I was in the fifth grade when I first stepped into Good News at Noon one Thursday night. In that I did not understand where I was going or why, one might say I was dragged there by my older sister.
I did not have to be pulled to Good News again. The work of a Thursday night volunteer is not difficult. One simply provides table service to individuals and families who are otherwise unaccustomed to receiving it. Surrounded by warmth, friendship, fellowship and respect, indeed it does not seem like work at all.
As I wandered into Thursday night supper two days after the passing of Mr. Beckstein, I did not know what to expect. Perhaps there would be somber faces and stifled tears or a candlelit vigil. Elsewhere, the doors might be shut with a sign declaring “Closed Indefinitely” or at the very least “Come back next week.”
Instead I found the dining room very much engaged in the usual business of sharing food and the word of Christ with any who might eat and listen. Thomas Ramirez quietly directed affairs as Frank Moore Jr. sang “Beulah Land.” Frank also gave me the warmest smile and hug I have ever shared over a hundred times, even as he teased me about not wearing socks underneath my sandals.
A local church served up pork tenderloin barbecue to rival any restaurant anywhere, and Pastor Fletcher Law delivered a sermon that was more like a conversation between friends.
A person unfamiliar with recent events might not even notice this was a difficult week. Indeed the only aspect unusual was how normal everything was. Normalcy at Good News is permeated by the fact that it is a spot for love among friends. In this place, everyone is a friend — even while crossing the threshold for the first time. Regardless of race, gender, age, or clothing, people sit down as equals.
Throughout the years, I have watched people shuffle through the door weighed down by the work, stressors and judgment of the outside world, and after a few minutes, feel at home. Working with low-income and homeless families and individuals in New York and San Francisco, I have seen that, in addition to food, clothing, shelter and medical treatment, people in difficult circumstances need to be heard and respected by their fellow women, men and children.
This is at the core of the gift in Good News. It provides a place where a person is safe to let down her guard and give self-respect and dignity the room they need to breathe without fear of being slapped down.
This Thursday, Pastor Law spoke of John the Baptist and how he was an individual who had come to serve the people and prepare the way for Christ. This was exhibited also in the lives of Gene and Margie Beckstein. Mr. Beckstein made clear every night that volunteers were giving of their resources and time to bring food to the tables, but he made even more abundantly clear that thanks were not due to him or Good News but to God.
Mr. B saw a need, and he found a way to fill it. As need grew, the sheer magnetism of his natural leadership and unbounded love drew ever-increasing resources from across Hall County and the region. As Mr. B often noted, Good News does not take money from the government but rather trusts that God will provide. Our community sees so much need being met, and church groups and individuals feel naturally drawn to help.
Mr. B would always brush off congratulations and credit like water off of a duck. If he could have completed all these great works through so many years anonymously, I believe he would have done so. However, for years Mr. Beckstein’s magnetism was the engine that drove Good News. This is not the case anymore, though. One of Mr. B’s final gifts was to ensure that the ministry is in good, wise, and capable hands to carry it forward.
In my mind, Mr. B has reached the highest echelon of people in this world. I view him and those doing similar work as worthy of more esteem than great statesmen/women, scientists, or authors. When I have children, I want them to know that those worthy of highest respect are often not in the capital, on TV or in the papers. Rather they may be quietly working, wedged between factories, seeking out the needs that are not otherwise being met.
I also want them to learn what Mr. B has taught me: Service is not a chore; it is easy when done with a genuine smile and mutual respect. His life-saving work is only known here in Gainesville, but to a number of our most vulnerable it continues to make the essential difference.
For the first time, I looked today at the Good News dining hall as I might view a great cathedral in Europe. The floor is worn by the passage of many feet, and several languages are spoken as diverse peoples, often strangers, come together. One can sense, though, that the roots are deep in the bedrock, and the overall experience is awe-inspiring, breathless magnificence.
Such lasting, intangible beauty is the living legacy of Mr. Gene Beckstein, the patron saint of Gainesville.
Bradford Morris is a Gainesville resident.