PEARISBURG, Va. (Oct. 25, 2017) -- Matt Hall has been hiking the Appalachian Trail since July. He started in Maine and climbed his way through New Hampshire and Vermont; trekked through Massachusetts and Connecticut; trudged through New York and New Jersey; ambled his way through Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia; and has finally reached Virginia -- the northern part of Holston Conference.
On Oct. 15, members at First United Methodist Church of Pearisburg and the Appalachian Trail Outreach Ministry team welcomed Hall home with open arms. Hall is the fifth chaplain to be sent by Holston Conference to hike and minister on the trail since 2013.
The day started with a church service including Hall in the "children's moment." The Rev. Brian Burch led the children in blessing Hall on the next part of his trip. After the service, Hall enjoyed a potluck lunch with the congregation.
Hall told church members about the adventures he has had this summer. He said physically, the hardest part to hike was in Maine because it had a lot of drastic ups and downs and bugs.
Mentally, the hardest part for Hall was working through shin splints for three days. “I had to hike about an hour and half and then I would have to sit down for about a half hour. There was a point when I was picking up sticks and chewing on them. So I slowed down mileage wise, but I was able to keep hiking,” he said.
He explained that it is hard to know who his ministry has influenced because so many interactions are quick. But one man stood out to him. They were hiking in Maine when he met up with a retired Marine. Over dinner at a hostel, the man told him that the military was his god. Once he was out of the military, he started to hike the trail for a spiritual experience because he knew something was missing.
Then the man turned to Hall and asked him to tell what he was doing on the trail. That’s when Hall told him he was a chaplain for the United Methodist Church to have conversations like that – meeting people on the trail and guiding them.
“He was moved by the fact that the church cared enough to have somebody where he was, doing things that he liked. I guess he always envisioned the church as people who come on Sunday morning, hang out and do nothing with it,” he said.
The twist to the story is that Hall wasn’t supposed to be at the hostel at that time. Earlier, he expected to pick up his resupply package, but it wasn’t there. So he went to a store and picked up what he needed. He ran out of time to get back on the trail and a thunderstorm was rolling in, so he decided to stay the night at the hostel.
“I was literally there when I wasn’t supposed to be there,” he said. “It was one of those things where I was frustrated and thinking, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ and then this happened and there’s God.”
Burch said it was important for Holston to encourage Hall with a welcome back party.
“We just want to celebrate that he’s made it this far and say, ‘Hey, you are in home territory. You can make the rest of the way. You have done a great ministry and you are transforming lives out on the trail,’” said Burch.
The homecoming ended with a group hiking 11 miles on the trail to see him off once more in his ministry. He will continue to hike through Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia.
Hall is expected to reach Springer Mountain in Georgia, the conclusion of his hike, on Nov. 19.
Appalachian Trail Chaplain page on Facebook.
Trail chaplain: "We are all hiking the same path" (United Methodist Communications)
Corrina Sisk-Casson is a Home Deaconess Missioner based in the Three Rivers District.