Two Major Crisis

Two Major Crisis

Hello everybody!

Yes, I’m back, after taking some time off and helping to lead a seminar in Florida.  No need to go into detail on the last few weeks, but I enjoyed a little travel, some concerts, better sleep, too much food, and a wonderful conference with immigrant clergywomen from all around the PC(USA).  Speaking of concerts, there’s a concert coming up at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday, August 19, at Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.  The Elite Chorus, a Taiwanese choir whose conductor Cliff Yang and some members come from Shepherd of the Valley church, sings with the LAKMA (Los Angeles Korean Music Association) orchestra in a concert dedicated to “Harmony & Friendship.”  Call the ticket office at (323) 850-2000.

In the meantime, the life of the Presbytery continues.  The Presbytery installed Walter Contreras as Spanish-language pastor for Pasadena Presbyterian Church, and John Moon as pastor for Korean Good Shepherd.  The service at Korean Good Shepherd marked a major milestone, as the AC will likely recommend being disbanded at our September 16 Presbytery meeting, after countless hours given by 16 AC members over the years.  Back at the Presbytery Center in Temple City, more improvements are being made-and Puente de Esperanza is making great new improvements at their new campus as well.  The Irwindale church property is set to transfer to the Coptic Orthodox church tomorrow, and we helped the church worshiping in Irwindale to move to our Azusa church.  I am happy with the Irwindale sale, not only because we can use the cash flow, but I actually think this will be a blessing for this historic building.  The Orthodox church tradition is much more intentional about caring for and making beautiful their sacred space, so I fully expect that the building will be well cared for, even as we appreciate the improvements that Mideast Evangelical Church put into the building while under their care.

But I feel I must acknowledge the two major crises in our world, in the war of words with North Korea, and the violence that erupted at Charlottesville, Virginia.

North Korea

One of the advantages of having a diverse community is being able to hear from people with different perspectives.  I have asked a couple of Korean leaders how they see the situation with North Korea.  I’ve noticed that even as our media reports have reached a fever pitch of panic, life seems to continue as usual in South Korea.  I have been told that they know well Kim Jong Un’s rhetoric, so they are used to his “flamboyant language” not leading to action.  While we characterize Kim as maniacal, the evidence over the years is that the North Korean government’s actions are calculated and will not lead to a war that they cannot win.  Let us pray that even with new threatening rhetoric coming from the US, cooler heads will prevail on all sides.


Closer to home, this last weekend we witnessed an effort to gather all white supremacist, neo-Nazi, white nationalist groups in Charlottesville, Virginia, resulting in a young man with Nazi sympathies driving his car into a crowd, killing one young woman and injuring 19 people.

There’s been extensive national discussion about how to respond to this demonstration of extreme racial hatred.  One blog post that has “gone viral” was written by John Pavlovitz, youth pastor at North Raleigh Community Church in Raleigh, NC.  The title of the article is “Yes, This Is Racism” and includes Pastor Pavlovitz’ call for White Americans to stand up against racist behavior.

I happen to worry about the use of the term “racism” in this context, because I have often worried that when people equate “racism” with this kind of extreme hatred, it blocks the ability for the rest of us to have a more productive discussion about race.

There are multiple definitions and reactions to the word “racism.”  One technical definition does not focus only on individual, violent, KKK/Nazi-level hatred.  Racism focuses on the power structure which discriminates against racial-ethnic minorities in order to protect the interests of the dominant culture.  This can happen passively, like when White North Americans don’t recognize the special privilege they receive, or it can take many kinds of actions that are quiet or overt in protecting the status quo and those who benefit from it.

A racist society can persist if the problem is not acknowledged.  If racism is recognized only in its most extreme forms, then the systemic injustices are not dealt with.  George W. Bush called racism the original sin of the USA, because the stubborn stereotypes and Bible distortions that were used to justify slavery are quietly passed down, generation to generation.  Our society is so infected by our racist roots that children breathe in racist ideology before we can even guard against it.  So rather than focusing only on the extremes, I would prefer that we all recognize the brokenness of our world, and seek God’s help in challenging it.

