The annual Blessing of the Bicycles is as much about community as it is about religion.
Dozens of cyclists came to Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church in the Annex on Sunday hoping for a little divine protection.
The Blessing of the Bicycles, as the event is known, started fifteen years ago at New York City’s Cathedral of St. John of the Divine. Trinity-St. Paul’s picked up the tradition four years ago at the urging of Martin Reis, a cycling advocate and box-office manager for Tafelmusik, a baroque orchestra and choir that has its offices inside the church.
“About five years ago, they said, ‘We want to do Earth Day celebrations, what can we do?’” said Reis. “They asked all around, and I said, ‘Well let’s do a guerilla garden,’ which they did. And then the next year they wanted to do something different, and I said that this had never been done in Toronto before, but they’ve been doing this thing in New York called the Blessing of the Bicycles. And they said, ‘Well, I’ve heard of blessing animals before. Why not bicycles?’ And it’s just been growing ever since.”
Reverend Vicki Obedkoff said that the blessing, which involves both a prayer and the sprinkling water on both bike and rider, twins nicely with the United Church’s focus on the environment and social justice.
“I found the liturgy online. I believe it had some Episcopal roots in the United States…and it has a really great scripture text from the prophet Ezekiel, all about ‘wheels are spinning, and the creatures on the wheels are in motion,’” she said. “It’s prophetic, but it’s also a lamentation about what we’re doing to the Earth.”
“It’s even more prophetic now,” she added, “because we know we need public transit, and we know we need cycling infrastructure.”
“I see [cyclists] as prophetic people, with the kind of spirituality that’s called for right now.”
Reis said that, whether or not you believe in the spiritual aspect of the event, things like the Blessing of the Bicycles help build a sense of community among the city’s cyclists.
“We know what it’s like to ride a bike in Toronto, whether you’re in the suburbs or downtown,” he said. “All the road space is for cars…That’s made very clear by the design. Anything I can do to fly in the face of that and show how great and wonderful bicycles are, I will do that. I couldn’t think of a better way to just say thank you to people who ride bikes in Toronto.”
Cyclist Dave Cronsilver, who brought his bike to be blessed, agrees. He thinks the blessing could, in a roundabout way, help with the fight for better bike infrastructure.
“People come by and get their bike blessed,” he said. “And then they meet other cyclists and can organize around being interested in the same things.”
While Trinity-St. Paul’s is the only church currently doing the blessing, parishioner Lyn Gaetz, who is part of the organizing committee for the event, is talking to other faith groups about doing something similar.
“A woman [from another church] came through today and said she’d be very interested in working on that with me,” she said. “I’m very concerned, as many of us are, about our Earth and climate change.”
“My only inkling of hope is that there are faith communities in every city, town and village around the world. If we could all be in solidarity with each other for the Earth, regardless of what else we believe, then we might be able to do something.”