The founder and lead pastor of Renaissance Vineyard Church in Ferndale had just returned from a work-related trip to Colorado Springs when I interviewed him, and he’s now at a conference in the southern African nation of Zambia.
But this past summer, he managed to stay close to home while remaining in motion. He spent months walking every street in Ferndale, an inner-ring Detroit suburb of 3.88 square miles and a what the city estimates is 75 miles of local and major streets. (Pool estimates he logged around 100 miles when accounting for doubling back.)
“Like anything worth doing, it was often joyful, sometimes tedious, always invigorating,” he wrote on Facebook earlier this month in announcing his achievement.
In a past life, the 43 year-old married father of four was also stationed at the U.S. Army base at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he got to skydive a few times. I spoke to him about what it was like walking every street in Fabulous Ferndale. The interview has been edited.
What gave you the idea to do this? It was a variety of things. Especially once the church was here I would just walk to and from work a lot, partly for health reasons and partly for economic reasons. We’ve been a one-car family and sometimes a two-car family and back to a one-car family. So I was already walking around. And then it really was an idea I had, like inspiration, three years ago to do this idea of walking around town. I actually printed that map, which is on the (Facebook) forum, just as a way to get to know the city better now that we were more embedded here, just to fall in love and get to know the city and as a way to be in the community. So I had this idea, this inspiration came, I printed the map, put it on my desk, and then never did it, as often happens with ideas. Got busy with real life.
It was in April of this year, my laptop crashed loading a new OS. I was able to recover all of my information, re-archiving all of my email. I was going through all of my emails and happened upon this email that I had mailed myself like three years ago with this idea. I was like man, I should really not treat that as a good idea but actually do it. So I went and got my map, put it up on my wall, and just said, I’m going to do this, street by street, take advantage of the fact I walk to and from work regularly. I will often either when I first get to work first or in the middle of the afternoon, I will just go for a walk and pray and think. If I have a long email or a phone call I need to make I’ll often just walk while I’m doing it, it helps me think. I’ll take advantage of all those things and just do it.
When did you start, and how long did it take you to complete? I had this re-commitment moment in April. I started in probably mid-May. A couple of the streets I had already intentionally walked. I did most of it by Fourth of July. My goal was to finish by then, because I knew that July and August were busy with work and vacation. I got most of it done minus that northeast quadrant, especially east of Hilton, north of Nine Mile, that was the section that took me — it’s so far from my house and from work, it’s like I have to walk there and then walk. And so finally I just started driving, which I didn’t want to do , but it was like, if I’m going to finish this, that’s what I have to do.
So I picked it up after Labor Day and it took me another month to finish. So probably 10 weeks, something like that, maybe eleven.
What did your friends and family think about all of this? Did anybody ever tell you you were crazy? My wife, especially at the end, I appreciated how gracious she was. Like on a Saturday morning, when I’ve been working all week, but then go out for a few hours and walk. For a lot of it, I would just do it as a part of my routine. I could get away with it for about three quarters, just make it part of my routine. But then the last quarter, I just had to do it as part of the commitment to walk the city. She was gracious about it, she thought it was fun.
My kids think it’s funny that I’ll be walking around sometimes and see people I know and wave to them and they wave back. They were gracious in terms of giving me the time to do it. Again, sometimes I took a longer way to get home after work. My friends thought it was cool. It was sort of one of those things where over time, somewhere along the line I had the idea to snap a photo of what I had finished on my route. I had been going for a little bit and had been talking to people about it. People were like, oh that’s cool.
So somewhere along the line I had an idea to every week post an update of where I had walked. And as that happened, more people were like, oh that’s cool you’re doing that, that’s really neat. I remember one person said on Facebook, “I thought about driving or walking the city.” It was interesting to see how that generated conversation with people, even to the point where, when I was in Colorado, I was with colleagues at church, they were like, “He just walked the city.” It was funny, like people followed it. I know one or two other pastor friends are thinking of doing something similar in their cities as a way to get to know the community.
What stood out to you from this whole adventure? What did you see or hear or learn or do? You’ve heard about gentrification — the bars, all that sort of stuff, which is great. I love that and I go to a lot of those places. But a lot of the neighborhoods were quiet and well kept. I was impressed with how many people took a lot of civic pride in caring for their block and their home. I found streets that I never knew existed.
The last day or times that I went out, I went “There are a lot of front-porch couches.” A lot of people have La-Z-Boy couches on their front porches. That just really stood out to me. A lot of places like Sterling Heights and other suburbs, they’re fine places, but they’re back-porch communities. I’ve always described Ferndale — which I love about Ferndale — is it’s a front-porch community. People sit out on their front porches and they wave at their neighbors going by and they cultivate community like on their front porch, which I love. That really stood out to me.
And, Ferndale really has a lot of dogs. Like, we know we love our dogs, we have a lot of dogs. I never had any problem with dogs, at all. I never got scared, no one ever rushed me, none of that at all. We have a lot of pets. We’re a very fur-baby-loving community.
Do you see a connection between this adventure and your faith, your calling to serve a higher power? I think so. I see part of my calling and my spirituality and my faith privilege to be a blessing to the community and to really love a community or love people of the community. And for me, I think in some small way this was like an expression of that. I really felt as it was happening, I just felt like block by block I’m like putting the community in my heart. As I was walking, I would just pray blessing and goodness to come to places. I didn’t do it all of the time, but if I felt inspired or moved to do so or whatever I might do that. So really, it was an expression I think of being for a place and wanting to love it and to seek its welfare blessing.
That’s really my heart. I see that as really important to my faith. ♦