Middle School Track Meets

Middle School track meets–just the phrase strikes fear into all those who have ever attended in the Upper Midwest as a spectator. Somehow they rarely occur on a lovely spring afternoon. You either need to wear every heavy piece of clothing you have and take a sleeping bag for your competitor to use between races. Or you get your first real sunburn while trying to find one piece of shade.
Then there is the competition itself. Coaches are often volunteers or the math teacher who is earning a little extra cash by working with nascent runners and participants in field events. They have had to leave their job a little early or race from school to the track to be ready to coach their team. There is often no one particularly in charge of the meet until one of the coaches decides they have a bull horn with them and can help organize the competitors while another pulls spectators out of the stands to be timers and the like. Rarely does the event start at the advertised start time.
Then there are the competitors themselves. They often try one event at one meet and another at the next, looking for an event in which they can excel. Many middle schools have a “no cut” policy so everyone who wants to compete can do so. This leads to some pretty short “long jumps”; some shots that are “put” in the wrong direction; and some distance races that become, from time to time, distance walks.

My best advice: take a meal for yourself and your competitor; be sure you hydrate early in the day because you never know if there will be a porta-potty or not; do not plan anything for later that evening because they will keep going until they are done or it is too dark, whichever comes first.

But, here is the glimpse of grace about which I had forgotten until I was at a meet this spring. The crowd cheers until the last competitor crosses the line. Whether it is the hurdler who has knocked over every hurdle or the sprinter who is more of a plodder or the distance runner who is a little dot on the far side of the track when their nearest competitor crosses the finish line–no matter how long it takes, the crowd of parents and grandparents and siblings and friends cheers until everyone is done. No competitor is treated like a failure. We clap and cheer for you no matter when and how you finish the race.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” We are cheered on by the cloud of witnesses and by God not because we are the best at showing forth our faith, but because we are in the race. We are to run with perseverance, even when we are the little dot on the far side of the track.

If anything characterizes the last year of doing ministry in a way none of us could have imagined, perhaps it is perseverance. Can’t meet in person for worship? Let’s see what the internet might provide. Can’t conduct pastoral care at the bedside? Let’s see if a nurse might hold up an iPad for us. Can’t hold an in-person ordination service with a full sanctuary? Let’s have a zoom meeting/worship service and create a red stole that is 12 feet long for the laying on of hands by only two socially distanced people. Can’t have a presbytery meeting in a crowded sanctuary? Let’s see if we can achieve at least a semblance of a meeting on our screens.

The crowd at a middle school track meet is a symbol of grace. It does not matter when you finish or whether you have the right technique. We will cheer for you because we love the idea of you; you each represent the child we have come here to support. Just so, the cloud of witnesses who have experienced God’s grace before us is cheering us on, not because we have been perfect in the last year. They cheer for us because we have persevered, because we have sought ways to share God’s love in spite of the obstacles, because they love us as God’s own children. Who knows what the next weeks and months will hold! The content of our race does not change. We are to continue to share hope in the name of Jesus on the race course that lies ahead of us, no matter how rocky or smooth.
Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago