When I would ask about the community when I first arrived in Todd a few years ago to pastor this church and direct Blackburn House, almost always I heard about stories of the “good ole days” that have gone. Many long-time Toddites connected with the story of the booming town of Todd from the early 20th century when Boone and West Jefferson were afterthoughts, churches were full, businesses were lucrative and community hubs, farms were plush with fruit and support, families were a web of networks and connections, and people knew their neighbors and their neighbors’ neighbors. Other Todd residents remember a more recent story of Todd from the 80s and 90s: a General Store at the center of community life with the men of the community gathered around the wood stove, telling stories and drinking their free cup of coffee. For others, there was no or little connection to these nostalgic stories. The story they’d tell is about retirement, a big beautiful home with nice scenery, and being able to live relatively unbothered. Many residents’ story about Todd is really a story about Boone or West Jefferson. Todd is just the place where they sleep. You want to know about the story of Todd? It depends on who you ask. Each person, each organization, each church, each business has a different story to tell. But diversity becomes problematic when it masks a common story.
In that first year I felt alone as a new resident, pastor and community organizer to the community. I didn’t sense a common story. The isolating story I was connected with was our little congregation that was fighting a good fight to stay alive and engaged, but still struggling to keep 10-15 folks regularly committed to the church. But as I shook more hands, ate at more community potlucks, got to know more poor folks, went to more non-church community meetings, ate and shopped at more local businesses, went on more morning walks with locals, ate more elderly folks’ pound cake and fudge, I discovered that many other Todd residents were disconnected, that businesses were suffering, that other organizations and churches lacked participation. My little church’s story wasn’t just ours.
So about year ago I started gathering key community folks together to start a conversation, do some training, and begin strategizing the Todd Listening Project. Communication and connection was the clear issue. One of our community leaders, Denny Norris, said it best during our volunteer training at the TLP Launch: “People aren’t that different…But you can’t get to a caring [community] unless we talk to each other.”
The Todd Listening Project is very significant for our little rural community. Yes, because it will increase projects, initiatives and ideas. Even more because it will increase the quality of relationships, the very social and economic fabric of our town.
There is a story about Todd that makes the grapevine news: Todd is dying, Todd is declining. It’s the story I was told before I decided to come here. It’s a story common in many rural communities.
This story is rooted in fear, in the buffet line of dreams and ideals of the community that is gone. But is this the story we have to believe? The German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer is relevant: “Those who love their dream of … community more than they love the …. community itself become destroyers of that … community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial.”
The Todd Listening Project is about telling another story about our community. The story of fear is destructive. This project is about building trust again, about believing again in a fresh story of our community that is told and lived by the people next door to us and up the street, by the people that are actually here, ALL OF THEM. Through TLP we long for a story worth trusting in again, worth believing in, worth committing to, worth joining!