I don’t have many memories of church picnics. The church I grew up in didn’t have them. When I was first ordained the rural churches that I served held a picnic at a local park; there were sandwiches, juice, ice cream, etc…there were games, tug-of-war, horse shoes, and three-legged races. I enjoyed the community these activities fostered, people seemed to be having a good time and it was one of the few examples of multi-generational participation in church, all ages were present. Strangely, the weather was always good, no rain cancellations.
In the city churches I served picnics had ceased to occur, based on my rural experience I pushed to see us try to revive this practice. In the 1990’s our church picnics were held at the Atlantic School of Theology grounds. The venue was beautiful and the community was multi-generational, church felt connected and spirited. Interestingly the photos we generated for our first church website almost all came from these picnics, sights of angelic children with ice cream, older adults on lawn chairs, parents and single adults in three-legged races, etc… Later in Ottawa the city church I served did likewise on the Governor-General’s lawn and again the outcome was new life and stronger relationships.
In Toronto the church I served opted for a family camping weekend outside Guelph. That was a great community building experience for the younger families but the absence of the other demographics was noticeable. In the suburban church I served, outside Halifax, the picnics were life-giving and energizing, but one challenge was the change in venue, and moving the site from year to year seemed to alter the energy somewhat. I noticed numbers dwindling and I wondered if the change in format and location, year after year, had some effect. People in general, and church people in particular, seem to need some kind of continuity.
Here at Bethany our picnics are in the Hall, I am told this is the result of many years of disappointment with poor weather. Better to have the picnic in the Hall where the conditions are constant. The only downside is the lack of games. On the other hand, people who normally would not come to a church picnic will sit inside a Hall on a comfortable chair. Brunswick Street United Church had not held a picnic for some time. It took a relative newcomer from “away” (see Montreal), a retired Minister who has blessed our community with new life, to suggest we have a picnic. Our Chair of the Board Heather was game and together they envisioned a gathering in lawn chairs at the local Murray Warrington Park.
We arrived at 6 pm on Sunday night, sang camp fire songs, played our combs with Kleenex, shared stories of camping and outdoor fun, ate from abundance, played bean bag toss and washer toss, mingled with locals who were also in the park, and enjoyed each other’s good company. Brian took great photos! The 15 of us who came together to experience the delight and healing and deeper connections afforded by Creation felt like we had been at a picnic! Thanks to Judith and Heather we hummed along with the rhythms of nature and experienced the bright clear skies of new life and possibilities.