Praise Assembly church has done something generous and kind. It is giving its community in North Springfield a park.
For some 40 years, when the church first bought what had been farmland, members have pondered what God intended for the bounty of their backyard.
What should it do with those 35 empty acres?
Maybe a Christian school? A retirement facility? Maybe the church should have its own radio station and put a huge transmission tower there?
Those things never happened.
It was either in 2017 or 2018, says Pastor Alan Beauchamp, when the church received an unusual query from the Springfield-Greene County Health Department.
A department representative informed Beauchamp that Praise Assembly — along North Glenstone Avenue just north of I-44 — was located in a “play desert,” meaning there were no parks near the church.
And by the way, the person asked, would your church consider making your expansive backyard a community park?
The Assemblies of God church, with some 600 people at Sunday worship, said yes.
Church surveyed those living nearby
Praise Assembly expects to spend $1.2 million to $1.5 million — without taking on debt — to create a 5-foot-wide concrete walking trail, a community garden open to those who want to plant, a pickleball court, a soccer field, a softball field, a volleyball court, a crushed gravel path and a restroom.
The work will be in phases and is expected to be finished in July 2027.
By the end of June this summer, the pavilion, restrooms and walking path should be complete.
It will be open to all during daylight hours: sunrise to sunset.
In its commitment to a community park, Beauchamp says, the church looked outward when it could have gazed inward.
“We had just finished paying off the facilities here,” Beauchamp says. “Once you do that, it can become easy to be inward-focused.”
But not Praise Assembly.
“Community first. Church second,” Beauchamp says.
High schooler leading the way for playground accessible to all kids
In addition, the park will have a playground that will be accessible to children with physical limitations.
Although that makes the playground more expensive, the church has an unusual fundraising asset.
Her name is Emma Holdway, a student at Hillcrest High who happens to have a little brother with a rare disorder that makes it difficult for him to use regular playground equipment.
The church had sent out a survey to the surrounding community: What would you like to have in your community park?
It heard from Holdway, and others, who mentioned an accessible playground.
Joe Sardo, the church’s maintenance chief, oversees the park project. He and other staff have met Holdway.
Sardo is duly impressed.
“She educated us,” he says. She talked about her little brother and the need for an accessible playground on the city’s north side.
“When I spoke to her on the phone, I thought I was talking to a college student working on a paper,” he says.
Holdway already has sponsored fundraisers, including a 5K race, for the playground part of the church’s park plan.
She has raised thousands of dollars, Sardo says.
What was No. 2 behind an accessible playground?
A pickleball court.
Open sunrise to sunset, but metal gates installed
The church tackled questions and concerns about liability and potential problems such as drinking and drug use.
One of the first things the church did was talk to Park Board employees.
“We wanted their input because they are dealing with all of that in a major way,” Beauchamp says.
The decision was made to limit hours: sunrise to sunset.
The church has installed metal gates to block vehicles during hours the park is closed.
And, yes, Beauchamp says, the church will be paying more for insurance.
Early on, the church informed its immediate neighbors, those with homes abutting the expanse of land, of its plans, as well as the need for a community park — and listened to concerns.
Volunteers needed to maintain the park
Beauchamp tells me it will take 50 to 70 volunteers to do things like pick up litter, mow the grass and educate people who want to garden.
“We are involved in our community,” says Sardo, a longtime church member. “We feel that when people come into town, we are the first thing they see and we feel this park is going to be a nice space for the city.”
This is Pokin Around column No. 93.