I thought it was just me, but then a friend who's a vicar said she'd tried her local parkrun but found it too much like her regular Sunday morning! When I stopped going to church (a story for another time), I found running filled the void in my calendar and my daily thoughts. When I discovered parkrun, I had to wonder if I was just replacing one church with another. Here's a description of my experience of either parkrun or the church - can you tell which it is?

I knew some people who go. I used not to be interested at all, but encouraged by their enthusiasm, or perhaps to stop them continually asking me to join them, I decided to go along one weekend. After all it's not like they charge you an entry fee!

When I first went, I wasn't too sure what to expect. I had a look at the website which said they met every week at the same time and also on Christmas Day. For some reason I had submitted my email address even though I'd never been. I've since discovered that lots of people do this, but then don't go till months later, if ever. I started receiving the weekly newsletter, filled with inspiring stories about how people's lives had been turned around since they started coming along each week. There were stories of friendships formed and even mental and physical health improving way beyond what the doctors thought possible.

I finally dragged myself out of bed early one morning and turned up about a quarter of an hour before the start. There were already a number of people there; some were chatting, others seemed to be minding their own business - focused on what was going to happen. Others seemed to be volunteers who were busying around getting things ready.

I was met by an enthusiastic member of the volunteer team who said they were really please I was there and gave me a little information about what to expect and encouraged me to stay for coffee and cake afterwards.

Before things kicked off properly, the person in charge (dressed differently from everyone else) stood up at the front and read out some notices. They welcomed everyone, especially visitors and anyone that was there for the first time. Everyone was reminded that these meetings would not be possible without the volunteers and that more volunteers were always welcome.

During the main proceedings some people seemed to be having a conversation under their breath. I thought this a bit odd - surely they'd want to be concentrating on what was happening? Others would call out things randomly and some would stop and kneel down as things perhaps had got too much for them*. It didn't seem to matter how you approached it, everyone was welcome.

At the end many people hurried off to get on with their busy lives, but others stayed and drank coffee or just discussed the latest crisis being reported in the news. There were a few members that were trying to encourage others to join them on a weekend away, which would involve camping in a field with minimum facilities but lots of time for sharing in, what for many, was so important in their lives.

Like many, this became part of my life and not only would I try to go every week, but I'd also go along to be with a small group on a weekday evening** or if I was away for the weekend I'd see if I could find somewhere to go in the area instead. There are members all over the world, so even if I was in another country I could probably go. There are other organisations around the world that do something similar and have the same vision, so at times I might try one of these if I didn't want to miss out.

I could go on and talk about whether a bell was rung at the end, or the use of a weird four letter abbreviation (was it WWJD or DFYB?), but I think you probably get the picture! Although the description above isn't exactly my personal experience of church or parkrun, it could be either and I'm sure you'll recognise aspects of it whichever you are a part of.

* this may not apply to more traditional churches, but I've been part of some where this would be normal.
** although parkrun doesn't have weekday events, many parkrunners are also member of running clubs that meet during the week.

About Matt

Not known for sport at school, I took up running in my mid-forties. Very soon I caught the running bug and progressed from the Couch to 5K programme, via parkrun, various 10k races and the Great North Run to running marathons and beyond in the UK and overseas. Now in my fifties, I still run fast enough to impress my friends and family, but not fast enough to think I've missed a vocation as an Olympian!

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