By The Reverend Peter Munson
I have been on more than 500 hikes in my life. I have climbed 47 of Colorado’s 53 Fourteeners — the state’s 14,000-feet-plus mountain peaks. I have taken guests from the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, friends, and also my son, Zach, to the top of Longs Peak. I have seen some scary things happen in lightning storms and one time witnessed a young man get pinned by a boulder he was trying to outrun and didn’t. But no hike I have ever been on has had the unique element of the one I was completing on November 20, 2008. I was hiking down a trail all alone, a trail I have hiked scores of times in Glacier Gorge in Rocky Mountain National Park, when I heard a message. It was not an audible voice, but something more like downloaded words that entered into my consciousness, delivered in a matter of seconds. That message: “Walk across the country, speak and write along the way, and raise money for some kind of development project — perhaps Episcopal Relief & Development.”
Even though I hadn’t heard this kind of message before, in this form, I believed it to be from God. And I still do. Who else but God would take the things that I am most passionate about — walking, preaching, writing, and cross-cultural connections — lump them all together, and say, “This is what I want you to do”?
I sailed down the rest of the trail, drove home to Arvada, walked into our home, and told my wife, Julia, what I had heard. She was excited for me. And she said, quite prophetically, it turns out, “Just be aware that this may not turn out exactly as you envision it right now.”
When I heard this message, I was 17 years into my work as a parish priest and had been the rector of St. Ambrose in Boulder for over seven years. A few months later, I shared this message with the people of St. Ambrose, wondering if we might be able to partner in this walk. We had a number of congregational meetings about it, and the timing didn’t seem quite right. One parishioner noted that while I had “climbed a lot of mountains and done a lot of hiking,” I had never, she rightly pointed out, “backpacked day after day after day. Why don’t you start,” she suggested, “with something smaller, like the Colorado Trail?” Her comment seemed wise to me.
In the summers of 2011–2013, I backpacked the 500 miles of the Colorado Trail (CT), from Denver to Durango. In 2013, I walked the final 250 miles of the CT over a 16-day period, with rest days in Lake City and Silverton. I learned a lot. In 2011, I started with a pack that was way too heavy — 45 pounds. By the time I finished in 2013, my pack was under 30 pounds.
In the 10+ years since I heard the original calling, I also exchanged places with a few of my colleagues, walking to and preaching at St. Stephen’s in Longmont, Christ the King in Arvada, and St. Brigit’s in Frederick. These were great experiences too.
But I kept hearing God say, “The vision is for you to walk across the country. I still want you to do that.” Again — not an audible voice, but a compelling, strong, and clear message.
I started talking to others about the calling — at clergy conferences, in a number of conversations with Bishop O’Neill over the years, with other members of the Bishop’s staff, with friends, with people I had just met. I felt pulled forward. The Rev. Canon Carl Andrews reminded me of the expression “the calling within the calling.” That felt true and right.
So, after 17–1/2 years of shared ministry with the people of St. Ambrose, Boulder, I will have my last Sunday with them on February 17. I am quitting my job as a parish priest. I am giving up a lot to do this — a regular paycheck, benefits, predictability of what my job is from day to day, daily connection with Julia, daily life with a faithful, worshiping community. There are moments when I feel scared and hear an inner voicing saying, “Pete, what in the world are you doing?” There are some unknowns as I move ahead with the walk. Will there be enough money to cover our mortgage? Will my body hold up to walking 90 miles a week in the East and 120 miles a week in the West? Where will I be staying each night? Will I be pitching my tent or staying in someone’s home? This is why they call it a life of faith. I am not just walking 6 million steps. I am taking a big leap, trusting that God will be there, trusting that God will watch over me, protect me, and provide for all of my needs, not knowing how it will unfold. Fears may arise, but I can’t not do this. The call is so deep and resonates with who I am and with who I know God to be.
On February 28, Julia and I will fly to Charleston, where I grew up, and on Monday, March 4 (“March forth!”), I will leave from Folly Beach and begin my walk of over 6 million steps to San Francisco.
I will be raising money for four organizations that serve children: the REMAR Children’s Home and Olive School in La Libertad, El Salvador; Street Fraternity, a place on East Colfax in Denver where boys and young men from immigrant families are mentored and supported on their journey to adulthood; The Episcopal Church in Colorado, specifically raising money for programs, retreats, and summer camps for the children and youth of our diocese; and Episcopal Relief & Development, where the money raised will support integrated early childhood development (children birth to three years old).
I hope to raise as much as $6 million for the good work of these four different organizations — $1 for every step I take on the walk.
This has been quite a journey over the last 10 years in terms of the things I have learned and the people I have met and the family members and friends who have encouraged me and supported me and already given money in support of the walk. I am incredibly grateful. And I am very much aware that I am not doing this walk alone. The Spirit is guiding me, Christ is with me, and I will be taking so many people with me as I walk.
I will be walking through Colorado during the month of August. Please consider walking with me for a day or an hour or a mile, and please contact my wife, Julia, the National Coordinator for the walk, if you are interested in having me speak or preach at your church (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Julia was absolutely correct. This has not turned out as I envisioned it in November 2008. But it’s perfect. Crazy, but perfect. I know that I am going to learn so much this year about trusting more deeply in God’s gracious provision. I know I want to be faithful to the call — the next part of my call from God. I know that Julia has been incredibly supportive, and friends have been generous and encouraging. So I get ready to set forth on this walk, in wondrous anticipation of all that I will learn.
THE REV. PETER MUNSON is the former rector of St. Ambrose Episcopal Church, Boulder, and now walks across the United States for 6 Million Steps for Kids.
To learn more about the 6 Million Steps for Kids project, you can follow Peter’s route or read “Step Stories” on his website at 6millionstepsforkids.org. Follow Peter on Facebook (6MStepsforKids) or on Instagram (@6Mstepsforkids).
Please consider making a generous gift to support children having a bright future through the 6 Million Steps for Kids project online at 6millionstepsforkids.org.