Renewal is stubborn, especially at the fringes and edges and the corners of the former. Think of what it takes to restore a classic car or a classic church.

A while back, I was in room 5 at my church, which is a classic,  and there it was, where the tile met the wall —  clean! I remember when it wasn’t.

When I took the job as the pastor of the church four years ago, a nice herd of children attended the private, Christian preschool that operated there.  I loved coming to work to children.  I loved being surrounded by those precious, diminutive, destructive monsters. While I could see that they were vectors (the runny noses and coughs) and carried diseases, I’d had my shots and they were super cute and said funny stuff and gave me chances to tell stories and laugh and get hugs and comfort them when they cried for their mothers, which they did a lot, especially late in the day.

I tend to like the generic noises children make,  the hum that they collectively emanate, punctuated with the yelling, laughing and crying. I especially like it when I’m not immediately responsible for it.

But there was a problem with the school, and so we said a prayer over it — and buried it. It was a private day care operation that was leaking money in the recession, threatening the financial solvency of the church. It had been in existence for forty years. It had thrived, filled the patio with children, helped parents who were working, cared for the children of the church, but it was done, (no children from the church even attended anymore),  and so were we.

The church board discussed it, discussed it again, and again, made the decision, grieved the loss and let it go. We paid the director and the teachers severance and vacation pay, told the parents and children about why we were quitting and closed the doors — at Christmas — on a huge mess. Four big rooms and an office complex of mess.

The preschool classrooms hadn’t had an update in 20 years. They were full of over-painted children’s furniture — red and blue and white paint-encrusted wooden benches, bookshelves and cubes for backpacks. This inexpensive, even homemade furniture, was all paint-chipped, kid scratched and dirty. And so was the floor —  filthy.

We trashed, sold and gave away the school — except a few nice tables and chairs. We gutted the rooms. Huge truck loads went to other schools, and  to the dump. We sold a ton of stuff at a garage sale.  Through this we saw how it is at the end of the end of things institutional.  At the end of visions, dream and institutional successes is a junk yards and a dump. Dumps are full of the ends of schools and businesses and homes and lives. It’s sad, and it’s necessary, and it allows something new to begin.

Once the rooms were almost empty, we painted the walls, scraped paint off the windows,  and tackled the floors.  The floors were the worst. The piles of furniture, the weight of time, the tendency not to see the familiar, the lack of funds — all  this had left the floors layered with filth.

We removed the base boards, and we got on our knees at church, not to worship, but to clean, which is a form of worship, and with our heads bumping the walls, we confronted the spaces where the universes had overly accumulated. I remember it well. I remember the night we employed every means known to man and woman to scrub wax, grime, grit, gunk, hair, insect body parts, dust, paint and whatever disgusting residue human children leave behind them  —  off the floor.

We ran an old buffer with a massive yellow, electrical umbilical cord (we found it lurking in an old closet) over the floors, grinding away at the dirt embedded in the tile. The buffer was wild and could get away from you and clobber the wall,  or your leg, so we let one person run it while the rest stood back and laughed. Once I got on it and rode it, to increase its wieght, and another guy ran it on a spot that just wouldn’t come clean. It did. Then  we got out scrapers and razor blades and scrub pads and attacked the edges and corners. I remember telling the volunteer crew stuff like, “Let’s hit that spot again,” or “I want it better than that.” I remember being fanatical about getting the dirt up, even coming back on my own over the next few weeks with a razor blade, scraping yellow wax and brown grime.

Then I paid to have the carpeted areas cleaned, twice!

Why?

Last week I went into room 5 on a Wednesday evening. It is the church’s new vision, “The Connection,” a place for children and their parents to learn, to recover, to renew.  The room was full of children, so many they were spilling out the back door. Four or five adults hovered over them. There was a quiet hum of voices with a background track of sandpaper running over wood. The children, all who attend the church, were making pine box derby cars.

I walked toward the end of the room where we had attacked the tile floors. They shone. Curtains covered the beautifully clean windows at the end.  I looked back at the children and walked  back through them, just for fun. They showed me their cars. One gave me a hug. She always does. She’s my friend. She used to attend the preschool.

As I left for the evening, I glanced along the wall where we had confronted the most stubborn layers of dirt — good, clean, repurposed.

There is something about a vision, about a church,  about God, about an old room, about scraping up the past, about making a clean space for something new.

I like it; I like the good that exists at the scraped corners and at the clean edges of the present and the future.

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