03/22/09 — Minister traveling cross-country by horse

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Minister traveling cross-country by horse

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on March 22, 2009 2:00 AM

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The Rev. Ken Downey passes through Seven Springs on his horse, Pilgrim.

SEVEN SPRINGS -- The Rev. Ken Downey passed through this small Wayne County town this week, on his way to making a cross-country trip on horseback -- much the way 18th century circuit riders carried their message.

Downey, who hails from Minnesota, started his journey at the North Carolina coast and expects to take six months to reach California. Along with way, he will preach at churches and at the same time, enjoy his love of the outdoors.

Wearing an oil-skin coat to keep him dry and relatively warm, he traveled through the rain of last week before getting a little sunshine on Friday, a day after he spoke to a gathering in Seven Springs.

"Most people consider bad weather a negative, but I'm a dyed in the wool rustic," Downey said. "Before I was called to the ministry, I wanted to be a naturalist."

And he still gets plenty of time in the wild, teaching survival and mountain climbing and taking youth groups on guided tours along mountain terrain.

He said he has traveled in this manner before and that it suits him, and Pilgrim.

"You look for towns about 25 miles from each other. The towns are fairly evenly spread out, probably because of the history of horse travel," Downey said. "In 1994, I rode as much as 40 miles a day. This trip I'm trying to stay in the 30s. We're just starting this one. We haven't even been riding 100 miles yet."

Downey's six-month circuit will take him through Tennessee and Virginia, then Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and on to the West.

The circuit rider moves six out of seven days. Pastors get word he is coming. Wherever he ends up on Saturday, that is where he stays over to preach on Sunday. Downey rode out of Seven Springs on Friday, headed toward Sampson County.

"The hardest part of this is leaving the people you meet. You come into these wonderful homes and meet the greatest people in the world. You realized you're scratching the surface of a treasure and you never get to dig."