On Court Street in Keene, just a half a block away from Central Square, there is a park. Though its name is not well known in our wider community today, it used to be. It’s called Elsie Priest Park, and it’s named for a person who held my job in 1953, Elsie Priest. She was also a missionary and educator in China. Elsie Priest Park is owned by The United Church of Christ in Keene, the Church at the Head of the Square.
In keeping with our Christian values, we at the UCC in Keene are happy to share this beautiful park with the wide and increasingly diverse community of Keene. The park is always open, and its lawn, benches, and playground are used by many.
We want everyone to feel welcome to use the park. This is in good keeping with our belief that all of God’s children are beloved, no matter who they are, or where they are on life’s journey. All are welcome, no matter their gender, age, race, ethnicity, economic status, sexual orientation, difference in abilities, religion or absence thereof.
We choose symbols based on these ideals of extravagant welcome. Our Mission and Social Action Committee added a Little Free Library to the Park for use by the community, and it has been very popular. More recently, one of or benches was sprayed with graffiti, and we decided to respond with our own symbolic repainting. Moco’s CAKE program, which uses the church a month of each summer, volunteered to repaint the benches, and we purchased the materials for them. They skillfully transformed our benches into rainbows, a symbol of diversity and God’s love for all of humanity.
This past Tuesday, at about eight thirty at night, one of our Church members was leaving the Church, and saw a woman in her mid-sixties, dressed in a red dress, painting over our rainbows! When he went to confront her, she ran to her red, compact car and drove away hastily.
This kind of response confirms that our city needs more, and clearer symbols of diversity. We’ll repaint the rainbows, of course. We’ll do it as often as needed to show that ALL are welcome in OUR Park, and at the Church at the head of the square.
Mark C. Harris,
The United Church of Christ in Keene