This doesn’t mean we excuse the hate-filled white supremacists.  I believe that increased violence comes when those who have traditionally benefitted from a discriminatory system now feel their privileged position is threatened.  Some of the Charlottesville chants such as “You will not replace us” and “Take America back” reflect the fear against a changing demographic in the United States.  I am reminded of the situation prior to the Exodus, when the Hebrew slaves managed to grow even while being oppressed by the Egyptian pharaoh, which led to resentment and murder.

So what do we do?  Flee to a promised land?  Accept the injustice as God’s will?  Pay back evil for evil?  We benefit from the example of leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela, who followed Jesus’ model of acceptance, justice, and grace.  We know it won’t be easy, and the world may hate us for choosing the way of Christ.  But we Presbyterians have built into our Reformed tradition a deep understanding of the need for repentance, and God’s amazing power to forgive, heal, and empower us to do God’s saving will in the world.

May we have the courage to obey, and be channels of transforming peace.

In faith,



Prayer for Your SGP Staff

Prayer for Your SGP Staff

Every summer, your presbytery staff reflects on our work in the past year, and updates our objectives for the next year, until June 2018. I thought I would share a few top-line priorities, for your information and so you can pray for us as we seek to support the ministries of San Gabriel Presbytery.

Diane Frasher, Stated Clerk Email

Diane has the responsibility for ensuring that the constitutional duties of the Stated Clerk are fulfilled, in coordination with Associate Stated Clerk Twila French. A major new emphasis this year is to provide more training and consultation with clerks of session of our member churches, especially new clerks and/or churches who seek to improve their session minutes and church records. Because Diane will no longer be Stated Clerk for Riverside Presbytery, her schedule will be more flexible from now on. On a personal note, she now lives within San Gabriel Presbytery (in La Verne), and has a new grandson, Dalton, born on Friday, July 14. Congratulations, Diane!

Twila French, Associate Stated Clerk/Administrator Email

As I have shared, Twila has had to take on yet another major job responsibility when we purchased the Temple City property. In addition to her work with Diane, managing the office, and doing the bookkeeping, Twila is a point person for repairs and coordinating with our shared ministry partners as we share the Presbytery Center. Unfortunately, one area we had hoped to relieve Twila was website management, but that has not happened as the redesign has not been completed and an on-going maintenance person has not been identified. We will need to make some decisions if the website redesign is not completed by September. An on-going prayer I have for Twila is self-care, especially taking vacation time away from the Presbytery.

As I have shared, Twila has had to take on yet another major job responsibility when we purchased the Temple City property. In addition to her work with Diane, managing the office, and doing the bookkeeping, Twila is a point person for repairs and coordinating with our shared ministry partners as we share the Presbytery Center. Unfortunately, one area we had hoped to relieve Twila was website management, but that has not happened as the redesign has not been completed and an on-going maintenance person has not been identified. We will need to make some decisions if the website redesign is not completed by September. An on-going prayer I have for Twila is self-care, especially taking vacation time away from the Presbytery.

Wendy Gist, Mission Advocate Email

Wendy’s priorities expanded significantly when the Justice, Peacemaking and Mission Committee was formed in 2015. She continues to live into this expanded portfolio in the coming year, now including SDOP (Self-Development of People). We discussed the success of our first annual Presbytery Work Day, and have plans to enable more participation next summer. Wendy is finalizing the preparations for the second youth trip to Peru (though she misses Rocky Supinger, who worked with her to coordinate the details for the first youth trip several years ago). Please pray for all participants, youth and adults, during their time in Peru, July 27-August 7. And we still hope to invite several new participants for our first-ever installation in Peru’s capital city of Lima. This will be a great opportunity because Lima is more accessible and closer to sea level, and the culture of Lima is rich and fascinating. The hope is that the Lima trip will be in Spring 2018.

Jake Kim, Ministry Development Associate Email

Jake will continue to work with the Vision and Strategy Team to develop procedures for evaluating potential new worshiping communities and their leaders, especially as they apply for funding through and from the presbytery. Jake and VST will also support potential new worshiping community leaders, especially who may be interested in the middle of our presbytery, as well as working with a couple of churches in redevelopment. One area that Jake also hopes to focus more on is leadership development, especially supporting young adults who may be coming into leadership in their churches.

