Church folk help runners in cold, wet Boston Marathon

This photo of Boston Marathon runners warming up in the Carter Memorial UMC building in Wellesley appeared with a story in Boston Globe April 16, 2018. Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff.

April 30, 2018

If you’re a runner in need, Ashley Murphy will give you the socks off her feet – and all the sweatshirts and towels in her closet.

During the cold and rainy 2018 Boston Marathon on April 16 she proved it.

Murphy is Director of faith formation at Carter Memorial United Methodist Church in Needham, MA. Last year, Carter Memorial merged with Christ Church in Wellesley, and took over its building, which is along the race route.

The congregation decided to open its doors to folks who might enjoy a snack or need to use the restroom while they cheered on runners and celebrated the country’s oldest marathon.

But what was supposed to be a neighborhood party turned into an ad hoc medical tent for runners and volunteers – many suffering from hypothermia. The temperatures in Boston that day topped at only 53 with a low of 36, and about 30 minutes after the elite runners went by, the medical tent near the church was overwhelmed.

“It got really crazy really fast,” said Murphy, who lives in the parsonage next door.

She sent her husband home for Duraflame logs for the fireplace; he came back with those and towels, blankets, socks, and clothes. Using the Nextdoor app, he reached out to neighbors for more supplies.

It was “madness”  from 11 am. to 5:30 p.m. Murphy said. The shuttle buses back to Boston could not keep up, and runners had to wait – some as long as five hours. Those hours gave the runners and church folks time to talk.

“As they got warm, they became very chatty,” Murphy said, and for those who had to drop out of the race “there was a huge sense of defeat.”  
Read the Boston Globe story about the church’s efforts
She offered some pastoral care, and tried to encourage runners by reminding them they did the right thing for their wellbeing. “Winning is knowing when to quit,” she told some.

Along with expressing their sadness and disappointment, the runners also expressed surprise at church members’ willingness to help, Murphy said – and that’s something that surprised her.

“They said, ‘We can’t believe you gave up your day and opened up your doors to us.’ They were shocked we’d done this, and we were kind of shocked they wouldn’t assume we would do it,” Murphy said. “When somebody is in need, you drop everything.”

She also heard comments like “If I lived closer, I would come to church here” or “I’m going to look up a United Methodist Church when I get home – you guys are good people.”

“What we really are is followers of Jesus,” Murphy said. And the reason the church doors were open and that Murphy took off her dry socks to give them to a runner were the same: “That’s what Jesus asked me to do,” she said.

And while it was “not even a little bit the plan,” Murphy said it was a blessing to be there when they were needed – not just for the runners, but for the neighborhood.

The former Christ Church had not been “a Sunday morning church,” for some two years, Murphy said, and many in the neighborhood have been curious what is happening there as Carter Memorial has been doing its visioning for the space.

Neighbors seeing the activity on marathon day said, “We thought there was nothing here, but this is amazing.”

“It may not be a Sunday morning church,” Murphy said, “but we’re still God’s presence in the world here in Wellesley.”

And it was good for the members of the former Christ Church to see that as well, she said.

“It was a great chance for folks who were part of that worshiping community to see what good can be done in this space,” she said. “One lady said, ‘It took Carter coming to show us what this place could be.’”

But Murphy doesn’t think it’s about Carter Memorial members per se.

“It’s not us,” she said. “Sometimes to be able to do God’s work, you need more resources … now you have all these hands and feet.”

Along with hot coffee and dry clothes, church members shared phones so runners could let family and friends know they were safe. In the weeks after, there have been dozens of texts of thanks, Murphy said.

Three runners left the church and made it to the finish line. One sent a fruit basket.

“It was totally unnecessary,” Murphy said of the gesture, but she hopes the work of the church made an impression on those who were in the church that day – and those who are in church on Sunday morning – about what it really means to be the church.

“For our own community – this is who we are,” she said. “… This is how you live your faith.”