Maybe the atmospheric river running over our heads is depositing something besides rain down here on the valley floor. Maybe the hope it brings for the drought’s ending goes beyond hydrologic salvation. I don’t know, but the “endbeginnings” I mentioned here last week have continued for me into this one.
Pastor Tom Buratovich, the Methodist minister who has been serving the two congregations in Porterville, First and Grand Avenue UMCs, took his final bow there Sunday. Then he jumped into his car to drive to Ohio, where their family is starting the next leg of their journey. “No chains required…yet!” he said hopefully.
During the service, there were tears on top of Tom’s characteristic buoyancy, sadness in leaving if not in the going. But I think some of those he’s leaving feel the loss more. Grand Avenue has been served by him for 12 years, a long term in Methodist practice, and the hole he’s left there will be harder to fill.
The hole in my life comes from losing a conversation partner, a preaching guide, a teacher in Scripture and the history of Christianity. I called him my rabbi because teaching is native to him: if you tied his hands to his feet and put duct tape over his mouth, he’d still find a way to answer your questions. Raised without faith, I always have lots of questions, so having someone to guide me to answers has been a blessing over the last year and a half. When his decision was announced at a meeting in November, it sucked the wind out of my sails.
But at that meeting, I met our new district superintendent, Rev. David Niu. His brief prayers were so real, I was drawn to speak with him afterward. Realizing I was babbling in response to Tom’s news, I cut myself off after about five minutes and resolved to go talk with him in Sacramento. When he appeared last week at the final Lindsay UMC service, I approached him again and asked if I might come meet with him. Instead, he made time for me later that afternoon.
After listening beautifully to my story of land/community research and faith discovery, David asked “Who are you working with?” Thinking solely within the local Methodists, I said “Just myself—I’m flying solo,” because I’ve been seeking fellow travelers through my sermons for about four years, and certainly through this column for more than 15, but have had no takers so far. He thought quietly to himself for a moment, and then said “Do you know Jean Okuye in Livingston?”
It was a transforming moment, to have him come up with a name, a person, a woman in Livingston where I have had some contact with the incredible small farmer-farm labor community activists that town has spawned. I also realized at the moment of his question that I am severely hampered in my Lone Ranger status. “No,” I said, “but I’ll get her number from the church.”
Well, in the seven days between then and now, Jean and I have squeezed some conversations into her busy days. This woman has not just been sitting on her tractor. She sits on the board of Valley Land Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving small farms, especially from sprawl, as well as the Merced County Resource Conservation District. She’s involved in the groundwater management agency, the Livingston Methodist church, and a few other really decent good causes. She’s not just a fellow traveler, she’s one of the current grassroots leaders in the Valley working toward a more human human ecology here. I have someone I can learn from again, and maybe work with toward another Forum on Church and Land.
I get to preach in Porterville this weekend, perhaps my last time there. But with the productivity of the last few “last times” recently, I’m not dreading that possibility anymore. The joint service starts at 10 a.m. at First UMC, corner of Morton and Plano if you want to join us. I’ll still be hoping to reach fellow travelers, though not calling for them from the pulpit like I did in June. The wind blows where it will. Our job, fellow travelers, is to have the sails set right to catch it.
Trudy Wischemann is a novice sailor who charts dreams for a more human human ecology in Lindsay. You can send her your visions c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.