I noticed it while I was waiting for the kids to get dropped off at the bus stop after school. I walked down the street a bit and saw a brand new bench next to the Historical Society. I nice concrete pad was poured and a new bench, equipped with a memorial plaque by those who donated was fastened to the back. “How nice,” I thought. Oenoke Ridge is a busy street, with plenty of foot traffic and this might be a nice place for someone to stop. St. Michael’s has two benches out on the plaza that we have had since the renovation, and often I see people using them (at least when it is warm outside!)
Then I started noticing new benches like the one next to the Historical Society all over New Canaan. There are two overlooking God’s Acre. There is one on the corner of Main St and Maple St across from the Library. There are others scattered across town. Supposedly there are eighteen in all. A new effort of mine will be to locate them all. My favorite is on Park Street next to the commuter lot. The engraving on this particular bench is quite plain, but it is extraordinary. Rather than giving honor to the one who purchased the bench it simply says, “Sit down or walk by peacefully.” How neighborly! No credit sought in giving the bench, just open hospitality to enjoy the bench, the view, wait for a ride or take a rest or a quiet moment to soak in the day. It is not quite the same as “Go in peace, serve the Lord!” but for a bench in a town full of hustle and bustle, it is a great message.
I wondered where these benches came from so I did an internet search. I found an article from June 20, 2011 titled, “Benches offer Breaks for New Canaan” from the Daily New Canaan [online available: http://www.thedailynewcanaan.com/neighbors/benches-offer-breaks-new-canaan-walkers%5D. I discovered that Bill and Liz Taggart, decided that seniors needed better access to town, and benches would offer the support they might need to encourage walking, so with some friends they planned the bench project and invited others to contribute. I also discovered that they were the ones responsible for the bench with the great slogan, “Sit down or walk by peacefully.” Cool.
I often run or walk down Park Street. Last week before I decided to research the origin of the benches I saw Bill Taggart outside. I don’t know him, and he doesn’t know me – I didn’t even know his name until I recognized him in the picture in the Daily New Canaan article I read Monday morning. He was warm and welcoming, “What a great day to be outside,” he said to Tammie and I as we walked past him. We made a few pleasant exchanges and kept going on our Friday outing, “walking by peacefully.” Monday afternoon I sent the Taggarts a “Thank you” in the mail – part of our ongoing effort to notice God working around us.
I wrote this –
“We don’t know each other, but I wanted to give you high praise and thanks for the bench project around town. They really add a lot to the community and your encouragement to get others involved has not gone overlooked. Thank you…As a church we are continually looking for ways people are engaged in the community and your efforts are a shining light of what it means to ‘add something’ to those around you with a generous spirit – well done.”
These benches inspire me to think about our ongoing efforts as individuals and as a church around hospitality and evangelism. Sharing who we are as gospel people need not be confrontational, uncomfortable or awkward as we worry about what to say, how to say it, and how we can get it over with in a timely fashion. Rather, both hospitality and evangelism can be centered on the intersection of generosity, seeing a community need and responding to it, and offering a simple message to “sit down or walk by peacefully.” Extending the spirit of graciousness first given to us may be all it takes. Who knows? We might be, “entertaining angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2).
“Come to me all who are weary, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Where might you offer a place for the weary to rest?