A forest of change

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end..”

Closing Time

A real-life story from a small town with a big heart and a possibility that will change everything.

The Cascade Presbytery has several vacant properties (churches no longer in operation), and Community Presbyterian in Oakland, Oregon is one of them. Our experience there was that something beautiful, meaningful was waiting to be born …in the community and in the space itself. There was a particular aliveness present with each sitting, each conversation with community members. With each one I met, I introduced myself as a witness …scribe to their experience of this community …the church and their wonderings about how this space might serve the greater good into the future.

“What dreams may come.”

Oakland (pop. 938), a little north of Roseburg, with neighboring Sutherlin to the south, carries its primary identity from its history… “Come visit Historical Oakland”. Main Street is about 2 blocks long… Stearns Hardware; Oakland Tavern; Eye-Opener Coffee House/Deli; Triple Oak Wine Vault; Antiques… Tolly’s, vintage soda counter; pub/restaurant.

I had the grace and favor of sitting with some of the citizens of this community to wonder about what an alternative future…presence might look like for this Church/property nestled in the rolling hills of Oakland. Also, on the table was the question of “What is needful” and holds the possibility of serving the greater good. Each one held their particular reference, history and story. What was common…consistent was a heart for this community and a willingness to dream and do the work to create an alternative future.

The Brown’s| One is a hospital Chaplain and served as Moderator for the Oakland closing transition; the other is a local Presbyterian pastor in Roseburg. We talked about the possibility of a weekly gathering for a worshiping community experience. Their reference of the Oakland Church transition was helpful and insightful.

The City Clerk| served as Oakland city clerk for 15 years; now retired. Long-time resident of Sutherlin still serves the city on its planning commission; Previous career as Social Worker for home health/full care facilities and retirement communities for elderly adult populations. A community pollinator/igniter, passionate about the vision for a Community Center that would serve Oakland and beyond.  

The Last Member| served on the final Church Session; continues to serve the Presbytery as caretaker for the property. A very available person, offering a wide historical reference for the church and community.

The Local Force| longtime resident, church member; and real social entrepreneur; Founded a non-profit that creates opportunities for people to live in affordable homes, improve their lives and strengthen their communities. Serves on the board of Umpqua Community College. Expressed a desperate need for student housing for Umpqua Community College (Toyota Mechanic Program). With spouse, owns a micro vineyard and a tasting room in downtown Oakland, which is itself a community gathering place.

The Mayor| 6 term Mayor of Oakland; another longtime resident. Envisions the church/property as needful space for a Community Center. Proposed a lease arrangement with the Presbytery for this purpose. Active in Oakland Theater Troupe and the Oakland Community Response Team.

The Community Organizer| President of the Oakland Community Response Team engaging in fund-raising/organizing projects for the Community, i.e. new play equipment/bark for city park. Also would like to see the unfolding of a Community Center experience. Retired, has time, vision and energy to give to serving the community.

The Neighbors| their residence lies adjacent to the Church property and served as caretakers for two years. They have expressed an interest/commitment to purchase the lower lot. Their intent would be to build a new residence on one lot and move one set of parents into their previous home.

The Builder/Developer| Oakland resident, passionate about a vision and work to create LIVING space for elders. This comes from a core belief that our culture has marginalized elders in reference to what they need, not to simply survive, but thrive in this season of life. Primary reference for a design for residence/space is a need to be outdoors, taking in a forest atmosphere…an experience called “forest bathing”. Scientifically proven benefits include; boost in immune system functions, reduced blood pressure, improved mood, ability to focus, increased energy and better sleep. Current project in Oakland includes walking paths, trees, gardens, sitting places for residents.

A thread running through all my conversations with citizens of Oakland was an expressed need for a Community Center. Many are ready to engage in a process to discover what, in particular, is needful to create a sustainable experience of space that is accessible, welcoming and that responds to changing community needs. The Oakland community has a chance to imagine, co-create space/place unique to their values and beliefs for a shared experience of community, belonging and relatedness. Music, theatre, poetry, Sr. Services, Exercise/Yoga/Tai Chi/dance classes, Bingo, gardening classes are some ideas folks shared.

The Builder/Developer’s proposal to create LIVING space for elders is a strong, sustainable, well-developed vision for which there is also a community need. The first part of that proposal is developing part of the church itself into five apartments. Following that is a potential for 12-14 tiny house residences on the lower lot. Also present is a deep commitment to updating and preserving the sacred presence of the Sanctuary and the possibility of spiritual practice and community experiences and includes music, theatre, the arts.

It became evident, early in the discovery process, that there was no vision…energy to re-establish a Presbyterian Congregation in Oakland. Our advisement to the Presbytery was to initiate a sale/purchase conversation with the Builder/Developer. To ensure sustainability and integrity of process we recommend a 3-6-month conversation/mediation experience for collaborative use of the space as a “condition of the sale”.

Our recommendation for going forward would be a collaborative, co-creative experience for a legacy centric development of the Oakland building/property between the Builder/Developer and an Oakland citizen council for development of a Community Center. A legacy made possible by the sale and release of the property. The Builder/Developer has demonstrated flexibility, adaptability and a willingness to work with the community to co-create place that would hold possibility for an inclusive, inter-generational, community engaged experience. The City Clerk expressed a need for the formation of a citizen counsel to give leadership to the Community Center experience and expressed a desire to include the Builder/Developer in that group. Also, an invitation was made to include A Neighborhood Place’s expertise and support to lend stability, structure and sustainability for the formation and function of such a council. A critical outcome for that experience/practice will be a functioning citizen leadership council and a working agreement for going forward. This condition holds the possibility to build trust in the community for process and community engagement. 

..sometimes…”the end is where we start from”

ts eliot