Spread the Peace: The playground at Trinity Mennonite

2016 4 14 Norma DuerksenThis is the first post in a series highlighting churches across Mennonite Church USA who were awarded the Peace and Justice Support Network’s Spread the Peace grant for 2015.  The PJSN is a partnership of Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church USA. Each of these congregations is working in different ways to spread peace in its community.

Norma Duerksen is the pastor at Trinity Mennonite Church in Hillsboro, Kansas. Neighborhood parents and children playing on the sidewalks provide a welcome distraction to sermon preparation and other office work. She lives in Marion, Kansas, with her husband Phil.

Why would Trinity put in a playground when they usually don’t have any children in church on Sunday morning?

There are quite a few reasons to build a playground. You’ve heard: “Build it and they will come.” We want to be a child-friendly church because we know that is how the church will continue on into the future. We, as grandparents, care deeply about passing on our faith to the next generation. This priority came to the surface during a brainstorming session as a congregation when we asked “What do we want to do to reach out to our community?” Which brings up another reason for a playground: we are surrounded by children in our neighborhood. The church should always reach out to its neighbors. A third reason is that we have an average of 22 children in our church every day of the summer for our summer lunch program for low income families. A playground will give them a place to exercise, play and interact before or after lunch.

Missional church experts say that we need to get away from the belief that church only happens on Sunday morning. We cannot judge the value of the church on how many children come and sit in the pews for worship on Sunday morning. Church is not just on Sunday.

Trinity has a wonderful ministry every day of the week when we aren’t even here.

The children of the neighborhood use our sidewalks for their roadways as they drive their battery-operated kitty cars or pedal tractors. Our nativity scene on the front lawn provides the setting for drama as the children of the neighborhood act out the Christmas story in among the life-sized Mary, Joseph, wise men and shepherds. The basketball goal provides a place to play sports with friends. The bushes around the church building have provided hiding places to play. The playground will be a new gathering place for the community’s children; a new place to sit on a park bench and visit with parents living in the neighborhood; a new place to learn to know the names of children who use our building and our facilities; a new, safe, loving place for children to be. Whether or not we have children in our worship or in our Sunday school on Sunday morning, we have children’s ministry every day of the week on our property.

We are making the playground a reality by applying for grants from our town, our area conference, the denomination and any lending organization we could think of.

We have served a soup supper to the community as a fundraiser to which the neighborhood families came and provided wonderful financial support for “their playground.”

We also pass the bucket every Sunday to clean out the loose change from our pockets and purses. Plans are to have a food booth at the Arts & Crafts Fair and other community fundraisers.

These efforts have allowed us to order the playground unit, swings, merry-go-round, wood chips, rubber mats to land on, and plastic border to keep woodchips out of the lawn nearby. Manufacturers within the church offered a truck to go pick up all the parts to save us the high shipping costs. Our dream is slowly becoming a reality. Excitement keeps building with each step.

Thanks to the Peace and Justice Support Network’s Spread the Peace grant for helping to make this a reality.