Allez, les Pilgrims! The power of a team

At the Escalade race 2017.

One of my favorite activities - running - tends to be thought of as a solitary endeavor. And it’s true: I rarely have the opportunity to run on a team.

But my two teenage sons, 16 and 14 years old, run on their school track team. Their favorite race is the 800-meter relay, in which four people each run 800 meters (a half mile) then hand the baton (hopefully without dropping it) to the next person on the team. I have cheered with great excitement for my sons and their teammates as they push themselves physically and mentally in these relays. Many of these young people can run 800 meters in well less than two minutes!

I once I asked a coach how such kids – particularly teenagers who may not even be motivated to, say, clean their rooms – are inspired to drive themselves to run so fast, because running at that speed is actually extremely uncomfortable. The coach said, “I enter them in relays and here is why: these kids will run faster for their team than they will for themselves.”

On 2 December I had the privilege of running on a team: the World Council of Churches (WCC) “Pilgrims for Justice and Peace.” The day before the race, I was so excited to receive my race bib and especially my team shirt, black with white letters - very visible day or night. But when I arrived at the race site the next day, hours before the actual start, I began to feel nervous. I was alone, jet-lagged, severely lacking in French language skills, and intimidated by the freezing weather – and the even-more-freezing wind.

Then I spotted a shirt that matched mine: one of my teammates! I introduced myself. My stomach unfurled, and we began to greet our other teammates – 10 of them – as they arrived.

The Pilgrims ran about five kilometers through Old Town Geneva, cheered on by more music, spectators, and festivities than I’ve ever seen in my life at a running race. I ran with sheer joy.

Yet if I had to run this by myself, I simply would not have come. The team made all the difference, not only helping me run faster but giving me the courage to even start.

We will run faster for a team. We will go through Herculean efforts for a team, even if it makes us uncomfortable.

Isn’t this what the ecumenical movement is - a team? With its Pilgrimage for Justice and Peace, the WCC has a global team that enables its members to go further than they can on their own. And not only go further - but to even go to the starting line in the first place.

The WCC team is all around you. Seek them out. Cheer them on. Every effort you see for justice and peace – wherever it is on its course and whatever pace it is proceeding – is part of the team – a team that has the power to outrun violence, racism, injustice, oppression, extremism, hate.

Allez, allez, les Pilgrims!

About the author :

Susan Kim is a freelance writer, mother and runner who lives in Laurel, Maryland, USA. She is a frequent contributor to the efforts of the WCC Communication department. She writes about social justice, faith-based groups, humanitarian aid organizations, and disaster recovery, along with outdoor recreation and entrepreneurs.

Susan Kim is a member of the United Methodist Church.


The impressions expressed in the blog posts are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.