Pastor's annual hike renews spiritually, physically, emotionally

7/22/2013

Once a year, Dr. Glenn Martin has a mountaintop experience.

Literally.

During the past 10 years, Dr. Martin, senior pastor of Richmond Hill United Methodist Church, has taken 10 days off each spring to hike a section of the 2,178.3 mile-long Appalachian Trail. This year he hiked a nearly 150-mile segment from Harpers Ferry, W.V. through Maryland and into Pennsylvania.

His yearly tradition dates back a decade, when a friend and church member told Dr. Martin that he planned to walk the entire Appalachian Trail. When he asked Dr. Martin if he’d like to join him for a portion, Dr. Martin jumped at the chance.

“My first introduction to the trail wasn’t a very glamorous one,” he said. “I only walked 40 miles and I didn’t do very well, but it got me thinking about it. The next year I decided I would walk the whole trail (in sections), and walked a 110-mile segment through Great Smoky Mountain National Park.”

Dr. Martin, who has long loved being outdoors, enjoyed hiking that “beautiful, beautiful” section of the trail, and from that first experience, decided to hike the remainder of the trail.

Over the years, he’s hiked from Georgia to the New Jersey border, plus the state of Vermont. The walks usually range from 140- to 150-mile sections. 

He hikes for a variety of reasons. The trips are spiritually, physically and emotionally rewarding, Dr. Martin says. 

“I love the outdoors. Over the years I have found that it is a very renewing experience,” he said. “It’s very spiritual as well as physical. It’s very physically challenging to walk in the mountains with a pack on your back when you haven’t done it all year.

“I like the challenge. I like the peace that comes in going. I enjoy learning about history on the trail.”

Leaving the obligations and pressures of daily life helps him focus, too.

“The one thing you can’t leave behind is yourself, so you have to deal with your own self emotionally and spiritually, and that’s very renewing.”

He always carries a Bible and journals throughout his hike. He records his experiences and thoughts, and also writes down sermon ideas.

Each August he preaches a sermon series inspired by his hike. Sometimes the series is named “Lessons from the Trail;” other times it’s been “A Walk with God.” They are all rooted in scripture and share experiences, stories and God-moments he had while on the trail.

“It’s one of the favorite series I preach all year. People seem to enjoy it, and I enjoy it.”

Walking 15 to 17 miles each day, from sunup to sundown, gives Dr. Martin plenty of time for reflection and time with God.

“Often, in the routines of life and ministry, I don’t sit down and de-stress well, I just push through it,” he said. “But when I come out to a trail I find it’s a place where, if I haven’t faced those things well, they come to the surface.

“So that setting becomes a great release; it becomes a place of letting go as well as a place of renewal.”

While hiking he doesn’t carry tracts or set out to evangelize, but he has had great encounters and conversations with other hikers.

“When given the opportunity I do like to talk about my faith and tell them that God is in this journey with me,” said Dr. Martin, whose trail name is “Rev.” 

The beauty of nature and God’s creation help foster his intimacy with God.

“I feel close to God there,” he said. “There’s a deep sense of feeling God’s holiness in the beauty of what you see around you.”