For three years, Mikah Meyer was consumed with one thing: visiting all 419 National Park Service sites in one trip. On April 29, he achieved his goal.
“Everything I did was with this one goal in mind, so it’s sort of nice now to be able to breathe and relax after three years of nonstop logistics to make this goal happen,” said Meyer, who left his position singing in the choir of the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., for the trip (he was featured in the magazine’s August 2016 issue).
It required a lot of planning and money to complete his trip, which he started in honor of his late father, Larry Meyer, who was a campus pastor at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Most of the trip was made in a cargo van he lived out of that was outfitted with solar panels to power a couple of small appliances.
Nine months into his trip, Meyer was running out of money and thought he’d have to give up. But everything changed when he visited and sang at a friend’s congregation in Florida along his route: he was asked to preach.
“I told my friend he was nuts,” Meyer said. “He said, ‘You’ll be fine. Just tell people about your journey and growing up closeted in the church and tie it all into the gospel.’ And, well, the Holy Spirit put in overtime.”
After the service, people approached Meyer, many with tears, saying how much they appreciated his message. Knowing he was struggling financially, the congregation took up a collection for him. The pastor also contacted the next congregation along Meyer’s route to see if they would invite the traveler to sing and preach. This cycle of pastors calling colleagues in other cities continued throughout the trip.
“I went from thinking I’d have to quit to speaking and singing at more than 100 churches everywhere in the U.S., and in New Zealand and Australia,” Meyer said. “I was literally singing for my supper, but more so, I was able to share a message and gospel of inclusion for LGBTQ people that I’ve learned so many have never heard or have been unable to talk about.”
As requests for visits grew, Meyer created a “National Parks Cabaret” show of stories, songs, photos and videos about his journey and his story of growing up without role models to let him know that he could be gay and a person of faith. “It took me a long time to work through that and accept that I was gay and hold onto my faith in a country and culture that told me I had to be one or the other,” he said.
While his journey started out with a focus on the National Parks, Meyer said that changed as he shared his message with more people. “What started as a secondary outcome of this journey has now become such a large part of my life—sharing what’s essentially become a ministry,” he added.
Meyer couldn’t always articulate this vocation, but it was slowly revealed to him during his journey. “I did a show in Sioux Falls, S.D.,” Meyer said, “and Paul Rohde, the campus pastor at Augustana [University], asked if he could take me out for breakfast. He told me that my show had all these Lutheran messages, and he said, ‘I love that you found your vocation this way because so often we think we’ll learn it by studying our own navel.’
“He told me vocation is where your greatest talents meet the world’s greatest needs, and this is the world pointing at what you’re good at and where you’re needed to do it.”
“I was literally singing for my supper, but more so, I was able to share a message and gospel of inclusion for LGBTQ people that I’ve learned so many have never heard or have been unable to talk about.”
Of the 113 congregations Meyer visited during his trip, 54 were ELCA, and almost every pastor told him to let them know how seminary goes. He laughed it off but now is wondering if his dad is getting the last laugh. “The trip connected me to my dad in more ways than I even imagined,” he said.
Meyer had an aha moment when he accepted an invitation to speak at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. “I said I would never grow up to become a pastor like my dad, but as I drove up the hill approaching Luther, I laughed,” he said. “People always said that from my dad’s students in campus ministry, more than 100 of them went to seminary. And now for Larry Meyer’s final act, he got his own son to be a campus minister.”
Today, Meyer is still getting emails from people who tell him what his journey and message of inclusion meant to them. “It’s cheesy, but what this journey to America’s most beautiful places taught me is that what’s more important than where you go is who you go with and who you meet there,” he said.
Now that his trip is over, Meyer is looking forward to staying in one place and chose Minneapolis as his new home. He’s writing a book about his journey, continuing to speak where invited and, as far as those seminary plans go, he said, “I’m not going to say never because I’ve learned when you do, God has a funny way of showing things.”
A ‘super-Lutheran’ travel tale
Dinosaur National Monument on the border between Colorado and Utah was Meyer’s favorite of the 419 National Park Service sites. On a four-day rafting trip through the park on Green River, a wild Canadian goose started swimming next to his group and followed them for the duration of the trip, even waddling up side canyons and sleeping next to their tents. They named him George.
Meyer shared this story at a meeting of the Western National Parks Association. Later a woman approached him, commenting that perhaps George was the spirit of his father, following him along for the ride.
Later, in Roanoke, Va., Meyer shared this story and a Lutheran pastor said to him, “I know George the goose is the spirit of your father, and here’s why.” The pastor explained that there had been a theologian named Jan Hus, whose teachings strongly influenced Martin Luther. According to a priest’s documentation, Hus was killed for his teachings and prophesied that though a goose was being killed then, in a century there would be a swan coming. Hus’ name translates to “goose,” and he is referenced among theologians as the goose, while Martin Luther is called the swan.
“The pastor said to me, ‘I have no doubt that if your dad was going to come along as any animal, it would be a goose,’ ” Meyer said. “That’s one of my favorite stories of the journey and, like many other parts were, super-Lutheran.”