Opening our eyes to healthy and safe buildings
- Addressing the well-being of kids and adults who have mold and dust allergies.
- "Safe" spaces, scary rooms, bad lighting, etc. (yes, some spaces are scary to kids)
In the "new normal" after the pandemic is over, we're going to need to do a number of things differently not only do things right, but to win families back.
Many years ago at a church where I had just started serving, I walked into a Sunday School room and my head started throb and my throat start to close. One of the classroom walls was glistening with seeping slimy groundwater. It was my first encounter with a "sick building" and how they can make our children and teachers feel sick. The teachers told me it was like that EVERY summer and fall (and none of them wanted to be in that room). Fortunately, the problem was easily fixed by rerouting the downspouts which were dumping rainwater next to that below-grade classroom but it made me take a much closer look at ALL our teaching spaces, a journey which not so coincidentally led to the creation of the Workshop Rotation Model for Sunday School.
Here's a picture of that room with the "Temple" mural painted over that once-slimy wall after the room was fixed. This room became known as the Bible Skills and Games Workshop.
At about that same time, I was diagnosed with dust allergies and a modest sensitivity to mildew. I didn't grow up with allergies, rather, they “turned on” years later and it began turning on my awareness of how even mildly 'sick' rooms can make a child or adult feel uneasy and irritated. It's hard to learn when your sinuses start to feel full and eyes start to itch. Worse, I believe people make subconscious decisions about places that makes them physically and psychologically uncomfortable. I know I didn't like going "downstairs" at our church, and when I brought it up to two trustees who ALSO had allergies, they saw to it that things got better because they personally understood the problem. (Installed AC with filters and adjusted the cleaning schedule).
And now here we are in 2020 becoming more aware of that our facilities and group interactions are a “vectors” for the spread of common and uncommon illnesses that can be dangerous -- especially to older members, and those with health issues. For decades, we've coughed and touched and fevered our way through schools, churches, workplaces, and restaurants without thinking about how our "tolerable" illnesses can threaten someone's grandparent or friend who has heart disease. I pray that those days of "blissful" ignorance are over -- that healthier practices and facilities are one of the silver linings of the Coronavirus pandemic. The "new normal" must include a "safer-normal."
"Scary" and "Unsafe" Places
Years ago in a former church, a dad approached me to say his child was "afraid" to walk down to her classroom at the end of a lower level hallway at church. It was "too dark!" she said. And indeed, it was. It was the first time I started looking at our facilities as our KIDS experience them. It was a simple lighting fix, but it started a whole list of "emotional fixes" to our facility to make sure our kids FELT welcome and safe.
A few years back at a church I temporarily served, I was in charge of setting up a new Sunday School in a new "office building" the church had purchased. The number of spare rooms, out of the way closets, and exits was a problem waiting to happen. We asked for the spare spaces to be locked and security cameras to be installed, but were told it would be too expensive. (More expensive than a lawsuit? No. But the "retired guys" on the Building committee were from a different era and didn't seem too worried. What that committee needed was some moms!)
Crisis has a funny way of making us re-evaluate what's right, what's no longer helpful, and what's no longer necessary. Crisis also helps us see things we should have been taking care of, but for whatever reason, didn't. Going back to doing things "the old way" and not worrying about their effect on people is not leadership.
I truly believe that crisis is the mother of invention. Moving forward, what we in children's ministry and the church need to do is "re-invent" how we think about and manage "safety" in our buildings and the ways we interact with each other.
I look forward to your thoughts.