It was a great morning. We had eighteen cubic yards of bark chips delivered to freshen up the playground. At least ten volunteers from the church showed up to help, along with all the preschool teachers and some of their children and husbands. The littlest child was Violet, age 2 ½, who came with her plastic shovel and an eagerness to help. We got the job done in about an hour. I was able to divert a couple of the volunteers to weed and trim along the driveway into the church, a task long overdue.
The playground is now ready for the children to run and slide and play safely. The area in front of the church looks neater and tidier. It was fun and exciting to have so many people work together to accomplish a needed task.
It reminded me of another time when children and parents and grandpas worked to spread bark in a playground.
When I was pastor in Moscow, we built a playground in a side yard of the church. On a May Saturday, volunteers worked hard to install a climbing wall, slides, and other equipment. It was a long day and the fulfillment of a dream.
Little did we know the night after we build the playground would bring trauma and tragedy to our community. The next morning, I awoke to news that our section of town was closed off as police hunted down a shooter. I could not even get to the church for several hours that morning. We cancelled Sunday School but did manage to have worship. In the coming days we learned what had happened: a man had killed his wife in their home and then come to the courthouse (about two blocks from our church) and opened fire, killing one deputy and wounding another. Then he walked across the street and went into the Presbyterian Church and killed their custodian who was in the office calling 911 because of the gunshots he had heard. Then the shooter went into their sanctuary and killed himself.
We had a close relationship with the Presbyterian Church and they asked us to host a series of prayer vigils for the community. Of course, we said yes. It was on the fourth night of those vigils that the bark was delivered for the playground. As the community gathered in our sanctuary to pray and sing and grieve together, outside volunteers gathered to spread the bark. When I left the vigil and saw the work party, including children with their plastic buckets and shovels, I saw life and hope in the midst of the pain and grief of the vigil.
After the work party at Mill Plain, I remembered the work party in Moscow.
Thankfully, in our case it did not follow a terrible event like it did in Moscow. It did show life and hope. It’s been a tough time for our world: the pandemic and deep strife over how to handle it, the airlift from Afghanistan, Hurricane Ida and the devastation left from Louisiana to New York. The problems are deep and the solutions are not easy or obvious. Spreading a truck load of bark is easy in comparison, but it is a tiny glimmer of the path forward. Working together, from the very youngest to those of more mature years, a big job got done in short order. Remembering to play. And valuing each person, no matter how much or how little they can contribute. In prayer and practical work, let us live out our faith.