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Sunnyvale Reverend leads treks that uplift people physically and mentally

Sunnyvale--It's an escape from reality--but also a reality check. It's a reprieve from computers, cell phones and the daily grind--and an adventure that teaches how challenges can be life-altering.

Rev. Steve Harrington knows the importance of "getting away from it all," but he has a different way of doing it. For the past 20 years, Harrington, a pastor at the Presbyterian Church of Sunnyvale, has led groups of people on rock climbing, camping and kayaking treks. The purpose of these excursions into nature is, not only to get people out of their routines but also, to encourage them to challenge themselves. From the challenges presented on the treks, Harrington hopes the participants will realize what they have the ability to do and to grow from their experiences.

"I'm giving people the opportunity to step out of their familiar lives and venture out into something that is an interrupt, and is challenging," Harrington said. "In the challenge, they discover they can do this."

Throughout the year, Harrington leads two to three week-long trips, as well as several day trips. The challenges presented include rock climbing in the Santa Cruz mountains, snow camping in the Sierras, sea kayaking in the Sea of Cortez, and a desert pilgrimage to Joshua Tree. Harrington has also led trips out of Anchorage, Alaska, and will be leading a spiritual pilgrimage to the island of Iona off the coast of Scotland in May 2001.

Harrington believes that by presenting challenges, participants can realize their abilities in new ways, and apply what they learn to their daily life.

"The trips open their eyes to their abilities when they've stretched themselves," Harrington said. "There's no growth without risk."

Although there are risks presented on the treks, they are all done with safety in mind. Harrington has been rock climbing for 21 years, and said he makes safety a top priority.

On the treks, the 10 to 12 participants are taught minimum impact skills in order to be in the wilderness safely while at the same time respecting the environment and not destroying it. Harrington believes there is much to be learned from the wilderness.

"There is much to be gained by the occasional sojourn in to the wilderness, in which we leave our everyday life and learn something new about life," Harrington said. "It opens us to new challenges."

The challenges presented on the treks teach participants not only about what they can do, but that there is a level of activity, such as rock climbing, that they cannot do. For the most part, Harrington said, people feel empowered by the experience, and learn to apply what they have learned to their everyday lives.

"Courage is deeper than fear," Harrington explained. "There are many things within our reach in life."

Harrington also applies lessons taught and learned on the treks to his own life and often uses rock climbing analogies in his sermons.

Harrington said he has seen participants come back from a trek and make job changes. He said one woman told him she found she could do more than she thought. Harrington said the lessons learned on the treks are transferable into daily life.

"The best part is teaching them about the activity and how to do it safely, then seeing them be enthused about themselves, and come to a place of spiritual enlightenment and awareness," Harrington said.

He added the treks include dramatic activities that people don't normally do, which is very powerful and immediate.

The treks are open to the public, and participants are responsible for the cost of food and transportation. The treks taken depend on the season. Harrington also leads day trips, such as hikes and bird watching trips. For more information, call the Presbyterian Church of Sunnyvale at 408.739.1892.
Melissa Matchak

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Web extra to the December 7-13, 2000 issue of Metro.

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