Lauren Evans, Chaplain for Retired Presbyterian Church Workers Email

Lauren is learning from our retirees how to define and support the relationships of our retirees with the larger church, and with each other. There is a desire for retirees to connect with each other in a different way from their career days before retirement. Lauren hopes to hold quarterly lunches, and to explore ways our retirees can use their personal and also pastoral gifts. Finally, Lauren anticipates opportunities to help retirees navigate their finances, and to share their story. I for one would love to hear more from our amazing retires, who have lived and often were raised in other countries in work through World Mission. Lauren is seeking a way for the retirees to share their stories-I for one would love to hear more from our retirees!

Wendy Tajima, Executive Presbyter Email

As I mentioned last week, several of our churches are making significant decisions about their future ministries, and I want to support them through their transitions, whatever they may become. Of course, property issues continue to roll along, both the revision and management of the new Presbytery Center but also the ongoing sagas of attempts to sell the Irwindale and South Hills (Pomona) properties. Another major initiative will be to work with Twila French and our CPA, Bruce Gray, to do a major redesign of our accounting system. The current accounting system needs a redesign, especially with property income and expenses, dozens of defunct accounts that need clearing out, and to enable a mission-specific fiscal process.

Speaking of the new Presbytery Center, we need a high-quality grand piano for the sanctuary. The piano was replaced by the Disciples by a loaner when the building was transferred. If you know of a grand piano that can be donated to the Presbytery or purachased, please let Twila or me know. But since I’ll be out of town the next three weeks, better to contact Twila at 626.614.5964 or Email.

One last update. This last weekend was a very happy one for our presbytery, as Pasadena Presbyterian Church met as a full congregation and voted to call Rev. Dongwoo Lee as their Korean Language Pastor. Dongwoo has been a very active member of our presbytery, and his great pastoral gifts were most appreciated as he helped Korean Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church during a most difficult time as they were exiled from their building. Korean Good Shepherd’s Administrative Commission just met this weekend as well, and with that church’s call to Rev. John Moon, the AC voted to seek dissolution this fall. They gave original jurisdiction to the church session immediately, and plan to complete financial reviews and present a final report for the September 16 Presbytery meeting. HALLELUJAH!

PPC’s Korean praise team sang a song that included the following lines:

Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God
And nothing will be able to stop us from loving His church.

As we all seek to serve Christ’s church in different ways, and as we can celebrate together each other’s ministries and the ministries we support as one body, let us give thanks to God for opportunities to uplift each other in the Presbytery, and for very gifted and faithful staff who support you as you follow Christ’s leading. And may we all continue to love Christ’s church.

In Christ’s peace,


On the Move

On the Move

Are you keeping cool?!

Yesterday I was quite worried about the weekend heat, because we do not yet have air conditioning in the sanctuary at the Presbytery Center on 9723 Garibaldi in Temple City. Worshiping with 200+ folks at 1:30 in the afternoon without air conditioning was going to present quite a challenge for Mideast Evangelical/MEC! (A challenge almost matched at Trinity in Pasadena, as they tried a Saturday afternoon worship in THEIR no-AC sanctuary.)

I decided to stop by to see just how hot it was, and found the folks moving their worship to the fellowship hall. It was so hot that Grace Taiwanese had finished their lunch quickly and went home, which cleared the air-conditioned fellowship hall for MEC to worship there, thank God!

Korean Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church

The MEC folk had good spirits about the move and I heard this mobile worship went well. I left early so I could visit with Rev. Dr. Heidi Park, our minister member who moved last year to Cincinnati to be a professor at Xavier University. She had also visited Korea, and her husband continues to go back and forth between Korea and Pasadena for his research. She is doing fine, Xavier has been a welcoming community, and she is doing very interesting research on the physiological impact of historical trauma-she has learned that there are changes to the DNA of a people as they are haunted by past persecution. This research was observed initially with Holocaust survivors after World War II, and Heidi is looking into the struggles of the Korean people. (Interestingly, after speaking with Koreans who have immigrated to the United States, Heidi is hearing that immigration has been more traumatic than memories of past wars.)

