I spent a recent weekend at one of Levittown’s pools to witness the championships of the Levittown Swimming Association (LSA). It was great to see so many people gathered together as one community cheering on not only their own children, but all the kids who patiently waited their turn to swim. There was good-natured competition and plenty of cellphone time to fill in the boring waiting times. (How did we do this before electronic devices?)
I was struck with the sense of community and generosity. This is not only evident among those who swim, but many athletic groups as well. The LSA invited people to bring non-perishable food items for the local food pantry at St. Bernard’s and they raised $4,000, which was donated to two charities: The Ashley Wade Foundation and Sunrise Day Camp-Long Island.
Generosity also abounded in the parents and leaders who gave their time as coaches and coordinators. Countless hours are spent—often in not the best weather conditions—being present to the swimmers, encouraging and cajoling them one moment, comforting and calming them the next moment. These young people will grow up, as did earlier generations of Levittowners, with great memories of a community that cared for them during their swim through their growing years.
That’s why I’m also a strong advocate for community participation in the spiritual support of children and families. As I walked through the crowds I encountered folks who were burdened by many things—just barely paying the bills, a sick relative, distress in their marriage, addiction, hidden abuse, worries about what might be happening to their child, kids struggling in school, depression and broken hearts. A good physical workout and being surrounded by a community is certainly a good antidote to the sadness and burdens of life. But when people tell me that something is still missing, that somehow they feel as if they are sinking or as if they are disconnecting, then I have hope to offer of a different kind.
During the summer weekends, churches throughout Levittown and beyond have gathered people who brought their children, grandchildren and themselves to have an hour of inspiration and community time in prayer. People brought their hopes and joys, their fears and concerns and found peace and strength. Praying in a church doesn’t guarantee a trouble-free life, but it is as Pope Francis says like a field hospital. “This is the mission of the Church,” said the Pope. “The Church heals, it cures. Sometimes, I speak of the Church as if it were a field hospital. It’s true: there are many, many wounded! So many people need their wounds healed! This is the mission of the Church: to heal the wounds of the heart, to open doors, to free people, to say that God is good, God forgives all, God is the Father, God is affectionate, God always waits for us.”
While I was at the LSA competition, members of the Levittown Fire Department rescue squad called me over and invited me to get out of the terrible heat and humidity for a few minutes and sit in the air-conditioned ambulance. That’s what I believe church communities do for us—they provide that moment out of the heat of life and give us a new start.