At the point where the New River meets U.S. 19, between Summersville and Fayetteville, West Virginia, there is an amazing feat of human engineering, the New River Gorge Bridge.
If you have traveled through the Mountain State on U.S. 19, you have crossed this bridge and may have done so unknowingly. If you’ve ever been whitewater rafting on the New River, you most likely have seen this bridge in all of its glory. The bridge is such a prominent feature of West Virginia that it was featured on the state quarter in 2005. The bridge is impressive and worth seeing.
Upon completion in the late ‘70s and for 26 years following, the New River Gorge Bridge was the longest single-span arch bridge in the world. The arch itself is 1,700 feet long. The bridge is suspended 876 feet above the river below, and the functional surface allows an estimated 16,000 vehicles a day to travel the 3,030 feet from one mountain to another in seconds. The New River Gorge Bridge mitigates an incredibly expansive gap and is a truly magnificent sight to behold.
Prior to the completion of the bridge, folks who wanted to travel from Summersville to Fayetteville had to take the winding roads from the top of one mountain, down to the valley below, cross the river on a short small bridge and then meander their way up the mountain on the other side.
It doesn’t take much consideration to figure out why the bridge was created. The trip was long, inconvenient, uncomfortable and dangerous. In order to encourage travel and create a greater sense of connection between the people and cities on either side of the gorge, a better means of crossing the gap needed to be created.
Obviously, I wasn’t privy to the conversations that took place in considering how to solve this problem. It was a seemingly impossible problem. Actually, up to that point in history, it had been impossible. No one had done what they were endeavoring to do.
I’m sure that while many people understood the need for such a bridge, the difficulty of the task and the lack of understanding as to how to complete such an innovative project led many to question whether it was wise and/or possible.
Clearly, however, there were some with the vision, determination, skill and courage to pursue this daunting task. Today, the New River Gorge Bridge stands as a monument to innovation and an inspiration to those seeking to pursue difficult tasks.
Today, we are in need of some bridge builders in our world. There is no shortage of gaps separating us from each other. And if we are honest, much as the New River continues to cut an ever deepening rift between the mountains of West Virginia, the streams of culture continue to cut ever widening chasms between cultures, communities and people in general.
As I consider the various conversations taking place at this moment in human history, I am as uncomfortable as anyone, but I am also encouraged. It seems to me that we have many brave men and women who are looking at the expanse before them, whether it be racial, political, social, religious, etc., and they are imagining what might be done to close the distance and to create connection.
I spoke about this last Sunday at First Baptist Church, but it bears repeating. Those who call themselves Christians are called to be bridge builders. Jesus closed the gap between humanity and God by sacrificing his very life to close the distance. He then commissioned his followers, his church to take up his work of reconciliation.
Most of us understand our calling to connect people to God but struggle with our responsibility to bring people together. Part of loving neighbor as self, however, requires us to acknowledge the presence of our neighbors and to create connections with them so that we can properly love them.
Important conversations are happening about seemingly impossible problems in our world. The bigness of the moment is palpable. Rather than running from the discomfort of the current moment, we need to run into it so that we might find a path through it. Reconciliation is needed and necessary.
May we take up the mantle of bridge building and may God inspire and empower us to do the difficult things that were previously thought impossible.
The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at jeremysmyers.com. Send comments to [email protected].