Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

March 20, 2014

A spiritual ride

Pedaling prophet enjoys quiet reflection on bike commute

By Judy Wakefield

---- — Some clergymen might spend their mornings in quiet reflection before leading their congregations in Sunday services.

Others might enjoy fueling up with a healthy breakfast.

But Rev. Jon Heydenreich, pastor of Faith Lutheran Church on South Main Street, begins his Sundays by strapping on his helmet and hopping on his bicycle.

Every Sunday, faithfully, regardless of the weather, the 57-year-old pastor pedals the 7 miles from his North Andover house to the church where he’s been the spiritual leader for the past 20 years. He repeats the trip three times during the week as well, when off-site appointments during the day don’t necessitate the use of his car.

To him, cycling is like a quiet, focused prayer.

“It’s a metaphor for the spiritual life,” said Heydenreich, whose wife, Marsha, serves as his co-pastor at Faith Lutheran. “It’s a way to disengage, to live without all those electronic connections of our popular culture, like the iPhone, the iPad and the rest that are always on.

“... It’s a time of meditation and stillness for my mind when I experience a measure of God’s peace.”

A serious cyclist who logs thousands of miles a year, Heydenreich said his daily rides allow him to appreciate the changing seasons. He said the winter scenery, devoid of flowering landscapes and leaf-filled trees, may seem blah and boring to others. But he finds it meaningful, comparing it to the look of his church altar during this season of Lent, when just two vases, each holding a barren branch, grace the pulpit.

There have been disappointments along the way, too. There have been four flat tires and tumbles from the studded tire bike. And, there was the close encounter with a FedEx truck. Heydenreich had to throw himself and his bike into a snowbank to avoid being hit one December day.

“The driver said he did not see me. I think he was in a big hurry ... I brushed off, kept going,” he said.

But those encounters are infrequent, as Heydenreich sticks to back roads — not busy thoroughfares like routes 28 or 125, and is equipped with a lighted helmet guiding his way and keeping him visible to passing motorists,

Heydenreich has no plans to stop his bicycle commutes, saying they serve to help him decompress, focus on his thoughts and deliver a worthwhile sermon.

“It’s nature’s stillness,” he said. “Some days are just amazing ... all is well with my soul.”