“A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.” ~ Wendell Berry, A Long-Legged House
I’ve come upon a new chapter in my life. This chapter is set in a new place. A place I have never been before. It is a very old place with history dating before my birth. My place of work is housed on a city block that looks as if Main Street grew around it. I enjoy driving through the Main Street district each morning just as the sun is rising to watch keepers of the revived store fronts hosing down their sidewalk or setting out large easels telling foot traffic about the daily special.
The church in which I work houses a school that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. As I’ve met staff and other members of this community, I’ve noticed a longevity in this here. Many of them are people who came to this place, raised their families here, and made it a permanent home. Within the facility itself, I’ve already come across many sweet peculiarities that make working in an old church building such an adventure.
There are hallways that end abruptly and stairwells that are surely haunted. I’m often the first person in the building each morning and more than once I’ve wondered at a particular sound, creak or bumping in the night. It is kept fastidiously clean and has more character than any place I have recently worked or worshiped for that matter. There are pieces of furniture that have caused me to pause and wonder.
Today I needed to show love to an old wooden kitchen set from one of my preschool classrooms. While it is not usually my practice to paint over natural wood, this piece needed more refinishing than I could manage on my timeline. A fresh coat of paint will brighten up the corner of the room where children will be cooking their imaginary meals this year. But as I began wiping down the surfaces to begin priming these pieces, I couldn’t help but do some of my own imagining about the nicks, scars and well-worn spots I found.
Who was the master carpenter behind this small domestic playground? These pieces are so rare now in a world of press-board playthings so conveniently crafted to look like replicas of the real thing. And whose hands created all of these scars from use and play? How many children have played at life here? What were their real kitchens at home like? Where are they now?
I am realizing there are many stories of this place that I have not yet earned the right to hear. As I share in the daily life of this place in coming months, gaining the trust of the people I am here to serve, I hope to come to belong a part of this place too. Until then, I am remaining attentive to the many witnesses of this place that surround me each day. I pray I will be a good steward of this place and its story.