Church cancels Sunday worship to support members in cross-country relay
When Rev. Travis Ewton learned that two of his lay members would be participating in the Great American Relay on a Sunday morning, he sent out a message to his congregation: church is cancelled; come show your support.
“The Calumet and Red Rock United Methodist Churches postponing services to come support us was awesome, and the escorts provided by the Calumet Volunteer Fire Department, Calumet Police Department and the El Reno Fire Department was humbling,” said Shawn Davis, who ran along Route 66 from El Reno to Hwy 270, a 9.2 mile run. “The event is meant to honor those that serve us, yet there they were early on a Sunday morning serving their community once again.”
Ewton said he learned about the event and his members’ participation during an administrative council meeting. After asking a few questions, he thought there was a chance the event might conflict with the Calumet church’s 9:30 a.m. worship service.
“I didn’t know how long it would take them to run, so I said, hey, it seems like this is a better use of our time,” Ewton said. “We made the decision right then to cancel church that Sunday, and I said I would let everyone know.”
The Great American Relay is a 3,500-mile run from Boston, Massachusetts to Santa Monica, California. Event fees and donations support three foundations that benefit the families and survivors of military and first responders. Davis said he’d wanted to participate last year, but wasn’t able to travel to southern Oklahoma for the route. This year’s route went along Route 66, just miles away from Calumet, so he signed up for a section.
“Lead runners are able to dedicate their portion of the relay to those they wish to honor,” Davis said. “I chose to dedicate mine to my brother, a 31-year veteran of the Oklahoma City police department, and my dad, who we lost to Covid-19 in January of this year. You could say it meant a lot to me on a whole lot of levels.”
Lindy Renbarger, Calumet’s elementary school principal, ran a seven-mile stretch immediately after Davis, said the run was special to her and made her proud to be part of the event.
“Shawn told me about the event and asked if I wanted to participate. I said, most definitely,” Renbarger said. “My son is a volunteer fireman and is going to college to be a police officer. I felt I had to be involved and wanted to run for him.”
One of the ways Ewton got the church involved was to have kids in the Wednesday after school program make signs and posters to hold up along the relay route. Both the kids and the teachers were excited to be involved.
“People that were definitely wanting to get out and support Shawn and Lindy were glad they didn’t have to choose between that and church,” Ewton said. “I think it was super meaningful to Shawn and Lindy that we would be there to support them and cheer them on.”
Renbarger said there was an escort from the Calumet police and fire department in addition to the church and community support. She said she loves how people in town encourage each other. Ewton said that community members would use the back roads to travel to a point along Route 66 to cheer for Lindy as she ran by, turn around, and drive another mile along the back roads to do the same thing again. The same option was not available along Davis’s route.
“That was the best feeling in the world: having so many people we know cheering us on and supporting our run,” Renbarger said. “It made it so exciting, and I will cherish that memory forever.”
In addition to supporting the runners, Ewton said there was also an opportunity to reach out to the community. Davis’s wife had purchased donuts for the first leg of the run and had several boxes left when it was time for the handoff. She offered them to Ewton, who proceeded to hand them out to the supporters along the remainder of the route. He took the remaining two boxes to the Red Rock church, his second charge, and passed them out to members, telling the story of community support. He said it was a good way to get people involved, even if they had not been there in person.
“I think absolutely we would do something like this again,” Ewton said. “I think it’s a great way for us to practice our faith.”
Davis and Renbarger both said the organizer was impressed by the church and community support. The day they ran, the event page changed its Facebook background to a photo of them with members of the church and community.
“The organizer of the event said that to this point, the support shown by our community was the best he has seen,” Davis said. “They will definitely use this route again next year. I hope more people will sign up to run with us.”
Ewton was glad for the opportunity to get folks beyond the walls of the church, or what he calls “being the church instead of just going to church.”
“A lot of times, unfortunately, our congregations are full of people who only do the church thing on Sunday morning, and they don’t participate in the mission and ministry of the church throughout the week,” Ewton said. “This was a great way to get them involved. So yeah, I would definitely do it again.”