When I was appointed to UUMC in June of 2011, I remember noticing the cheerful little playhouse on the grounds of the playground. I imagined how much fun my two little kids would have playing in the playhouse, and was told that the structure was built by one of our beloved late church members, Ray Freeman. I also learned that Ray, quite the woodworker with a heart for the children in our congregation, had made wooden toys, shelves for toys, moveable dividers, chalkboards that converted into corkboards, the mail center, and all sorts of other things that makes our church unique. His widow Helen became a dear friend before her death a few years ago. I remember one time when I was visiting her in her home at Methodist Manor and I had taken one of my kids with me. She reached under the couch and pulled out a wooden truck that her late husband had made. Helen was always ready with a toy!
Ray constructed that playhouse in 1995, and it served our children well for at least 20 years. Over the past few years, though, we’ve noticed some rotted wood, have had a few break ins by vandals, and the building has become a magnet for wasps and possums. As it was lovingly built, it will be lovingly disassembled and taken off the playground. Our Administrative Board has responded by the Ministry Team’s request to make it available for a group of volunteers looking for a local mission project. We plan to say some prayerful words of thanks for the structure, how it has served our children, and I also will start out my “Travelogue Sermon Series” this July 1 with a sermon about “The Holy Places of Childhood: Treehouses, Forts, Thickets, and the Sacred Value of Play” during which I will celebrate the role of our playhouse in the life of our church for the past 25 years.
Since the well-being of children is a major concern in our spiritual life, we not only celebrate the good, but we decry the bad. This past month, much of our church’s energy has been dedicated to doing what we can to help children have a higher quality of life. We sent volunteers to Project Transformation for 2 weeks, helping children get valuable summer supplementary education and reading time. This program has a fantastic track record of improving the educational lives of some of our state’s most vulnerable children. I viewed this as “something we could do,” with the energy that many of us felt motivated to direct toward something good when faced with the sights and sounds of children being taken from their parents along the US/Mexico border. The stories that are coming out of that tragic crisis are heartbreaking and infuriating. The crisis also motivated one of our constituents, Michael Moore, who grew up in our church, to use his own talents to put together a benefit music concert on Friday, June 29. All the funds raised at the concert will be given to Justice for Our Neighbors, a United Methodist Ministry offering legal aide to immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers who cannot afford it. This organization has been on the ground in the midst of this crisis, and has shared some stories we should be attentive to: http://njfon.org.
I look forward to hearing some great jazz, soul, and folk music for a good cause on Friday night. I’ll be counting my blessings being able to do be reflecting on all the places of comfort and wonder as a child that I have in my life while listening to music that is being played to support children who are being kept in cages and emotionally scarred for the sake of some “hard-line” immigration policy. We have a responsibility to the one who said, “let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them. For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)