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Orlando Sentinel: Holy water blesses heads and handlebars

orl-blessed-bikes-20150517Life is treacherous for a bicyclist: car doors opening into bicycle lanes, potholes, aggressive motorists, parked cars, flat tires, broken spokes, slippery pavement, dogs, pedestrians chatting in the middle of the paved bike path like they were standing in their own driveway, suicidal squirrels, honking horns, cursing drivers, pretty girls.

If there’s anybody who use a little help from above, it’s cyclists.
So on Sunday, the interim rector at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Audubon Park shook holy water on the heads and handlebars of about 20 cyclists and one guy in a wheelchair in the Blessing of the Bicycles.

“Sanctify this water by the power of your Holy Spirit that those who today are sprinkled with this water may receive your blessing upon themselves and upon their bicycles,” said the Rev. Karen Egerton.

Darrell Cunningham, who owns the Bikes, Beans & Bordeaux café not far from the church, has five bikes. But the only one he brought to be blessed was his all-carbon, lightweight, high-end Scott racing bike. The others remained at home, susceptible to the devil.

“I thought this would be the appropriate bike to get blessed because it’s the bike I like to ride really fast, so that’s the best chance for me to hurt myself,” said Cunningham, 46, of Orlando. “A little divine intervention wouldn’t be a bad thing.”

Cunningham was accompanied by his wife, Jennifer, and 2-year-old daughter Adison, who rode on the back of her mother’s bike. Jennifer likes how if you tell a non-cyclist you rode your bike 50 miles, they think you are superhuman.

Tim and Nan Palermo and their 14-year-old daughter Tina brought their bikes to be blessed. Evil, in the form of two flat tires, tried to prevent them from making it to the church on time.

“We woke up to two flat tires,” said Tim Palermo, 49, who suggested the idea of blessing bikes. “Dark forces have surrounded us.”

Overhead were dark skies. Raindrops fell.
One of the members of the congregation was showing off his new bike, which replaced the one he bought for $5 at a flea market from a man with no legs. Another cyclist, Frank Gilbert, dressed for church in a yellow shirt, tie and matching fedora, showed off the red recumbent bike he rides to work every day.

“You get to a certain age and the seat hurts, the back hurts, the neck hurts and this takes care of all of that,” said Gilbert, 62, a member of the Bike/Walk Central Florida advisory board. “This is my La-Z-Boy on wheels.”

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City has been blessing bikes for 17 years, attracting hundreds of cyclists who walk their expensive bikes into the cathedral wearing cycling jerseys and Spandex shorts. For Emmanuel Episcopal, this inaugural blessing of the bikes was something of a community outreach effort in a very bike-friendly neighborhood.

“It’s a community experience for many of these riders. They engage with each other,” Egerton said. “We care about them. We want them to ride safely and lift them up in what their passion is and bless that passion.”

She ended the blessing of the bicycles with an old Irish prayer: “May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face. And the rains fall softly upon you.”

The skies cleared. The raindrops stopped.

[email protected] or 407-420-5392. Tell Jeff what you are doing On Any Given Sunday.

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