The Science of Sensible Sidewalks


The picture above is of Douglas Hall at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina (my alma mater). While it does not have the emotional nostalgia of the historic and beloved Neville Hall, it has been on my mind as of late.

If you look closely in this photo of Douglas Hall, you will notice that a dirt path diverges from the sidewalk to travel at an angle to an unseen destination. If you were to follow that path, you would end at the side entrance of Bailey Hall, the freshmen dormitory for us PC boys. One could continue on the sidewalk to make a left-hand turn in about 30 feet to then go up some steps to enter the building but this dirt path that, I’m sure, remains to this day is the road of choice for every student. Year after year, day after day, thousands of feet ignored the sidewalk and took a different route, creating a new and improvised path that…well…just made more sense.

One day, I was walking along the sidewalk with my good friend, Joseph Taber (you can read his blog here), and this improvised dirt path came up in our conversation. We stopped. He looked at it and then back at me and said, “you know, if the school had been smart and just waited to see where we would walk, they could’ve put a sidewalk here and it would have made more sense.”

That conversation has slept dormant in my mind for the past six and a half years. But recently, it has found its way back to the surface.

The PC(USA) is in a time of transition (yes, you can call me Captain Obvious!). Many congregations differ radically from the communities they were even a few years ago. Some churches, such as my home church of First Presbyterian Church of Dalton and the one I currently serve at Silver Creek Presbyterian Church, are recovering from painful splits that have left them in a sense of disorientation and improvisation (which are not always necessarily “bad” places to be!). As is expected of communities in this situation, the temptation often is to “re-pave” the sidewalks where they previously were.

However, what if those paths no longer make sense? What if we are hastily paving sidewalks that will never be used?

I don’t pretend to have the answers. I don’t pretend to know exactly where the sidewalks need to go in this transitory time. But I do know that, as my good friend wisely suggested, it takes time to discern traffic patterns.

As I walk with churches that are enduring the harsh realities of this time of transition, I am reminded that the destination has not changed; we are still marching on to the day when Christ will return and tears and death will be no more. However, what has changed and what is changing even as you read these words are the paths that we are being called by God to use to get there!

Some paths nowadays just don’t make sense. That isn’t to say that they haven’t served us well before or that they weren’t meant to be used at that time.

But now isn’t “that” time; it’s this time. And this time calls for a new path.

But before we can get to the sensible (and faithful) path, we must first stop and see where God is directing the traffic.



Filed under Current Events Reflections

3 responses to “The Science of Sensible Sidewalks

  1. A wise and beautiful post. The analogy is definitely one worth dwelling on.

  2. The sidewalk “issue” has been of interest to me since I was in college. I heard recently that many wise architects and ground crews are typically waiting for the “paths to be worn” before deciding where to put the sidewalks down permanently these days. A church might think this through as well. Even though we are heading to the same destination . . . .

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