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Hundreds of Riders Set to Have Their Bikes Blessed at St. John the Divine

By Emily Frost | April 19, 2013 9:11am

UPPER WEST SIDE — Some 300 cyclists from across the city and beyond will convene Saturday morning at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to have their bikes blessed by a Cathedral minister.

"We find that some people take it very seriously, some people think it’s all a big joke and some people are deeply offended," said founder Glen Goldstein, 53.

The Rev. Julia Whitworth, who will sprinkle each bike with holy water inside the cathedral Saturday at 9 a.m., said she was excited for the biking community to turn out for the ceremony.

"It’s a delight to be part of something that’s funny and whacky and New York," she said.

Goldstein also remarked on the seeming oddness of a bunch of bikes parading through the sacred space.

"It does feel strange," he said. "And that’s the best part." 

"It’s really one of the only days of the whole year in New York City where the different bike riders are together in one place — the messengers, the commuters, the little kids, the first time riders," he added.  

Though the service, which is in its 15th year, is held in the largest Episcopalian cathedral in the world, it's not heavy on religiosity. It is ecumenical and the whole experience is over in about 20 minutes, Goldstein said.

"My biggest challenge is to convince people of other faiths [to attend]," Goldstein, who is Jewish, added.

But everyone is welcome, whether they're "atheist, agnostic, Jewish, Muslim, whatever," he said.

Whitworth also echoed the message of openness.

"The cathedral has at its core a mission to serve people of all faiths and of no faith at all," she said. "One of the hurdles we have to jump through is for people to recognize that they are welcome and we’re not trying to force any belief on them." 

Still, some people object to the mixing of church with the secular activity of bike riding.

"We hear complaints every year that it’s disrespectful of the church," said Goldstein, who disagreed. "It reinforces that the church is the place to bring people together."

Though the whole affair generally rings with joy — quite literally, as bikers sound off their bike bells and horns — there is a somber section, when the names of between 15 and 30 bicyclists killed are read aloud.

"I can’t wait for the year when there’s nobody [who died cycling]," Goldstein said. 

The event, which started with only 50 people, has continued to grow over the years through word of mouth and in keeping with the growing cycling population.

Goldstein views the cathedral as a safe space in a city where he says bicyclists are so often hated and derided.

"We’re a pretty hated bunch in New York," he said. "It’s always a shock to me. People really hate us a lot."

Perceptions are changing, he said, with the advent of more bike lanes and thus more riders and more people who know bike riders. But Goldstein encourages riders to leave their activism at the door.

People have asked him whether they can make speeches at the ceremony but so far Goldstein has denied this request.

"It's the one day we try to keep it low key and not espouse our favorite causes," he said.

This will be the first time Whitworth has conducted a bike blessing.

"I can't wait to pray with them and for them and for their safety and pleasure and for the wind to be at their backs," she said.