Reverend on a Bicycle on a Mission
Rev. Mark Schaefer thought the Alleghenies would be the worst; then he got to Ohio’s flatlands.
“It was demoralizing,” he said of the grueling day spent pedaling against the eastbound wind. “I thought, ‘If it’s like this the rest of the way to Chicago, I’m toast.’ Fortunately, it wasn’t.”
Schaefer was on the sixth day of his 10-day summer bike trip from the District of Columbia to Chicago. During that time, he traversed steep mountain passes, the rain-soaked dirt roads of Amish Country, and the setbacks of two flat tires.
As AU’s Methodist chaplain for the past 12 years, he set out on the trip knowing there would be ups, downs, and possibly wind, but he believed in his goal—raising money for his campus ministry.
“I was planning out the route [before leaving], and then I got a thought that I should do something with this,” he explained. “It’s kind of a big deal, and maybe I could use it to raise money for the campus ministry or at least bring some attention to that.”
With that idea, Schaefer established an online fundraising campaign, encouraging members of the AU community and beyond to support every pedal of his 800-mile journey. He even opened portions of the fundraising to two Chicago-based charities.
“I would basically bombard people’s Facebook feeds with, ‘Hey, I’m doing this thing and going really far. It would be great if you could contribute,’” he said. “It helped a lot because people felt like they were sponsoring the effort, not just writing a check.”
Help it did.
After Schaefer hit the road in July with only some clothes, a cellphone, an iPad for blogging his trip, and Game of Thrones—in paperback, of course—students took up the campaign in his absence, providing progress updates to donors and even pledging to match gifts.
Assistant director of the Kay Spiritual Life Center Christine Gettings saw Schaefer’s efforts as engaging students and building community, money or not.
“He put a lot of time and effort into it. I think it’s really selfless of him to use that experience to raise money,” she said. “A lot of students paid close attention to it and got a lot out of it. It was inspirational.”
When Schaefer finally arrived in Chicago sporting AU colors, he had exceeded his goal of $4,000, instead landing more than $5,000 to fund on-campus fellowship activities, student-led service projects, and travel for students attending conferences on social justice issues, something central to his ministry.
“One of the things we pride ourselves on is that when students come to me and say, ‘I have an idea,’ we try to support that idea any way we can. Having these resources will allow us to do that even more. When students say ‘We’d like to do this project,’ we can provide the seed money or initial support,” he explained. “Those kinds of scholarships help our students connect more broadly and not just on campus.”
While Schaefer enjoys biking—he’s also biked home to Albany—his efforts really do come down to his investment in the AU community. At an average pace of 75 miles a day, his journey represents just some of the lengths to which he’ll go to inspire and engage his students.
“I hope that the students who come to this campus ministry will see the connection between what it is they believe and what it is they’re studying to do and make a difference in the world,” he said.
Schaefer, who teaches a semesterly course on religious heritage of the West, laughs when thinking about his next bike trip fundraiser.
As he remembers that day biking through Ohio, he knows one thing for sure.
“I will do another one. I haven’t figured out where I’ll go, but this is kind of my thing now, I guess. So long as my body holds out,” he said. “But definitely next time I’ll make sure it’s more eastbound than westbound so that the wind is at my back rather than in my face.”