Church Playground: Random Thoughts

Nancy and I were out for a late afternoon drive that took us by the urban church I served for 28 years—the Warren Ave Presbyterian Church in Saginaw.

We were a bit startled to drive down Weadock Street, behind the church, to see several children, not much older that four or five, running across the street in front of our car. They were crossing the road to get to the church playground. Where is the supervision? The only adult I saw was a gentleman sound asleep on a park bench toward the back of the playground with a newspaper over his face. My immediate thought, with all the transient foot traffic through this neighborhood, that this wasn’t a safe place for children to be wondering without an adult watching.

Wait a minute! Maybe there is a “mom” standing at a kitchen window watching these children? After all, there are several homes located across the street from this playground.

Wait a minute! Remember when this was truly a dangerous place to live. NOT NOW!  There are those who would disagree….that this is still a pretty dangerous place to live.  Twenty to thirty years ago there were burned-out homes and weed-rodent-infested vacant lots. One could assume there were drugs and guns and gangs up and down these streets—thirty years ago. NOT NOW! All the houses on this part of Weadock street are occupied. Some of them are new.

Wait a minute: Families wishing for their children what all families wish—safe and secure place to live where children can run and play?

Wait a minute!   Remember when the church session had a conversation, over thirty years ago, about putting a fence around this playground? This was a short conversation. The immediate decision was made that the playground was for the entire community.   The church would be sending the wrong message to the residents of the community to fence off this playground. And yes, with regular maintenance, this playground has served the community well.

Wait a minute! The playground is free and open for anyone in the community to enjoy. Why does the church still lock all the doors?   When I was pastor of the church, doors were locked even during Sunday worship and weekly fellowship events?   I wonder if this church will ever unlock the doors of the sanctuary for people in this community to worship – just like they created an open atmosphere in a playground for children to play.[1]

Sermon by Jill Duffield

I have also been thinking about a sermon prepared by Jill Duffield for the Presbyterian Outlook based on the lectionry texts from Ephesians[2].   I wonder what makes for a “hostile” community or church?   Could it be that the neighborhood around the church I once served is seen as a “hostile” place to live? I know in the past the streets of this community were much more hostile than they are now! Jill Duffield has this to say in connection to church playgrounds and the church:

There was a church I used to drive by with some regularity that had a beautiful playground directly in front of the sanctuary. It had a sign with the name of the church attached to the high chain linked face that surrounded the playground.   The gate had a padlock. It sent a powerful message.

Just this week I received an email from my neighborhood association admonishing us to take great caution as a stranger (!) had been seen walking (!) in our neighborhood. We were urged to call the police immediately if we say someone “who just does not belong.” How, one wonders (or not), are we to determine if someone “who just does not belong” and what is the issue with walking on public streets?

Clearly, to some, my neighborhood is a hostile environment. How about our churches? Are they hostile to someone who does not dress as most do on Sunday mornings? Is a hostile to parents of children to sit still for an hour? It is hostile to those who have hearing or vision or mobility impairments? Is it hostile to those who don’t look like the majority of those gathered? Is it hostile to a same-gender couple? Is it hospital to someone of a different theological bent than our pastor or members?”

The truth needs to be heard.

 Jesus Christ puts to death hostility. Please, please preach this on Sunday. Proclaim it!

Regardless where we live, we need to find ways to open our hearts (and the doors of our churches) to all of God’s children.

My thoughts while driving by a church playground.

[1]   Perhaps the church will re-evaluate her policies on locking doors?

[2]   Presbyterian Outlook, 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, July 19, 2015, Ephesians 2: 11-22