A few years ago, members of the congregation who own Sport Court of Iowa donated everything we needed to make our own state-of-the-art basketball court. The idea was to serve both our congregation and the community, as this is the only semi-public basketball court in all of Windsor Heights. Though our church’s use of the court has waned a little this past year, it has remained a focal point of our outdoor facility for many of our members. Additionally, word has spread throughout the neighborhood of our awesome court, and lots of young people have made use of it. Most of the time this has been a good thing…but, as of late, there has been an increased level of vandalism that has taken place on the court.
The handle / crank that raises and lowers the height of the basketball hoop had been stored in the storage garage next to the church. On more than one occasion, people had broken into the garage, taken the crank, lowered the hoop, and kept the crank for future use. A couple of times, the guilty party would leave the crank out, and we would reclaim it. I believe we went through 4 cranks in the past 2 years. Our picnic table was defiled with all kinds of hate-speech and lewd pictures. The garage was spray-painted with vile language. The rim was broken, as was the large pad that surrounded the base of the hoop. Additionally, our pastors had been verbally abused by people using the court when they were asked to keep the noise down after 11:00 pm…or simply when they were walking by the court as they entered the church.
Last night our pastor received a call indicating that someone had started a fire on the court, leaving “considerable” damage. It appeared that an accelerant was used (gasoline?), as well as pine needles. The vandals also ripped pieces of wood from the adjecent playset to fuel the fire. Other than that, I know very few details. The “sport court” was lifted, leaving a cement slab. The hoop has been removed indefinitely. What was conceived as a way to outreach to the community – and to add a place for outdoor fun and fellowship for our community of faith – has literally gone up in smoke. I’m sure we will deliberate in the coming weeks and months about the best way to proceed…but in the meantime, I will remain heartbroken over this entire situation.
I’m grateful for the work of the Windsor Heights police and fire departments, as well as for the quick response by our pastors and church members who helped with the clean-up. My hands wreak of burned pine needles and melted plastic / rubber. I’m sure that will go nicely with my turkey sandwich.
For those of you in ministry – how would you respond to this situation? Would you hunker down and start a more intense pro-active outreach to the people who come to the basketball court? Would you ask volunteers to do a “stakeout” and wait for the purpetrators to return and then call the police to arrest them? Would you close up shop, as we are temporarily doing, and allow the situation to just “go away” over the course of the winter months? Most importantly – what is God’s call to ministry for churches like WHLC who are finding itself in a community that is becoming more culturally and socio-economically diverse than ever before?