Becky Goodwin: A sojourner of hope
July 11, 2018
I am a recent arrival to Nevada County. In July 2016, I became a "new kid in town," and what a joyful adventure it is to live and work here!
My sojourn among you is not predetermined, because I never know how long I will be in a place. I am an itinerant pastor of the United Methodist Church. I am appointed for a year at a time by the bishop of my area.
My church leadership work for 30 years, moving around from community to community, has been a mixed bag of delights and challenges of an anthropological kind. I work for awhile in one place, get to know it and try to figure out how I can best serve there. In due time, I get notified of a new appointment. And so I pack my things, say fond farewells, unpack in another place, study my new environment, and try to find my new niche.
I served my field education years at churches in Gilroy and Salinas, then I was ordained and began to serve in full-time posts. I have been the pastor of United Methodist churches in Colfax, Rancho Cordova, Madera, and now, Grass Valley.
I have never seen such a high percentage of the population serving as fervent volunteers and givers of time, talent and resources to worthy causes.
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In every place where I have unpacked my boxes and made another home and jumped into another ministry, I have been lovingly curious about the folks in the community. Right now, you in Nevada County are the object of my heartful focus! And I've got four observations to share!
One: You are a people of altruism. I have never seen such a high percentage of the population serving as fervent volunteers and givers of time, talent and resources to worthy causes. It is truly remarkable! The passion in your charity, political activism, environmental protection and humanitarian work is palpable! I see it, hear it, feel it, every day!
I have learned in my various appointments in different parts of California that people everywhere are what the young writer Anne Frank described as "basically good at heart." But you folks in Nevada County might be above average in the "good at heart" description.
Two: You are a people of spirituality. Some of you are religious, too! All humans are spiritual beings, but it takes some intention to really grow spiritually, and I see a high percentage of you are committed to specific ways of soul nurture. Whether you have chosen a traditional religion, or a revived version of a historic religion, or a new religion, or a conscious lifestyle integrating devotion to mind-body-spirit choices, you are people who value spirituality.
Three: You are a people of creativity! Fine arts and folk arts flourish here! There are more music and art and writing groups and events than I can count. Creativity reigns in business and lifestyle choices. Ingenuity and individualism shine out in the shop windows, the unique little houses and gardens in the neighborhoods. No "cookie cutter" yards or homes here! Even going out to eat is an exquisite experience I like to call "rainbow cuisine," of beautiful, nutritious and delicious food.
I think there is a correlation in the three things I have just described. Are you spiritually aware because you are humanitarian? Are you artistic because you are spiritually tuned? Or do these qualities just go hand in hand? Altruism, spirituality and creativity are high values and strengths here.
It may have everything to do with the beauty of this place and the smallness of the towns. With such majestic splendor of mountains, forests and rivers, and with community where it is possible to personally know almost everyone, love is fostered, and hope is built.
Four: My fourth observation is a little less positive, and it is this: The demographics and the businesses of this area are skewed to favor the aging retired population, particularly the financially better-off older people. While this demographic imbalance is not a bad thing in itself, it calls for careful analysis and planning at every level of government, business associations, and churches, civic and artistic organizations. Everyone can contribute to an open-minded and open-hearted approach to community transformation.
There is a danger here if the demographics are not studied and addressed. The imbalance of this situation will continue to push the younger generations away. You are able to keep just enough younger working-age people to work in the lower-paying jobs of the service sector, and you have some solid opportunities for younger professionals in medical care, parks and recreation and tourism.
While you truly love children here, and many of your humanitarian works are geared to the needs of the young, your school-age population is shrinking. Something here is not "family friendly."
It is not "low-income friendly" here, either. Low-income people of all ages cannot find affordable housing, but it is especially hard for a family with children to find a place they can afford to rent or buy.
I also notice that there is concern about lack of full commitment to internet development. The world is connected electronically now. This helps all people, but especially young entrepreneurs and students, work and study from home, reduces the impact of traffic pollution, and connects the globe for the good of all. Don't overlook the importance of this modern reality.
The good news is that your strengths in altruism, spirituality and creativity will help you solve the puzzles of making life more wonderful for people of all ages and incomes. You may have to give up some of the preferences and comforts of retirement lifestyles to keep this area alive with new beginnings for all kinds of people.
For instance, have you thought of making deliberate outreach to asylum seekers, refugees and other immigrants in the USA? Have you thought of the power of diversity to recharge business, education, the arts and family life? I'm just suggesting this because I have seen it happen in other places!
I am a sojourner of hope in every place where I live and work. I always look for signs of new life that give hope to a community. I always look for the strengths and values that will help us solve problems.
I am a humble sojourner among you, with my own ways to make a mark on this community while I am here. Meanwhile, you are making your mark on me, too!
I am delighted by my own spiritual, artistic and altruistic growth here. I am here to give it all I can, as you do!
Becky Goodwin, who lives in Grass Valley, is a member of The Union Editorial Board. Her opinions are her own do not necessarily reflect those of the Editorial Board or its members. She can be reached at EditBoard@theunion.com.