When I was working as a chaplain at Seven Ranges Boy Scout summer camp, we sang a song from Will Allen Dromgoole’s poem “The Bridge Builder.” It’s the best explanation I’ve heard for working with Boy Scouts:
An old man going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm vast and deep and wide.
Through which was flowing a sullen tide
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting your strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day,
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build this bridge at evening tide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head;
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followed after me to-day
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been as naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”
I recently realized that this is not only the reason I support what the Boy Scouts are trying to do; it’s also the reason I do what I’m doing now in the church. Jesus asked us to go out and make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching people. Jesus himself made disciples by building bridges – bridges between Galilee and Jerusalem, between Israel and Samaria, between rich and poor, between male and female, between children and adults. I want to be a part of that bridge building work.
This means, first of all, building bridges between people. Langcliffe has a great history and talent of building bridges between old and young. It’s one of the very few truly intergenerational places that I visit. We also have a history of building bridges between Protestant and Catholics. We can expand those ministries to bring together people who have recently moved into the area and people who have lived here for generations. We can build bridges between Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Agnostic people. We could also build bridges between the rich and the poor, native citizens and immigrants, black people and white people, Spanish-speaking and English-speaking people, and old and young people outside our doors.
Bridge building however, as defined in Will Allen Dromgoole’s poem, doesn’t mean allowing two people to meet. The old man and the young boy in the poem will never cross paths, the boy only follows in the old man’s path. So our bridge building should also mean creating opportunities for disadvantaged people. Supporting the Avoca and Moosic food pantries is one way we already do this, but we can expand it by working to increase the standard of living in our community, supporting local businesses and job creators, hiring people who are different than us, pushing for and funding better public transportation, holding free medical clinics, volunteering for after-school sports, programs, and clubs, and so on.
That type of bridge building work is self-sacrificial. The old man has nothing to gain by building the bridge; it’s counter-cultural and an unnecessary act of kindness. This is exactly the kind of love that Christ has for us, and the kind of love we should try to have for God and each other. So as I try to go about building bridges to opportunities and bridges between people, I want to try to build those bridges not for my own sake, but for the sake of others who will use them, even if that’s long in the future. I want to build bridges that last – and I want to maintain the bridges that others before me built for my sake.