The scale of the Golden Rule community immediately sets it apart from other sites visited on our trip thus far. Finding the community is no challenge; the property is 5,000 acres directly off the California 101. The Golden Rule Church was established in 1944, with the basic principle of “do unto others as you would have others do unto you”, and of giving without thought of receiving. The church had many sites owned by members across the country, but consolidated onto 15,000 acres in Mendocino County in 1962. Since then, they have sold off all but 5,000 acres to adjust to a new community structure. They now refer to themselves as the Golden Rule Community; over the next 20 years, the land would be improved to house 100 residents, provide private housing for ministers, as well as having school, library, and communal dining facilities. Today, the community is still going strong, holding the same admirable values at heart.
We had the pleasure of meeting with Ellen, one of the 16 core members of the community. She is the primary caretaker of the garden and liaison for outside visitors, making her the perfect resource for our questions. After a nice garden walk, we made our way up to the main dining hall for some unexpected, but welcome, dinner. Again, food provided us a way of bringing people and discussion together.
One of the most inspirational aspects of their food operation is their focus on small-grain growing and seed saving, using very low-tech processing techniques. Using tools established by members of the community as well as manual techniques (including such materials as hog wire and a bike-powered fan for winnowing), the community is able to grow a large portion of the grain that the community members consume.
As we ate, Ellen described Golden Rule’s group structure. There are essentially three committees on the property responsible for decision-making: the ecclesiastical (religious), the business, and the land committee, each with individual responsibilities and involving different members.
Different issues go to the appropriate leadership teams, but essentially all important decisions are made by consensus that includes all members. As you can imagine, disagreement and conflict/resolution is the biggest problem within decision-making. Ellen goes on to explain the system they try to implement if something goes awry, which they call the Matthew System. This is a 5-step process, beginning with the involved parties taking a break and thinking about how to approach the problem. Then a discussion ensues; if no resolution is found, a third uninvolved party is brought in as a mediator. This process, Ellen admits, is the hardest step in a community so involved with one another. Eventually, the issue will be brought to community attention if it persists. Ellen articulates, “until we can have complete resolve within our communities, we have no right to demand world peace.” This is where our focus should be – local is global.
It is obvious Golden Rule is heaven for some, and it’s easy to see why. There are 16 members provided for — financially, home-and-food-wise — and 35 that are “affiliates”. This means they live on the property, but do not play a central role in decision-making. In exchange for basic provisions, every member holds a job on the premises. This can include mechanic work, bookkeeping, or gardening.
Currently, a portion of the land is also rented out to what is presently a trailer park; this is a huge portion of the communities’ off-site income. Ellen relayed that their biggest expenses are maintenance and water. As a whole, the community pools all of its money together, the community members deciding how money will be allocated. If the community desired it, they could be completely self sufficient; but there are members who want toilet paper, hot dogs, and other luxury goods that a conventional society can provide. Spirituality is a central element of this community, but it takes a refreshing format. There is a ten-minute time for prayer every morning but Saturday, and anyone is welcome to lead the service. For those who hold the faith of the ecclesiastical church, that resource is available. For those just looking for a space for prayer/thought, that is also provided. This makes for a dynamic and truly community vibe, a welcome breaking from some traditional religious communities.
Ellen stated that Golden Rule’s largest challenge is “thinking we know others; assumptions are never a good idea.” They have a strong community that wishes to continue to grow, expand, and better itself. Golden Rule seems to be a great example of a community with a strong backbone, but flexible to adapt to changing times.