By Cameron Johnson, Multimedia Editor
Larry Brickner-Wood had just missed his flight – an event that would change the rest of his life.
“Well, you know there are no flights until Sunday.” It was Wednesday.
Brickner-Wood stood at the now empty gate at the Denver airport. A blizzard had moved in and no more flights would be leaving again until the end of the week.
This flight wasn’t important because of where it was going, or even what happened while it was en route back to New Hampshire, but because of the path of spiritual enlightenment that missing the flight would bring.
Brickner-Wood was the town manager for Durham, New Hampshire, and had been for about four years. Before that, he had worked in various other towns from Virginia to Vermont for the past 15 years. This is what brought him to Denver, a town manager’s conference.
While he loved his job, Brickner-Wood began to feel worn down by the infighting and gritty realities of small town politics; in another 10 years, he feared, he would be another burnout. Something had to change.
In the hectic world, sometimes it’s important to stop and take a long look at yourself and what you’re doing, and that is just what Brickner-Wood did. After calling his wife, Brickner-Wood left the airport to hike in Estes Park, Colorado, for three straight days to find his spirituality.
“They used to teach that God was only in the sanctuary. I always loved the outdoors. I never understood that — even as a little kid, ‘That doesn’t make any sense, you tell me God is transcendent and omnipotent, then why would he be stuck in a building?’ And I realized from my own experiences that he’s usually outside,” Brickner-Wood said.
There, he mulled over a decision that he had been pondering for years. When he returned, his path was clear: Leave his life as a city planner and return to seminary school and become a minister.
That was 16 years ago.
Brickner-Wood is now the executive director of Waysmeet and its spiritual leader, as well as an ordained minister with the United Church of Christ. Waysmeet is a non-denominational campus ministry that is open to all races, belief systems, cultures, sexual orientations, ages, abilities and gender identities.
“Waysmeet is Larry,” Waysmeet Associate Chaplain and senior Emily Dickman said. “He is someone who truly lives out their values and who walks the walk. What I admire most about him is he is there for everyone. … Everyone can learn a lot from him.”
Larry is a cheery man; there is always a smile on his bestubbled face as he goes about the countless tasks as head of Waysmeet. “He’s working all day and night … I don’t know how he does it,” Dickman said.
“He’s too busy. He’s into, over, under, on top of everything. He needs a helper,” Durham resident and volunteer Rosemary Thomson said.
One of the major programs that Brickner-Wood and Waysmeet put on is the Cornucopia Food Pantry that helps people in need get food to feed their families, and there are a lot of families in the area that need it. “A week ago on Tuesday we had 70 people, and that’s by far the most. We probably had 50 last Tuesday,” said Brickner-Wood.
Located in the Waysmeet basement, the pantry is filled with food donated from across the Seacoast: breads, non-perishables, fruits and vegetables and most importantly, freezers full of meats, frozen foods and other perishables. Many students and local Durham residents help and volunteer.
Cornucopia even has students and faculty from the university among those they serve. “[We serve] students and staff. We don’t ask on the form, but you get to know people,” said Brickner-Wood.
One of Brickner-Wood’s main goals for Waysmeet is to build an inclusive community, and being on campus affords him a unique opportunity to do so. “I never thought about working on a campus or a campus setting, but the ability to be unorthodox — and be a bit different, spiritually — I realize I can do that here. And this place, beyond being open, can really be that embracing multicultural, multi-faith, no-faith place that really welcomes all,” Brickner-Wood said.
“Larry has this ability to make a special connection. [He’s] the type of person who walks into a room and you can feel his aura,” Dickman said.
Brickner-Wood is happy with the work he has done with Waysmeet over the past 16 years. “It’s become more multicultural and less of a religious place, and more of a spiritual one,” he said. “Folks who have been here in the past will say, ‘Yeah, this is where is should have gone.’ And who knows where is will go in the future.”