This is a NIMBY story. But first, it was a NIMFY story.

When I was Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Trumansburg, NY, my study looked out on the village’s Main Street. One afternoon, I heard the grating sound of skateboards scraping across the cement front walk between the church’s two buildings. It shouldn’t have bothered me, the sound of teenagers enjoying the handicapped-ramped concrete flight paths outside my window.

But — it did bother me. Mostly it annoyed me because of the damage they did to the metal railings along the ramps. Somehow they were able to skate, become airborne, and leap onto the handrails for a short ride before landing back on terra firma. The Building and Grounds Committee had to keep repainting the railings. Eventually, the committee had a sign made: “No Skateboards.” Maybe the sign mentioned other offenses, too, or maybe a line about liability. I don’t recall. But, there was a sign and the kids outside my window were completely disregarding it.

So, I pretty much chased them away. I wasn’t mean, just firm. These were not “church kids,” so I didn’t know them. Look at the scraped paint, guys. And I must have mentioned the insurance issue too.

A few days later, they were back. I had read in the local weekly that Trumansburg teens looked with envy on the Ithaca skate park, and a couple of others in nearby locales. But they had been rebuffed when approaching local officials about a park of their own.

I went back out to the sidewalk, but took another tone with them this time. No chasing away, no complaining. I meant to be as kind as possible, and I explained the problems again with their using the church’s front yard as a skate park. I knew exactly what they would respond when I asked, “Why don’t you use the local T-burg skate park?”

“There isn’t one!” I knew that. We talked briefly about the efforts the teens had made to get a place of their own. It was a good conversation. I asked their names, and they volunteered that a friend of theirs came to our church. Just then, Mack showed up, their friend and our member. Man, was I glad I had approached these guys the way I did! I’d have really regretted putting on my mean/ugly pastor face and then have Mack walk (or skate) into the situation.

With Mack there, I went even further. “If you guys want to keep the conversation going about a local park, how can I help?” They gave me a couple of names of adult skateboard park advocates, and I promised to follow-up. As they skated away on the village sidewalk, I returned to my study very thankful for the opportunity to build a bridge with the youth who had interrupted my afternoon.

I did make a couple of calls to get caught up on the skate park progress or lack of it. But before anything much happened on that front, tragedy struck. Mack was killed in an auto crash. The whole community was devastated. I was asked to lead the memorial service which was held in the high school auditorium, along with the interim minister who had preceded me at the church. What I remember most about the service was seeing the chalk graffiti on the school sidewalks, messages to Mack and tributes to his friendship.

As the skate park conversations continued, the local youth, parents, and community advocates determined that the park would bear Mack’s name, a fitting memorial to a kid everyone loved. A professional firm brought in drawings and proposed equipment; enthusiasm was growing. The right people were getting involved to make this happen. Fundraisers were helping with present costs and future plans. T-shirts bearing a Mack/Skate logo went on sale. I went to lots of meetings, the only non-parent showing up at many of them. (To clarify: my own adult children were not among the skaters we were supporting.)

Besides securing a major grant, the main goal was now finding a site. That’s when the NIMFY (not in my front yard — the church’s ramps) became the NIMBY problem. Even people who had no objection to the park per se, didn’t want it in their backyard. The school had lots of space, but didn’t want the liability (even though the basketball courts, playing fields, and tennis courts must have had some liability issues). There was a pull-off spot along the road at the edge of the village, but officials thought there were safety concerns about being so close to the road. And there was the green space, maybe an acre+, under the village water tower, but it was right in the middle of a neighborhood, and NIMBY came into play big time. Someone was afraid “those” kids would wind up climbing the water tower. The teenagers scoffed at the very idea. One said, “Well, if there’s no place to skate, maybe climbing the tower would be fun after all.”

(I would have advocated a radical idea — using the church’s back yard — but there clearly wasn’t space enough, nor was the terrain right, with a steep hill leading down to a creek bed.)

I would love to report that the teenagers’ efforts were rewarded, but with my retirement from that church came my move away from town, and I lost touch with the project. I have it on good authority that the park was never built. When I think about how much time and effort and good faith those teenagers put into that idea, especially knowing that, given the timeline for development and construction, they would have “aged out” and gone away to college before it came to fruition– well, it’s a disappointment to say the least. It would have been a good place to skate…in Mack’s memory.

And it sure felt good for our church to have advocated an outdoor recreational space in an age where so many youth are sitting in front of electronic screens…as you and I are doing right now. Kind of makes me want to go take a walk!

Next, in this series of forty Lenten essays on my life as a pastor, my first same-sex wedding. Kind of.

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