There are other ways God’s people are on the move in our presbytery. Rev. John Moon just began his ministry at Korean Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church, and we pray for him and for his people, that his faithfulness and pastoral gifts help to support and heal and lead the people of KGSPC into a future of hope and service. His installation service is Sunday, August 6, at 4 p.m. Please come and celebrate and pray for this critical new chapter in KGSPC’s ministry.

Pasadena Presbyterian Church

This coming Sunday, Pasadena Presbyterian Church will be hearing and voting on a new pastor for their Korean Language Ministry, and the next Sunday, July 23, the Presbytery will install Rev. Walter Contreras as pastor of their Spanish Language Ministry. Please show your support at this 2:30 p.m. service. Rev. Ann Oglesby-Edwards, PPC’s transitional head of staff, is working diligently with skill and sensitivity in addressing multiple interim tasks at the church. Blessings on PPC as they are experiencing an exciting time of transition!

Tonight, the Commission on Ministry will be considering several requests from churches asking the Presbytery to walk with them as they consider their future ministries. One and possibly two churches will be utilizing the New Beginnings process this fall, which will lead to new awareness of the church and their neighborhood, and with this awareness the church members can discern God’s will for them. If your church is interested in New Beginnings, most of the same personnel who led our churches through New Beginnings two years ago are still doing it, so there is still a Presbyterian-focused approach available to our churches. Let me know if you are interested; if your church has not used the stimulus funds (the Presbytery reserved $2,000/church for church development processes like New Beginnings), then the net cost to the church is $1,500, which is still a relative bargain for the data you receive. Of the ten churches that went through New Beginnings two years ago, significant decisions have been made in seven churches at least, which is a very good track record.

It’s exciting to see how many churches are on the move in our Presbytery. I’m not sure why God decided to move us in the dog days of summer, but it certainly does help to remind us of the challenges of the Exodus. And I have always loved that God was perfectly happy without a structure built by humans who tried to contain God who cannot be contained. And if we can comprehend God’s freedom to roam, may we learn to be equally free to move as God leads us.

So as we begin our mini-Exodus and the new promise (and challenge) of change, as our churches take bold steps into an unknown future, may we give thanks that God goes with us every day, even as we worry about discomforts along the way. And thank God that we can band together as God’s people, and be as Christ for each other and for all our neighbors in San Gabriel Valley. May we encourage and support each other on this journey, that we all may stay faithful and embrace the opportunities of change that God is presenting to us.

And let us pace ourselves. To that end, I will be taking the second half of July for vacation, and then will help lead a seminar for new immigrant clergywomen in Florida (including Mary Ren, our Mandarin pastor at Alhambra True Light!), so I will be out of the office July 17-August 6.

Trusting in our nomadic God,


As Boomers Age

As Boomers Age

Yesterday, Mideast Evangelical Church worshiped for the first time in their new home at 9723 Garibaldi Avenue in Temple City. They were welcomed by Grace Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, who have been worshiping at this location for about 20 years. Each first Sunday of the month, MEC has an intergenerational bilingual communion service, with simultaneous translation of the sermon. Grace worships (in Taiwanese) at 10:30 a.m., MEC (in Arabic) at 1:30 p.m. if you’d like to worship with them.

Members of the Mideast Evangelical Church pray for Maher Makar.

Thanks to the excellent translation, I was able to appreciate Rev. Maher Makar’s sermon. As a Bible scholar, he provides Bible study as well as modern application.

As he considered Acts 7, when Stephen preached about Moses, Maher noted how the Bible uses “40 years” to represent a completion of a phase in one’s life. So Moses’ life was divided into three 40-year blocks. The first 40 years, Moses was raised and taught in the house of the Pharaoh. The second 40 years, after killing an Egyptian, he lived in Midian as a shepherd. The third and last 40 years was, of course, the Exodus.

Maher’s message was that God chooses whom God chooses and when God chooses, and what we do in service to God’s mission is not based on our skill and strength, but on God. So it’s never too late to serve God, because God will make us able.

