It must have been about 20 years ago when I first drove through Wyoming.
“Look! You can see for 100 miles,” exulted my friend and the driver of the car, Rachel.
“My point exactly,” I grumbled. “There’s nothing here.” I was referencing the undulating brown mountains that sported no vegetation, no trees, no nothing. It looked like a moonscape.
“I could live here.” Rachel signed contentedly.
“Not me, ” I asserted. “No way.”
Imagine my horror, then, when I got a call from the the Wyoming District Superintendent, Lynn Evans, about 8 years later. He wanted to appoint me to serve the United Methodist Church in Rawlins.
“Do you know where that is?” he inquired.
“No,” I confessed unhappily. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. I had requested an appointment to serve a church in the Denver area, close to my friends and network of support. What was HE doing calling me? This was not good news.
I arranged a secret reconnaissance mission to go check out Rawlins before the official interview. As I was driving up there with a friend on Memorial Day weekend 1999, I realized that this community was near the same spot in the road where I had uttered those fateful words: Not me. No way.
When we left Denver that morning for the road trip, it was hot and sunny. We stopped in Laramie WY, just North of the Colorado border. The wind was blowing, and all of a sudden I felt chilly in my short sleeved shirt, jeans and Birkenstocks. By the time we reached Rawlins (pop. 9500), 100 miles to the west, it was snowing. Sideways. “Not me,” I thought. “No way. I’m not living here.”
The next morning dawned bright and sunny. A calm blue sky, blueberry pancakes at the local diner, a visit to the local bookstore, the very intriguing mountain formation called the Uplift within sight of the parsonage, and a peek at the church building itself all made me think….well, maybe.
By the time I got home, and spoke to Rachel, I realized I would indeed be moving to Rawlins. But I wouldn’t stay long; of that I was sure. Three-5 years tops.
That was 11 years ago. Within a week of moving to Rawlins, I met Jerry, the wonderful man who would become my husband a few years later, and discovered the strong and ready congregation at the church. I got excited about doing ministry with this active congregation, and got involved in all sorts of local activities. I came to appreciate the strength, creativity, and diversity of the community, even as I lamented its challenges. I grew to love the wide open spaces and wild landscapes.
Even after I completed my tenure at Rawlins First UMC almost 5 years ago, and left local church ministry to found BridgeWorks, I found that I still had a place in this community. I became a Big Sister, taught classes on going green, organized local meetings and events, supported local institutions, made new friends, and am now teaching a Bible Study at the church. For all of this I am very grateful.
I also began to serve on the Board of the Wyoming Association of Churches, discovered the rest of this massive state, and much to my surprise, fell in love with it. Not with its politics, mind you, but it’s geography, canyons, mountains, history, people, and wildlife.
Now, Jerry has accepted a new and exciting job farther North in Glenrock, Wyoming. He’ll be getting to do what he trained for: set up wireless systems for the natural gas industry. That means we’ll be moving in the next few months to the big city of Casper, Wyoming (pop. 50,000).
I’m sad to leave Rawlins and the Uplift, it’s tiny progressive subculture and green community, the church people who will always be “my people”, my Little Sister, and my great friends.
But this time, my heart isn’t rebelling at the thought of living in Wyoming. They say that Wyoming is like one small town with very long streets. I know I’ll see dear friends and faces again. In fact, I’m kind of excited about experiencing another Wyoming community. It might even be time to buy a pair of cowboy boots.