A man dressed head to toe in camouflage
stopped midway on the West Market Street bridge, placed his hand on a pole wrapped in Christmas garland and bowed his head.
He always stops here to pray, the man said, because this is where it all started. This is the place that turned him into an activist who walks the streets of York City multiple times a week with a Bible clutched at his side.
Beneath the camouflage is Richard Klinedinst, a tall and fast-walking octogenarian with more hair peeking from behind his ears than the top of his head. His eyes, hidden behind aviator goggles, are piercing blue. His smile is as genuine as a child's.
The reason: Here, on this bridge two years ago, Klinedinst's 79-year-old wife was mugged in broad daylight on her way to a hair appointment. A man knocked Dolores Klinedinst to the ground and stole her pocketbook.
"She was crying when she came in the door," her husband of 60 years said recently.
That day, Klinedinst said he asked God why angels hadn't helped his wife. And then he realized something.
"You know what, that guy could have stabbed her. He
could have shot her," Klinedinst said. "She was hurt, but she wasn't hurt bad."
Klinedinst said he believes that was God's way of recruiting the old man to heal the place he's lived all of his 83 years, a city struggling with crime and poverty.
"And that did it," he said.
Richard Klinedinst has been prayer walking York City ever since.
Making connections: On a cloudy day in early December, Klinedinst struck up a conversation with a man fishing from the same bridge where his wife was mugged. The man told Klinedinst he is homeless, that he lives a life of watching his back.
Klinedinst pointed to the cigarette in the man's hand.
"These cost a lot of money and they really hurt you," Klinedinst told him.
Then, Klinedinst offered to pray with him. The two placed hands on each other's shoulders and bowed their heads.
"Amen," the men said together.
And then, it was time to move on. Up next on Klinedinst's walk was a visit to a downtown business, where he stopped to pray for the owner's prosperity. That same day, Klinedinst chatted with a police officer, tipped his hat to a couple pushing a stroller and said hello to a guy with blue hair.
And, sometimes -- like when he passed the York County Judicial Center -- Klinedinst stopped to pray.
A long road: In the past two years, Klinedinst estimates he's walked the equivalent of the distance to Pittsburgh and back. A pedometer accompanies him on every outing. He takes meticulous notes, recording the day and length of each walk.
To people he meets on the streets, Klinedinst hands business cards with his name, number and email address.
He goes places he wouldn't have gone before. He greets people he used to ignore. Klinedinst calls his dedication "holy boldness."
In recent weeks, always decked out in his prayer-walking uniform, Klinedinst has become a regular at York City Council meetings. One evening he stepped to the podium to tell his story.
Ever since, he's been fielding requests from reporters and officials to accompany him on his walks. That's how Council President Carol Hill-Evans came to join him on that cloudy day in early December.
A movement: Klinedinst wants to start a movement, which he calls the York Community Crusade.
"It's a call for every Yorker, especially the teenagers, the young people," he said.
Too many kids are joining gangs and doing drugs. Klinedinst figures it's because "they don't have nothing to live for."
Discrimination is still alive and well, Klinedinst said, and that makes it even tougher for minority kids.
Klinedinst, who idolizes Martin Luther King Jr. as a religious man who took on social issues, said his dream is to rid York City of the drug trade. He wants to reach out to gang leaders and prostitutes.
Klinedinst said he believes York could serve as an inspiration, an example, to troubled cities everywhere.
"If you can do it here, you can do it anywhere," he said.
-- Erin James may also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.