A Message from Alan B. Ward…


We just took a trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for our family vacation. The area is a barrier island, so of course you have to cross water to get there. We drove over several bridges going and coming. Bridges are fascinating to me. It's always remarkable to think that at some point there was no road where we were now driving without giving a second thought. But someone had to...

Bridge-building requires vision-and then it takes hard work (intention) to make the vision a reality. In the case of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland, for example, he first discus-sion of a building a bridge across the Bay began in the 1880s, gaining momentum by throughout the early 20th century. The original plan called for a bridge from Miller Island (east of Edgemere, MD (in Baltimore County) to Tolchester Beach (in Kent County), and was approved in 1927-but the stock market crash of 1929 and ensuing Great Depression quashed that idea. Then, in 1938, the General Assembly approved construction of the bridge from Sandy Point (in Anne Arundel County) and Stevensville on Kent Island-although World War II delayed actual construction for over a decade. In 1949, workers finally broke ground broken on the first (eastbound) span of the Bay Bridge, and it opened in 1952; the General Assembly approved construction of the second (westbound) span in 1968, and it opened in 1973.

It's one thing to have an idea to build a bridge, it's another to actually construct one where none exists. The water isn't as smooth as it looks; laying pylons in the water is hard to do [see photo]. Construction is where vision impacts with reality-where the rubber literally hits the road, and the plans sometimes have to be altered. For example, the now famous curved design of the Bay Bridge came about as a compromise that would allow existing access roads to the bridge to be used while still leaving the prime shipping channels in the Bay open to ship traffic (the curve allows the main spans of the bridge to cross the channel at ~90 drgree angles).

Bridge-building is also dangerous work. In the documentary I referenced earlier, one of the men who worked on building the Bay Bridge told stories of maneuvering on steel girders hundreds of feet above the ground. (Similar perilous tales can be told about the construction of other famous bridges-e.g., San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.) I cringed just watching some of the footage shown in the documentary, and thought, "Man I could never do that". The man interviewed said that soon enough, he and his fellow workers got used to the job, and did it almost without thinking. (My guess is they learned not to look down.) They were young men at the time who needed work, and they surely felt it was an adventure. Nevertheless, there is no denying that the bridge-building work they did was quite risky-so far as I know, there was no safety net for the Bay Bridge (like there was for the Golden Gate Bridge). Four men lost their lives during construction of the Bay Bridge, and there were many more "close calls".

A bridge also has a huge impact on the area where it is built and the nearby communities. The Bay Bridge, for example, certainly changed Maryland. Before the bridge, the only way across the Chesapeake was by ferry; there were several ferry routes that crisscrossed the Bay prior to the construction of the Bay Bridge. Even so, in many ways, Marylandss eastern and western shores were isolated from each other and existed as "two different worlds". Resorts on the western shore of the Bay, such as the town of Chesapeake Beach (close to where I grew up) thrived prior to World War II. The construction of the Bay Bridge (combined with the end of railroad service about a decade earlier and the continuing rise of the automobile) began to change all that. Especially once the Bay Bridge opened, the ocean became more easily accessible and the resorts on the resorts on the western shore of the Bay declined in quality. Chesapeake Beach was just a sleepy, rundown town when I was a kid in the 1970s, but my parents-and especially my grandparents-remember its heyday. My grandmother told me stories about what it was like, and I can hardly believe that Chesapeake Beach was once a resort town on par with modern-day Ocean City-complete with an amusement park with a wooden roller coaster over the Bay, dance pavilion, railroad station, steamboat landing, etc.

Interestingly, in addition to these plans for a "Northern Bridge", there were proposals to build a "Southern Bridge" from Lusby, MD (in Cal-vert County), to Taylors Island (in Dorchester County). See http://www.roadstothefuture.com/Chesa_Bay_Bridge_History.html to learn more.

The construction of the Bay Bridge connected the two shores of Maryland, so that people could now live on the eastern shore and commute to work on the western shore-and vice versa. Goods and services could also flow freely over the bridge. Fresh produce grown the eastern shore could now more easily reach stores on the western shore. Conversely, products manufactured in Baltimore and Western Maryland could reach the eastern shore. The bridge itself was built out of steel manufactured at Bethlehem Steel (in Pennsylvania). Roads and infrastruc-ture had to be upgraded on both sides of the Bay to accommodate the dramatic increase in traffic crossing the Bay. Many towns on the eastern shore were changed as the "new highway" (a.k.a., Route 50) bypassed the downtown area.


Our preaching series this summer at Good Shepherd UMC has been on Biblical Bridge-Builders. While none of the individuals we have considered built literal bridges like the one spanning the Chesapeake, several of them did have to cross a body of water to get where they needed to go. (It's interesting how the spiritual journey is often accompanied by a physical journey of some sort.) I would argue that all these men and women were, metaphorical Bridge-Builders. Each, in their own way, faced a challenge to "build a bridge" or "cross over" to a new "place". All of them faced difficult tasks that required embarking on long and risky journeys to make God's vision, or dream, a reality. Just like the Bay Bridge, the "bridges" these Biblical characters constructed weren't built overnight, but rather took years to complete. In fact, sometimes the initial bridge architect did not live to see the finished product-Hebrews 11:13. Moses, for example, never was allowed to "cross over" into the Promised Land. Nevertheless, the efforts of Moses, and these other heroes and heroines of faith, to "build bridges" clearly had lasting impact in the communities in which they dwelled. The Table on the next page summarizes the Bridge-Builders we've considered (or will consider) this summer, the Scriptures read each week, and a brief summary (my interpretation) of their impact. If you've missed a Sunday or two this summer, you might find this resource of interest.

