Fresh Expressions: Cabin or Shelter? Which are you?

Author uses analogy of hiking to describe the church in modern world

By Kris Betcker, Fresh Expressions US

The brown leaves crunched under my boots, my heart thumping with every step as I headed up the next stretch of the Appalachian Trail, a famed 2,189 mile trail on the East Coast that stretches from Maine to Georgia. As my friend and I passed a couple with packs on their backs and sticks in hand, people who looked (and smelled) like they could use a shower, my friend told me about the species of human known as the “thru-hiker.” Most people we saw out hiking were not thru-hikers. Since we were close by a park with cabins and it was a holiday weekend, most people were what my friend called “cabin people”– people walking with dogs and kids in tow who would get tired and go “home” to their comfy, heated cabin with a kitchen and running water to relax with people they knew. But the thru-hiker was on a different mission.

Bruce Trail - Tobermory 2015

The thru-hiker had it in them to hike either the whole or a large extent of the Trail over the course of days, weeks, months, and even years. The thru-hiker lives for the Trail. Their heart is for the Trail.

And thru-hikers do not stay in cabins.

Instead, when they’re not tenting or hammocking in the woods, thru-hikers stay in structures called shelters. These are half-open, half-covered small buildings that stand at certain points on the trail. They have no running water or heat or kitchens or furniture because their purpose is not the same as the cabin. Shelters are just that—shelter from the wind, the rain, and the cold. They are a place for hikers to congregate, to swap stories, to share a campfire and sleeping space, all before they part ways and head out on the trail the next morning.

In contrast…

Cabins are for people who want to take a holiday from the world. Cabins are buildings for comfort and stability. They’re for hunkering down with people you know.

Shelters are for people who see the world as their mission. Shelters are buildings that are never quite closed off from their environment. They’re for gathering with people you don’t know, in preparation to go out on the trail again.

Cabins and shelters. Two buildings on the Trail. Two structures operating in two different ways.

Just like church buildings.

Kris Beckert


Kris Beckert is a Mission Strategist/Trainer with Fresh Expressions US. She serves as Pastor of Innovation and Multiplication at Salem Fields Community Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

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