(Fifth in a series of reflections on the church of my boyhood)
When I was a boy, the annual Sunday School picnic was a highlight of the summer. From the time its date was announced I lived in expectation.
On one occasion as the date approached, I prayed in my boyish way that it wouldn’t rain. I would have viewed a rained-out picnic a tragedy.
Sunday School picnics are probably not enthralling to today’s children like they were to my generation seventy-five years ago.
Today there is so much more to create excitement – swimming lessons, little league baseball, after-school activities, sports events, to say nothing of personal diversions like cell phones, DVDs, texting devices, and even television and the Internet.
Not that the thirties of the last century were devoid of excitement. It was only that options to stir the imagination were more limited. Where I lived, in Estevan, Saskatchewan, during the Great Depression and the “dirty thirties”our parents were truly in survival mode to “make ends meet” and in summer months we mostly had to generate our own excitement.
For example, during one period of my childhood we boys found discarded automobile tires a challenge. We rolled them through the back alleys of Estevan, pumping them to keep them upright, running bare-footed alongside them. We must have imagined them as some sort of magic mount.
Another summer the device of choice was a metal hoop approximately ten inches in diameter that we rolled along with a special stick. The stick was about three feet long and shaped like an inverted T. The top of the T was at the far end of the stick to keep the hoop upright and rolling.
So, back then the Sunday School picnic was exciting and added novelty and pleasure to the summer. It was one of the most important events of the season for us.
One summer the picnic was held at Woodlawn Park beside the Souris River. The Park was in a wide, shallow valley and was two miles straight south of Estevan. It had swings, and teeter-totters, and a place to swim. On the bank of the river — which I remember as little more than one hundred feet wide — there was a diving board and in the middle of the river a raft, easily reached by swimmers. On a hot afternoon swimmers bobbed and splashed like corks around this raft.
The river and the park, set in a large grove of trees, was exceptional for the Prairies, and made an appealing setting for a picnic. It was like the gathering of a large family there. Some were enticed to come who only seldom attended church .
There were games (like three-legged, and gunny sack races) and other contests to try the skills of all ages. And there was pick-up softball. This was for the older kids and young adults.
There were things to laugh at – like the grunting, sweating, red-faced contestants who gave their all in an attempt to win the tug-of-war. Or the girls who fell in a heap while attempting to hop to the goal line with legs confined in a gunny sack. Even sedentary onlookers cheered as racers, each balancing an egg delicately on the bowl of a tablespoon, headed past them for the finish line.
Despite the hard times of the 1930s the food was good though simple. And the open air and brisk activity awakened hearty appetites. The minister prayed and we then pitched in. At the end of the afternoon we had ice cream which almost by itself made the event memorable.
It still seems to me that a picnic can do something for the church community that more spiritual activities can’t. That’s not to disparage services like prayer meetings. Each has its place. But, looking back, I would say that an event such as a picnic makes its own contribution to church life. Many become involved. The people mingle and bond in the outdoors. And the joy of believers eating together in God’s great out-of-doors refreshes both body and soul.
Children and younger people especially get two distinct benefits. It is good for children to make vertical connections to those younger and older. For healthy social development children need more than pals and buddies their own age. They need social interaction with the middle aged, the parents of their friends, even their chums’ grandparents.
And children benefit from being recognized by name in an embracing community, even chatted with by people of all ages. This helps them to become comfortable with their place in community. They belong. What could contribute better than a church picnic to their healthy social development in a positively Christian setting?
Maybe picnics such as I went to wouldn’t work today. But plan one like I’ve described here, and I’ll be there! Just don’t ask me at this point in my life to take part in the tug-of-war!
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