Parks and Re-Creation

It was Carolyn Jenkins who came up with the idea: gatherings in a local park on a few Sunday afternoons, just for fellowship. The advertising graphic with my face, superimposed on a Forrest Gump poster—that was my suggestion. Lindsey or Carolyn picked up the balloons. Wayne put out a sign, and Erin coordinated it all. And that was the total of the work and planning that has gone into Pastor in the Park. With no agenda, and no food or drinks provided unless individuals brought them, it's as low maintenance as it gets for an FBCA activity. We have had two such gatherings already this summer, with one more scheduled for August 8.

This past Sunday we met at Belle Haven Park, under a copse of trees for shade, down along the Potomac River. Not many—but a good group. An almost entirely different group from the one before. We had pleasant conversations, nothing heavy. People talked about their jobs and how they came to the area. Virginia and Alexandria history. A little theology. We even talked about funerals, burials, cremation, and obituary writing.

The weather was good for the first one in Fort Ward Park last month—but it was absolutely perfect for this one. We had a gentle breeze, temperature in the mid-80's, and very little humidity.

Things got even better when a man came along pushing a cart with ice cream to sell. I jumped up and ran over but then remembered that I had no money in my pocket. Nancy handed me a $20 bill and I was able to buy a cookies & cream Popsicle.  "I'll gladly repay you on Tuesday,” I told her (and she recognized the Wimpy Smith reference).

I quickly forgot that I was using borrowed funds, though, when one of my favorite little children walked over and saw my Popsicle. I had the extra money, so I bought her one and saw her eyes light up with joy.

Several children were there—playing with the bubbles from a tiny bubble machine that one of them had brought. Running and chasing each other. Looking at the ducks. A little Muslim girl in a pretty, white dress wandered into the circle and joined in with our kids. Her mother, wrapped from head to toe as women from that culture do, watched from a distance.

After a while, I walked over to meet her, and found that her daughter's name is Alia. Then, I met her husband. They spoke almost no English but seemed to warm to my greeting. They are from Saudi Arabia and have only been in our country for a few months. I welcomed them and told them that we were glad to have them here. I think they understood that and could tell by my smile that I was sincere in saying it.

Walter was there and talked about trains. Charles informed me of the new law in Virginia against releasing balloons in open spaces, and the fine attached to it. I had no plans to do so, but things happen, you know. I told him about the state law against capturing and re-locating squirrels, which I am guilty of doing—a couple of times. A long time ago, though. A very, long time ago. Someone else told me about the dinner she recently had with the members of a cult. "Very nice people," she said. "But they had some weird beliefs."

Uninterrupted time to just be together and get to know each other. In the course of a busy week and a crowded Sunday morning at church there is so little opportunity to do that—but that's what we all really need, I think. Talking about our lives, sharing our stories over melting ice cream. Grasping at bubbles that last only as long as you reach out to touch and try to hold them.

Toward the end of the evening, I took one of the red balloons over to give to Alia and watched her smile with delight. Later I learned that Carolyn had done the same thing a little earlier. A gesture of friendship. The child had lost her grip on the string of the first balloon and that balloon was gone by the time I walked over to offer mine.

I watched as she and her parents left the park, her little hand gripping the string more tightly this time.




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