With hands comfortably crossed, Gayle Basten slowly walks the labyrinth path, open to and asking for whatever it is she needs at the moment. It’s a calming and peaceful spiritual practice, one that keeps her from “poking out her eyeballs with pointy pencils” during particularly stressful days.
The recently created labyrinth sits outside the New Community United Methodist Church in Oakhurst, where Basten has served as pastor since early July.
The practice of walking the labyrinth (a meditative tool) has been around for centuries. “It connects us to what’s inside of us, and gets rid of all the riff raff outside of us,” Basten said.
A dynamic, enthusiastic and determined woman, Basten, 65, has hit the ground running since her arrival to the Mountain Area.
“There’s so much to do here. I still haven’t figured out how we can reach everyone - which includes the thousands of tourists who pass through each year,” Basten said. “How are we manifesting God’s love to them? Do we throw Bibles at them as they drive down Highway 41? But the good news isn’t about the Bible, it’s about the love of Jesus Christ.”
Basten sees her mission as pastor in the same light as her many years as a social worker for homeless veterans in San Francisco. Someone comes in with a problem - in a crisis - she offers them resources, and helps them move on in their lives. The only difference is, that as a pastor, God is factored into the equation intentionally. She may ask, “where do you see God in this? What role does your faith play?”
She knows firsthand the importance of faith during a crisis, and how lack of faith can stifle movement and prove paralyzing. Due to a relationship break-up, Basten was estranged from the church for a decade from 1988-98.
“I distinctly remember waking up one Sunday morning in August of 1998, and hearing the words ‘go to Glide’ (Memorial UMC in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district). I was broken, vulnerable and needed healing,” Basten recalled. “I use the word broken because it felt that way to me, one who was so fiercely independent and completely capable of having a life, that is, until thrown a curve ball. Life keeps coming at us and sometimes we break. For me, it was owning my own vulnerability and admitting I could not heal alone that got me back to church.”
Basten immersed herself so much in her faith that her chosen path led to the three-year study of ministry at the Pacific School of Religion. After graduating in 2008, she first enjoyed eight years of ministry in Winnemucca, Nevada, before being called to Oakhurst, her second ministerial appointment.
“I wish to bring manifestations of God’s unconditional love to this place. One of the ways is through hospitality in fellowship,” Basten said. “I’m all about barrier-breaking hospitality. We don’t need to build walls. We need to be a community that builds bridges, one that reaches out to others; one that refuses the divisions of race, class, gender and sexual orientation as legitimate; one that responds to the plurality of cultures by bringing us all together to unlearn ‘isms’ ... one church can’t accomplish healing brokenness, transforming hatred, and overcoming fear. We are stronger together.”
Using Jesus as her role model, Basten believes everyone has a special gift to offer, no matter who they are or what they’ve done.
“I want to engage in the kind of outreach that provides a seat at the table for everyone,” Basten continued. “Jesus would. He ate with the Pharisees, the less thans, the more thans, the oppressors and the oppressed, and I guess I can as well.”
Basten, who replaces pastor Helen Mansfield, is unmarried and comes with a family of three dogs.
Church services are held 10 a.m., Sundays. The community meal is offered 5:30 p.m., Wednesdays in Whittenburg Hall. All are welcome.