Originally published Aug., 19, 2014, at “Humble Walk.” Republished with the permission of the author.
By Jodi Houge
We are just wrapping up our park life for this summer. During the summer months, Humble Walk is present in our neighborhood school park on a regular basis. Each Thursday evening throughout the summer, we organize a community building event. Kids look forward to them. We learn one another’s names. We laugh together and play. Sometimes the group is big, sometimes small. When we run into kids throughout the week, they excitedly say, “Is it park night?!”
Then, each August, we host Wild Week – where every day we gather from 3 to 6 p.m. for wild games and community building. At the end of the evening, we cater a meal from a local business. The park where we gather doesn’t have barbecue pits or picnic tables or bathrooms. It’s a school playground. So, we use what we do have: ample shade trees and a big grassy field. (We send people home to use the bathroom!) We set up a hand-washing table, serving and drink tables. We haul in our finest Goodwill dishes so that we might be as low-impact as possible. Then we gather up all those dirty dishes and some lucky person gets to serve this community by doing the dishes and returning them the next night so we can do it all again. Of course paper products would be easier – but we have never really chosen the easy way. In fact, we often look for the hardest way possible since it’s often the best way possible.
This year, more people gathered with us than ever before – and it was glorious. Every night, 60-70 people came and filled a plate with food and then sat with their neighbors and ate a meal. Conversations about “You” were transformed into “We.”
We do need grants to fund our park life. This year we are the thankful recipients of an ELCA Hunger Grant. Because of this grant, we get to share meals together – at a point in summer where families are feeling their budgets absolutely strained. Summer is expensive, and by this time in August, everyone is also staring at a long back-to-school supply list.
It’s hard to accept a meal that’s already been paid for – we witness this over and over. “It doesn’t feel right. Just showing up and eating.” Except, you know it’s not really free. Everyone contributes in one way or another. People organize, haul supplies, set up tables, some jump in to serve food or pour drinks. Someone has to squirt soap into hands at the hand-washing station. Someone does the dishes. Others help clean up and pack up.
It requires people to show up. Perhaps this is the part of our park life that leaves me the most hopeful about the world. Because there would be no Wild Week story to tell if people didn’t show up. But. People do it. They take a risk and come – knowing that it’s sponsored by a church. Knowing that they will have to talk to people – knowing it takes no small amount of personal vulnerability to start a conversation with a neighbor you don’t know.
Find a link to Jodi Houge’s blog, “Humble Walk” at Lutheran Blogs.