Table. Overview of this Summer's Survey of Biblical Bridge-Builders at Good Shepherd UMC

Character Scripture Reference Summary
Noah Genesis 6:11-22 When sin and darkness had corrupted the world, God called Noah and his family to be a bridge from one era to the next for humanity. The ark was a vessel of redemption, that would protect them from the storm, and eventually transport them to dry land after the floodwaters receded.
Jacob Genesis 32:11-33:15 God called Jacob to seek reconciliation with his estranged brother Esau. The night before he crossed the Jabbok to meet Esau, Jacob has an encounter with God during which he drops the guise of the Trickster, and "crosses over" to embrace his true identity as Israel, who wrestles with God.
Moses Exodus 14:1-30 God called Moses to literally part of the waters of the Red Sea so that God's people could "cross" on dry ground from slavery in Egypt to freedom. Moses went on to lead God's People on a 40-year journey through the wilderness to the cusp of the Promised Land.
Ruth Ruth 1:1-18 God called Ruth to leave her country to accompany grieving mother-in-law on a journey to her homeland. Ruth risked much in leaving Moab, but it also opened a unique opportunity for her, as she met and married Boaz, and became great-grandmother to Israel's greatest king.
Lydia Acts 16:11-15, 40 Lydia was a Gentile "God-worshipper" who responded to Paul's preaching by worshipping Jesus. She (and her family) became the first European converts to Christianity, thereby building a bridge between continents and cultures. Her hospitality toward Paul's mission team in Philippi built a bridge that enabled growth of the church in that region.
Boaz Ruth 2:1-13
Ruth 4:13-22
2 Samuel 12:24
God calls Boaz, a Jew, to step across cultural divides and take Ruth, a Moabite woman, as his wife-her kinsman redeemer. In so doing he builds a bridge over "troubled waters" anchoring the promise of the future-King David and ultimately Jesus-to the Jewish heritage of the past.
Mary Magdalene Luke 8:1-3 Mary Magdalene is not the woman many have assumed her to be. She was a key supporter of Jesus' ministry-and among the very first to proclaim: "Christ is risen"! Her remarkable story encourages us to know our own story as children of God.
Barnabas Acts 11:19-30
Acts 13:1-14a
God calls Barnabas to be a bridge between the Hebrews and Hellenists in Jerusalem, and between Gentiles and Jews in Antioch-where Christianity was "born". He is also a bridge to a new generation of leaders as he becomes "sponsor" and mentor to the Apostle Paul, and eventually allows Paul to "cross over" and take the lead.

While researching this article, I came across a Maryland Public Television documentary produced in 2014, called Spanning the Bay, that documents the history of the Bay Bridge and the impact it has had on the state of Maryland. It can be viewed at http://www.pbs.org/video/2365236730. This was a source for the information on the Bay Bridge in this article.

I have enjoyed this preaching series. I'm working on the upcoming message on Barnabas, so I've been immersing myself in his story in recent weeks. However, it's been interesting to hear other "familiar" Bible stories about the other heroes and heroines of faith, but to be challenged to hear them with fresh ears-and to seek to "find myself" in the story. The stories of these Biblical heroes and heroines don't offer easy answers to the questions of faith-or of life-with which we all wrestle. As far as I can tell, these were ordinary people whom God equipped to do extraordinary things. They were human like you and me, and they struggled at times to be faithful and obedient just as we do. And yet, with God's help, they all accomplished much, and each left enduring impacts on the Jewish and Christian faith. These examples encourage us to be like Jacob, and to continue to wrestle with God for as long as it takes to get an answer..

What about you? Have you "found yourself" in these stories we've studied this summer? Has one of the stories really spoken to you more than others? Or maybe you found yourself in several, if not all the stories? It's easy enough to listen to the Biblical stories about Bridge-Builders in church, and then walk away and forget what we heard an hour after worship. If we do that, however, we are missing the opportunity this series seeks to provide us. We might think about questions like:

-Where are we called to be vessels of redemption bringing hope and healing to our world?
-Where do we need to "cross the Jabbok" and seek to reconcile estranged relationships?
- Where do we need to work with God to "part the Sea" so that others can be set free from bondage to what ever may be holding them prisoner?
-Where does God call us to leave a familiar place and venture on a journey of faith for the sake of someone we love, and in so doing provide opportunities to experience God in a new way ourselves?
-Where are we called to risk stepping out in faith to be a bridge across cultural, generational, religious, racial, and/or gender "gaps" so barriers that currently create division between followers of Christ can be removed?

Of course, this is just a sampling of the questions that might emerge after hearing the stories of these and other heroes and heroines of our faith-see Hebrews 11 for a nice overview of some of the other stories. The point is not to dictate specific questions we must answer, but rather to be open to whatever it is God has to say to us through them.

One thing seems clear, our world needs Bridge-Builders now more than ever. There are some treacherous shoals that need "bridges" built over them in today's world. Sometimes the "gaps" between us and them seem nearly impossible to bridge. But with God we believe all things are possible. Followers of Christ have always been called to break down dividing walls, to build "bridges" over "troubled waters". Ultimately, the problems we face in this world require all of us to solve them. We cannot afford to continue to be so deeply divided and polarized. While we obviously can't heal every divide that exists, and we won't all agree on the answers-nor is that kind of homogeneity required to have unity in the Body of Christ-I pray that through these and other examples from Scripture, we can each discern individually (and together as a community called Good Shepherd UMC) where God calls us to be Bridge-Builders in our world. Yes, building a bridge is hard work; no, it's not without risk who build the bridge; but if we engage in it faithfully, it has the potential to change our church, our community, and, yes, even our world, for the better. So, what are we waiting for? It's time to move beyond the "feasibility study"; it's time pick up our shovel and "break ground"!