte Cassino and Anzio, where Rob Wilson’s grandfather landed with the 2nd Infantry during World War II.
At one of his final sermons on June 25 — referencing Gandalf and his “Lord of the Rings” penchant for disappearing and then rejoining the Hobbits — Wilson urged the congregation to continue its spiritual journey without him: “God is up to something, and you don’t want to miss the music. I’ll catch up too (in September).”
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