There’s something I do every week at the same time that I love, to the extent that my enthusiasm for it spills over to others. I love to share with them how it works, the wonderful sense of community that goes with it, and encourage them to come and see for themselves.
It’s parkrun, and it happens every Saturday morning at 9am at Worcester Woods Country Park with around 500 people usually taking part.
If you don’t know it, parkrun started with a group of people getting together to do a 5km time trial on a Saturday morning in Bushy Park in 2004. Since then it has grown in numbers and reputation from this modest start to now have over a million people registered and parkruns held in 422 places every Saturday morning at 9am in the UK, as well as in a dozen other countries. All of this is delivered by volunteers, and nobody pays a penny. The founder, Paul Sinton-Hewitt, has received many awards including a CBE. His ambitious vision is that every community that wants a parkrun should have one.
Five years ago my brother-in-law mentioned parkrun to me. He’d started doing it in Cambridge and had seen that there was one in Worcester too. So my eldest daughter, Harriette, and I went along for the first time in October 2011 – almost exactly 5 years ago. Since then, I have done parkrun 200 times (out of a possible 262 I think, not allowing for Boxing Day and New Year’s Day specials), which reflects how smitten I am.
From the start, I was very taken by how well-organised it was, the sense of community and how friendly and welcoming people were. It is a very supportive, non-judgmental environment. In fact, it has a lot of the attributes I would hope for in a healthy church – but a different dress code! Quite a few people from St.Peter’s Baptist Church run it regularly, and I’ve got to know lots of new people as friends through it.
I hope you can see the parallels with church. They are certainly not lost on me. In fact, I think that church could learn a lot from parkrun. It is wonderfully inclusive, very welcoming of newcomers, a strong and supportive community, it’s good for you and it has the ambition to change the world.
These two worlds came together for me this year when I ran the Worcester 10k. When I opened my race pack, I saw that my number was 1633 and it had “John” printed on it. It made me smile as John 16:33 is a Bible verse that has a lot of significance for me. In it Jesus says to his disciples; “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world”. I kept that in mind during the race, especially towards the end when it seemed very appropriate!
The Bible has several references to running. Here are a few;
Hebrews 12v1-3: . . . and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
1 Corinthians 9v24-26: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly . . .
Philippians 2v13: Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labour in vain.
John 20v24: Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.