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The City: Classroom, Parish, and Playground

May 1, 2014 | By | No Comments

Our good friends at the Center For Transforming Mission once challenged us to experience and engage the City in three creative ways: as classroom, parish, and playground.

This concept has become so meaningful to us through the years. Below, we’ve taken these three words and written just a few thoughts about each.  We hope that the following three concepts will allow you to begin to consider seeing, engaging, and experiencing your own city in some new ways.

1.  The City is our Classroom

The classroom is a place set up for learning.  It is a space designed to allow us to gain knowledge.  Many classrooms contain labs for experiments, computers for research, and resources that help us contemplate the past and think about the future.  In the same way, the city is a “living library of wisdom waiting to be discovered.”1  One thing that the classroom can never do is force us to learn.  As we walk the city streets, visit museums, join in conversations, listen to street-corner-cardboard-carrying professors, and more, we actively engage the city as classroom and begin to discover bits of incredible wisdom everywhere.

How can you begin to experience your city as classroom? 

Try these:
1. Ask an older member of your community to take you out to a few areas of your city to share his or her knowledge of the history of that area.

2. Locate historical markers near your city and go read them.

3. Get to know someone that you cross paths with every day, but have never met (i.e. – a homeless woman, a hot dog cart owner, a security guard, or a business owner in the office next to you.) What did you learn from them?

2.  The City is our Parish

The Parish is the designated area under the pastoral care of a religious leader.  This could be a pastor, priest, bishop, etc.  Let’s engage the city as parish, imagining each person, place, or thing under our care and attention – no exceptions.

With wide eyes, we will see that God is already out there and has gone before us.  He can now be seen passing out faith, bringing healing, and offering spiritual care in the most unique and creative ways.  Indeed, the world is His large parish, but He cares specifically for our city.

We hold a very deep sense of responsibility for our city as parish.  As we move through its streets, shops, schools, and residences, our eyes and hearts now view it as under God’s care.  He is asking us to join Him. We accept that invitation as we take responsibility for the love and care displayed among all living in our parish.

How can you begin to better grasp this concept of “city as parish?”  

Try these:
1. Walk around your neighborhood and find something to fix even though you didn’t break it.

2. Get in groups of 3 or 4 and go out on a 30 minute “scavenger hunt.” Create a list of items like these for each group to collect or find: Take a picture with the oldest person you can find outside.  Find someone playing in their yard with a ball.  Find a group of people having a cookout in their yard. …working on their broken car.  …gardening.  …pushing a wheelchair.  …celebrating something.  …someone fighting.  …someone mowing their lawn  …someone that is extremely happy  …someone that seems upset …etc.
This exercise encourages us to open our eyes to see the chemistry, character, heartbeat, and even the daily average happenings of people that make up the full picture of our parish/city.

3. Get to know someone that you cross paths with every day, but have never met (i.e. – a homeless woman, a hot dog cart owner, a security guard, or a business owner in the office next to you.) How can you now care for that person?

3.  The City is our Playground

The playground is definitely a place designed to let your imagination run wild.  Any structure can become a castle secluding a fair maiden.  A riding toy bolted to the ground can race through the jungles or sail you across the ocean.  A swing that goes back and forth is your spaceship through the galaxy.  Playgrounds are fun!  Your city is a playground.  The city needs to be our place to let our imaginations run wild with dreams, fun, and adventure.  The city can easily become a boring place, or simply just the place where we work and live.  Our hope is that it will be transformed into your playground of adventure, creativity, innovation, joy, and imagination.

How can you begin to see and experience your city as playground?  

Try these:
1. Take your family out in to the middle of a neighborhood street and…dance.  (safely)

2. Take a basketball down to the local court at the park and see how quickly others begin to join in. Go make and share pancakes in the parking lot where music or sports fans are tailgating. Hand out bacon to runners at a local marathon (thanks Chris). Fill a wagon with root beer and walk through your streets making friends. Yes…these are bizarre ideas! Go have fun.

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