Where We Live Counts!

Where We Live Counts!

Often when I meet someone new, I will explain a little about my background, and then go immediately into a monologue about where I live now, having returned to California after a 17-year hiatus in Northeast Ohio. I can’t help myself sharing about my community, not because it says a lot about me, but it helps me to realize the wonderful diversity that is part of our world. I live in Elk Grove, just south of Sacramento. It is a community that doubled in population 1990-2000, and continues to increase with new homes, as building again resumed a few years ago after the recession.

My enthusiasm is not about my house, but about our neighborhood. It is a community with no ethnic majority either in the city, or the school system. When I walk my dog on a path we have down the middle of our street, I notice the people around and greet them. In my block are African American, Latino, Asian, Caucasian, Middle Eastern, all living next to each other, sharing the local park, and like me walking their dog, or playing with their children. It is also a community that recently elected the first Hmong mayor in the United States. And, while all this seems idyllic, I realize all too well, while there is significant racial diversity, there is little economic diversity except for an apartment complex that likely was mandated for persons with lower incomes.

Why do I share this story with you? Hopefully it is a reminder especially in many of the communities in the Sierra Pacific Synod that there is tremendous community diversity, often both in race and class. In fact, a recent study by the ELCA reports that our Sierra Pacific Synod has the most ethnic diversity of our 65 synods, based on 20% or more persons that identify as being from different cultural backgrounds. And yet…our congregations frequently have little if any such diversity in membership.

Lest you think I am laying a guilt trip on you, that is not my intention. I actually am suggesting that this is a tremendous opportunity for our congregation members to rediscover their community and their neighbors by walking it (a dog is a great introduction for others!), and talking with neighbors, city officials, community organizations, business people, and yes person’s struggling to exist, and sometimes without a home, about needs, concerns, opportunities and possibilities for how your church can be a resource and companion for all people in their journey in life.

But, I think our congregation members can do more. And that is not just identify needs and opportunities, but to grow in understanding of the other from us who has a different racial identity and/or economic life. I have learned so much from others by simply listening and hearing beyond words to feelings and painful histories of oppression and exclusion. Sometimes that can be uncomfortable and even feel damming. But, if we are ever to move beyond our isolation from others, it means opening ourselves to the pain, and our own racial involvement in that pain. Our synod is on that journey, seeking to be an “Anti-Racist and Culturally Competent Synod”, and one that “Is A Better Reflection of the communities we have been called to serve.” I have seen just a small picture of what that might look like in a community and in a few of our churches. May we all have the opportunity to see and feel when the “Beloved Community”, described by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. comes to fruition.

Come Holy Spirit, Come.

Pastor Ron Zoesch, Interim Director for Evangelical Mission