For several years I’ve been thinking about how things will change as the Baby Boomers move into retirement age. The Boomers (born 1946-1964) have been so dominant that they have recreated each phase of life in their own image. As one person said, “when the Boomers started to have children, it’s as if they invented parenthood.” Many of the recent changes in the church (for instance, praise music, and also the marginalization of the church) came from the Boomers’ critical view of the traditional church.

We are now in a post-Christendom world, where about half of US Christians attend church. But as the Boomers age, some are becoming nostalgic for their roots-which include the church. Some are seeking new community and activities to replace their job and child-raising responsibilities. Some are considering the ultimate questions of life as they age. And some, who do not find their way back to church, are often met with grace and compassion by chaplains while in the hospital or hospice. So there are new opportunities to proclaim the gospel to those who have never really experienced a life of faith, or walked away from it.

I have noticed a new awareness of the times when God calls individuals in their advanced age. The first time I heard this was in a Pentecost sermon given by Mark Lau-Branson. He noted the Jewish tradition of wanting to die in Jerusalem, even for those who lived all over the world. This resulted in Jerusalem being a kind of international retirement community, so when the Holy Spirit came down on Jesus’ disciples and attracted the attention of the people, many of these early Christian converts were awaiting death. As noted by Maher Makar, Moses was 80 when God called him to confront Pharaoh. And we all know that Abram and Sarai embarked on their journey at the ages of 75 and 65, and did not bear Isaac until 25 years later.

As Maher said in his sermon, when God called Moses to confront Pharaoh, Moses probably thought, “Why come to me now? Why didn’t YHWH come to me when I was 40, when I was strong and able?” But as God made so clear when speaking through the burning bush, God does not call us when we are ready to do great things with our own abilities, but God calls those whose abilities are doubtful, so that we must answer with faith, and our actions reflect God’s glory, not our own. It is not up to us to decide when it’s convenient to serve the Lord, it’s up to the Lord to know when the time is right.

Recently we had a meeting of the advisory team for Rev. Lauren Evans, our new Chaplain for Retired Church Workers. I always enjoy talking with Lauren about her ministry, because as Rev. Doug Edwards points out, we have the opportunity to look anew at ministry with retirees. Due to our longer lifespans (I believe Board of Pensions said that our retirees live on average into their 90s), we can expect to live 20+ years after retirement. So retirement is not just an ending, but a whole new chapter for life and ministry.

Karen Berns

Doug mentioned that the most important factors in our well-being in retirement are community, purpose, and health. As church families, and as the Presbytery family, we have the opportunity to welcome retirees into community. As Presbyterians, we know God calls us for God’s purpose-and we understand that the nature of that call can change over time. While we often think we can’t control health concerns, we do know that community and purpose do have positive impact on one’s health. Conversely, we are challenged to be a welcoming community and to support one’s evolving call, even as health considerations may affect the ease with which we can put someone into areas of responsibility.

In the coming years, I believe there are growing opportunities for outreach with older adults. And as we open up to God’s call in unexpected times, may we be reminded that God calls all of us, not when we are ready, but when God ordains it.   And as God calls us forward, may we respond with faith, because as God told the 90-year-old Sarah, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”

Trusting in our wondrous God,


Hands Held High

Hands Held High

I have noticed that we are in an exciting season, as churches are making significant decisions that will impact their ministry into the future. As they consider new journeys into an unknown future, I am reminded of the Exodus. I lift up to you the little story of how God empowered Moses to lead the Israelites as they fought Amalek-but Moses got tired, so he needed his partners to help him. This is the essence of what it means to be a presbytery-that we help each other in ministry, as individuals and as churches. So I ask you to lift up to God the following events in prayer.

After five years of trial, Korean Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church will be welcoming Rev. John Moon as their new pastor, to be installed August 6, at 4:00 p.m. This church has experienced denunciation by their former pastor, and years of legal and interpersonal turmoil, and are attempting to rebuild with a determined core of leaders. Churches that have gone through a painful split with the pastor and conflict within do not survive unscathed, so I ask that you pray regularly for Rev. Moon and for the church as they connect with each other and seek to serve Jesus and the people Jesus loves, even as wounded healers.

