It’s dinnertime on Saturday and cars line the street. With the doorbell ringing every few minutes, it doesn’t take long for things to get cranking. People troop through the house, depositing soda or side dishes in the kitchen as they go. Some of the moms stay behind to peel off the Saran Wrap and stick serving spoons in the bowls. Most of the adults, though, go on out to the deck and sit or stand in clusters, greeting people they know, introducing themselves to those they don’t. The children head straight for the backyard, where badminton, bocce, and other old-fashioned games await.
It’s early summer so the grass is fresh and green, and the evening is soft. Soon enough, it’ll be sweltering here in Georgia, even at 7 p.m., but not tonight.
Tonight my small group of first graders has come over for a cookout, and they’re in full party mode. The sizzle of the burgers and dogs on the grill draws them, and they willingly abandon the games to line up with their plates. They don’t care for the salads and whatnot the adults are having, but that’s fine; they’re saving room for the build-it-yourself banana splits they know are coming. (We’ve got sprinkles and everything.) They plop down to eat on blankets in the yard, their mouths going 90 miles a minute. It’s a wonder they can eat anything. Two years together as a small group, and they’re as talkative as ever. Even the presence of pesky younger siblings is, if not exactly pleasant, at least tolerable.
Their bellies full, the kids play chase, swing in the hammock, and toss Frisbees back and forth. When the dads join them, they are delighted. A few of the kids continue to snap pictures of each other and whatever else captures their eye. The criiitch and click of the film advancing was more prevalent earlier in the evening, it being really hard not to take all your pictures at once when you’re six and having fun. (The disposable cameras are a hit, but next time I’ll get enough for all the younger sibs.)
When it gets dark and it’s time to go, everything reverses: parents corral their kids, gather their empty dishes, and usher everyone out. It takes a while: the adults exchange numbers or email addresses and the kids have one more roll down the hill. Eventually the front door swings shut behind seven families, and we wave them off down the street.
It’s been a good night, and I’m glad so many families could come. I wonder what the kids enjoyed most, as well as what they’ll remember about the evening. Probably not the food, although they really liked constructing the banana splits. Maybe not the games so much as the fact that their parents played with them. They may not recall my name either, years from now, but I hope they’ll remember that time one of their small group leaders invited them to her house for a party. Maybe their memories of the evening, like the snapshots they took, will color their idea of what a small group is all about, and the kinds of relationships God wants to bless them with.
Whatever they remember, I agree with Garrison Keillor, host of A Prairie Home Companion and author of Leaving Home: “Nothing you do for a child is ever wasted.”