San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance •  107 E. Hopkins St. Suite 121A; San Marcos, Texas 78666

The Loop


My Getaway: A Conversation with the Rev. Christian Hawley

Christian, holding Frank, and Madeline, holding Val.

Christian serves as the rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in San Marcos, where he’s working with parishioners to strengthen the connections between the spiritual and natural worlds. He is also a guide for Threshold Expeditions’ trail running pilgrimages, and part of an adventure-loving family that includes his wife, the Rev. Madeline Shelton-Hawley, daughter Valerie, son Frank, dog MacGyver, and cats Jean Lafitte and Minerva Pearl.

Prior to moving to San Marcos in July of 2022, Christian served churches in Knoxville, TN and Austin, TX. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, Vanderbilt University, and the Seminary of the Southwest. His former careers as a military officer, bartender, wilderness survival instructor, children’s book salesman, night librarian, and trail running guide all spice up his priesthood.

You can find Christian and his dog most weekdays running the River Recharge Natural Area, and most Saturday mornings on Purgatory Creek. 

Why do you value the natural areas?

Because they are the places where it’s easiest for me to encounter divinity. A Hill Country night sky makes me feel small in a good way. Pecan trees teach me patience with joy. Resurrection ferns exemplify faith, and a dawn chorus on the trail gives me hope for dwelling in the light perpetual.

Who or what most influenced your view of the natural world?

My Aunt Valerie Barzetti (for whom my daughter is named) traveled and worked in conservation from Ecuador to Costa Rica, DC to Dharamshala, and she instilled in me a love of the natural world at an early age by taking my sister and me camping all over the East Coast. My dad’s love of high adventure and Scouting equipped me with the skills and joy to seek the edges of wilderness, while my mom’s vocation as a licensed wildlife rehabilitator gave me a healthy respect, appreciation, love, and understanding for the fauna of our world. Along the way, the writings of Aldo Leopold, Brian Doyle, Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, Ellen Meloy, Terry Tempest Williams, and Naomi Shihab Nye deepened my desire to connect more fully with different landscapes.

How do the natural world and your spiritual life interact with each other?

Whether it’s meditating with Tibetan Buddhists in the Himalayas or celebrating communion with St. Mark’s parishioners on the San Marcos River, I’ve always found the natural world and our spiritual lives to mutually inform each other on where we fit in the greater pattern of life. Wendell Berry said, “The Bible is a book best read outdoors and the further outdoors the better.” Similarly, in my sacramental tradition, I’ve found baptisms are best done in a river, communions served with local ingredients, and everything from the Stations of the Cross to the Feast of St. Francis experienced outdoors with our siblings in creation. Nature gives us tangible connections to the Great Web of Being, while the holy mysteries of our faith gift us a basin in which to hold all the beauty, tragedy, and truth of this life together.

Christian and Frank

What is your favorite trail? What do you like about it? 

Right now, it’s River Recharge Natural Area. Those trails are two minutes out my front door, and I run or hike them with my spouse, kids, or dog two or three times a week. I love them because they are our own little Hill Country Almanac. The agarita blooms along Swallet Loop on Feb. 23 have made every bouquet since pale in sweetness. An encounter with the juvenile western diamondback on the Doline trail on a balmy March 8 morning still has us stepping lightly near the trail edges, and most recently, the explosion of toadstools and cicadas along the Karst trail have my kids thinking fairies run amok among us.

What do you most enjoy doing when you visit the Greenbelt?

Running. I’m a guide for Threshold Expeditions and their Spiritual Pilgrimages out in Big Bend where I spent most of my last sabbatical syncing up body, mind, and soul with the landscapes of the Chisos Mountains, the Chihuahuan Desert, and the Rio Grande riparian zone. Those experiences opened up a whole new world of joy in letting my body find a rhythm with its surroundings. Now that I live in San Marcos, some days I crave the smooth, fast flow along the bottomlands of the Beatrice trail at Purgatory Creek. Other days, I dig a good quad burning grind up and down the Roadrunner trail in Spring Lake, and just about any time, I like a little rock hopping fun along the River Recharge or Ringtail Ridge networks.

What recommendations would you give new users of the trails?

Just go. The great part about San Marcos and the Greenbelt network is you can spend 15 minutes or five hours on the trail, and none of those experiences are more than eight minutes away. I had an old friend who said, “You always feel better after you go to church or the gym.” That’s been mostly true for me, but what has always been true is that a hike or run in the woods puts me in a better place to face the challenges of life. Just go, friends, and you’ll be glad you did.

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