As you probably know, there have been countless leaders who have contributed time and wisdom to Korean Good Shepherd over the years. One key leader is Rev. David Won. Last week, Rev. Won was hospitalized briefly, then jumped back into ministry, even leading a meeting just this last Saturday in Rowland Heights. But Rev. Won will need a stent to be placed in a clogged artery, either this or next week. Please pray thanksgiving for his help, and hope that God will watch over the procedure and Rev. Won’s recovery.

This coming Sunday, Mideast Evangelical Church will be worshiping in their new home in Temple City. There will be some kinks to be worked out for sure-the biggest concern is that the air conditioning in the sanctuary needs to be replaced, so please pray that the temperature in the next two Sundays is, say, 25 degrees cooler than yesterday, especially when they worship at 1 :30 p.m.! But their energy is great, and positive, and I am hopeful that this will be a boon to their loving and growing ministry.

Many of our churches are being very intentional about discerning their future ministries, and they are asking the Presbytery for help. So we will be forming several ministry teams, working in various capacities with churches, as requested by their sessions. These teams will take different forms and have different focus areas, depending on what the church sessions identify as their hopes and needs, and the Presbytery’s wisdom as COM considers their requests. My prayer is that God will lead us to the people best suited to work with these various churches, and that the people will make themselves available for this important work of the Presbytery.

One ministry team that had been developed almost two years ago worked with Pasadena Presbyterian Church. The team completed their work and has since disbanded, but I believe they played an important part as PPC reviews their ministry and their administration for mission. This coming month, PPC is preparing to install Rev. Walter Contreras as their Spanish-language pastor on July 23 at 2:30 p.m. They are also getting ready to call their Korean-language pastor-which means that for the first time in many years, PPC will have two installed pastors. They are also doing incredibly important work in strengthening their leadership infrastructure, and developing a common vision for ministry as one church. Thanks to the faithful leaders of that church, and the interim work of Rev. Ann Oglesby-Edwards, and to Rev. Tom Erickson, who helped reestablish the church’s confidence that God will be with them as they go forward in faith.

I have spoken with two churches about using the New Beginnings process to help them embark on a new chapter in the life of their churches. You may have heard that we don’t do New Beginnings anymore, but what the PC(USA) did is to partner with the Disciples-who developed the New Beginnings process-to continue to support churches who want to use the resource. The person who did the administration for the PC(USA), Michael Whitman, is still the person working with PC(USA) churches doing New Beginnings. The cost is now $5,500 if a church does it alone, or $3,500 per church if two or more want to join a cluster. The churches follow the process separately, but the savings come because the trainings can be done jointly and the assessor can meet with multiple churches on one trip. The Presbytery still can provide $2,000 towards this fee thanks to the Synod stimulus fund, if the church hasn’t already used their share in the past.

New Beginnings is not perfect, nor will it give you instant answers about your future ministry, but I still believe it is a cost-effective way to get data about the neighborhood and for all church members to give input in an organized fashion, and many of our churches have made significant decisions after going through the process in the past. Let me know if you are interested in this program, as we are hoping to start with at least two churches this September.

As a presbytery, our job is to support each other as we seek to follow Christ in worship and service. I am greatly encouraged that many of our churches are taking bold steps to transform their ministries, and I am humbled that they are asking for their sisters and brothers of the presbytery to walk with them. I ask you to pray for our churches, their leaders, and those who will know Christ through them. Here is a prayer that comes from the Presbyterian Book of Occasional Services that lifts up our churches and reminds us why God called us together:

Gracious God, pour out your Spirit of power and truth upon the whole church, that we may be for you a holy people, baptized to serve you in the world. Sustain the church in ministry. Ground us in the gospel, secure our hope in Christ, strengthen our service to the outcast, and increase our love for one another. Show us the transforming power of your grace in our life together, that we may be effective servants of the gospel, offering a compelling witness in the world to the good news of Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

May it be so, in your church and in all our churches,