Last Wednesday I went to the Nampa Civic Center for a conversation about Nampa’s new High Five Community Grant to combat childhood obesity. Part of the grant proposal is a Mobile Produce Program which would expand the efforts of Trinity Community Gardens (TCG) to give people better access to fresh vegetables. By chance, I gave the invocation at the Oct. 7 City Council meeting when the announcement was made that Nampa had received this $300,000 grant. Since the announcement, a representative from Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health, which awarded the grants, has been gathering people together and learning more about the needs and resources in our community. Earlier in the week she had met with a group of high school students. The assembly last Wednesday morning included TCG’s master gardeners, a clergy colleague I invited, a community planner, a city council member, someone from the Police Department, a PTA leader, and representatives from the Nampa Bicycle and Pedestrian Citizens Advisory Group.
I learned was that there is a perceived safety threat in Nampa and one of the significant ways parents respond to this is by not allowing their kids to walk even short distances to and from school. We heard a great deal about, and I don’t think this is an exaggeration, the disaster that is school lunch–paperwork, regulations, waste, and unhealthy food. We discussed how the food culture has changed over the last 40 years.
Being at that table seemed like the most natural thing in the world to me and even if TCG had not been part of the grant proposal, I would have found my way into this conversation. I think that some attendees may have been curious about what church people were doing there. Later in the conversation my colleague and I were able to share our congregations’ stories. Karen has worked closely with children her entire life, long before she was ordained an Episcopal priest, and I knew she would bring a much needed perspective. For my part, I was delighted to see people’s faces light up when I talked about our Southwest Idaho Produce cookbook. They wanted to know how in the world we filled up our Food Preservation Classes and for a moment I remembered how nervous we had been that no one would sign up.
Karen and I both serve congregations with representatives of all generations and income levels and both congregations have some ethnic diversity. Congregations can be, everyone at the table agreed, a great place/people/community with which to work on issues of health. We have the people the grant is trying to reach, people who can be partners, spaces to exercise, play, cook, and garden, and we are called to care for the minds, spirits, and yes bodies, of ourselves and our neighbors (neighbors=everyone). That morning it was so easy to talk about what it means to be church.
Fast forward a few hours and I found myself doing some much needed reading at the Flying M Coffee Garage in downtown Nampa. I was at that sunny corner window table in the front section, you know just where I mean if you frequent the Flying M, minding my own business. It was crowded but I knew the back was not yet full. About 30 minutes after I started reading, an elderly woman asked if she and her husband could sit at my table. I couldn’t exactly say no, could I? I was so startled that I just watched them settle in and then began gathering my stuff. The husband said they hadn’t meant to make me leave, to which I replied that I’d been on my way out anyway. It was not until I was in my car heading to the quiet library at Northwest Nazarene University that I realized I had missed an opportunity to listen, to inquire, maybe even to share my own story.
It had come so easily that morning when I had been mentally prepared, ready to listen but also to tell people about Trinity and offer our congregation as a partner. What could I have learned about Nampa from that couple at the Flying M? What are they going through? What are their joys and struggles? How long have they lived in Nampa and what do they think about this community? I do not know what I would do if I could go back to my table at the Flying M. I might stay or I might leave. I know for sure that next time I will at least recognize the opportunity.