Entering Lent

Entering Lent

Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;

you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

Isaiah 58:12

 

This coming week is the beginning of Lent. It’s been mildly amusing hearing pastors wonder whether they need to adjust their plans this year, since Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day and the Western Day of Resurrection falls on April Fools’ Day. (The Orthodox Church celebrates Easter on April 8th.) I know of several churches who will hold their Ash Wednesday service in the evening; I thought some might consider moving it to earlier in the day, so folks can take their ashen foreheads out to Valentine’s dinner. Millason Dailey mentioned that last year, Calvary Presbyterian in South Pasadena held their Ash Wednesday service VERY early in the morning. They had a terrific idea to hold a Mardi Gras party at a local restaurant late at night, and then at midnight they walked to the church to commemorate Ash Wednesday.

Celebrating the party nature of Mardi Gras right before the beginning of Lent reminds me of the many ways the Bible warns us about the “shiny objects” of the world distracting us from the profound connection of faith and obedience that God calls us to. For some of us, it is easy to get distracted by our culture of materialism and self-indulgence, especially in affluent societies like the United States. Because of this, many practice some form of fasting and self-denial for Lent. But we are reminded that God does not want a show of sacrifice as much as our commitment to follow God’s will for justice and care for the hungry and the oppressed:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke? (Isaiah 58:6)

Each year, the PC(USA) produces a Lenten devotional. You can purchase the 2018 version, focusing on the prophets and Jesus as bearers and the fulfillment of God’s will for justice and restoration, at the newly-consolidated PCUSA Store here. There are certainly countless opportunities for our churches, as the body of Christ in the world, to call for and live into Jesus Christ’s ministry of justice, restoration, and reconciliation. Just as we can point to the empty nature of worldly self-indulgence, if we honestly assess our brokenness and need for grace, we can appreciate the miracle of Christ’s victory over death, knowing that God will go to any length to save us even from disasters of our own making. So as we enter into the season of Lent, as we contemplate the great gift of Jesus being willing to give his all for our sake, perhaps we can adopt Lenten practices not only of sacrifice but also identifying ways we can further Christ’s ministry of reconciliation.

As an example, the opening of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang has been emotional for some of us. There have been hopes for reunification of the Korean Peninsula, and I imagine that the idea of reconciliation in Korea is not just a geopolitical act but also a family one, including for many Korean Christians. You may know that the Presbyterian Church in Korea started over 130 years ago, mostly in the north, centered in Pyongyang. But many (or most) Korean Christians had to flee to South Korea to avoid persecution. So many of our Christian Korean brothers and sisters have family roots in North Korea. Following Isaiah’s prophecy of God’s saving will for Israel, the Presbyterian/Reformed Church in Scotland, the United States, Taiwan, Korea, and elsewhere helped to support the cause of sovereignty for people who faced oppression from outside forces. I believe that this yearning for restoration of nation, church, and family is strong in the heart of Korean Presbyterians, and I pray for the shalom that comes when God’s saving will is realized. I pray that God shows us how we all may be reunited, in spite of past hurts and threats of violence, through the peace of God which surpasses all our understanding.

So as we enter into the season of Lent, may we all see God’s light even in times of darkness, and may we also resist the shiny objects of the world, that we may hold to the eternal power of God’s grace, for ourselves, for our families, our churches, even to all the nations.

In faith,

Wendy

 

Two Churches and Their Road to Recovery

Two Churches and Their Road to Recovery

Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.

Luke 17:33

 

This last weekend I attended milestone events in the life of two different churches. On Saturday, Union Church of Los Angeles celebrated their 100th Anniversary with a luncheon for 200 people. And on Sunday, a church I have befriended, Altadena Community Church, held a service of confirmation for a child of the church whose spirit offers more joy and energy in the worship service than her Down’s Syndrome allows her to offer through words.

When I was growing up, my uncle Don Toriumi was pastor of Pasadena Union Church (now First Presbyterian Church of Altadena). His brother Howard was pastor of what our family called LA Union. So I have always considered the churches to be sister churches. When I was Stated Clerk/Associate General Presbyter for Presbytery of the Pacific, I worked with LA Union, serving as Moderator of Session and working with them during a pivotal time in their ministry, as they called new English-speaking and Japanese-speaking pastors and incorporated “the Bridge” ministry into Union Church.

The Bridge is a new-generation urban ministry that was started by Bel Air Presbyterian Church, upon the invitation of Rev. Mas Hibino, who was Union’s interim pastor for several years.

The Bridge brings together young urban professionals of all races, wealthy Bel Air friends, Skid Row residents, Japanese-American Union members of all ages, and others (on Saturday I met a retired Chinese-South African couple who live in Anaheim who come to the Bridge). The diversity of the luncheon attendees reflected the impact of Union’s new openness, which is a striking contrast from Union’s earlier focus on Japanese-only ministry.

This change has not been easy, even though it probably saved the church from dissolution. When Mas reached out to Bel Air, the average age of the membership was in the 70s, and the number of members dwindled. There was tension between the Japanese-speaking and English-speaking language ministries. And the strong leadership of the church in the Little Tokyo community (Toriumi Plaza is a new open space, named in honor of their pastor) was almost gone.

The Bridge is now the largest of the three worship services, and the only one with children. As Union Church enters their second century of ministry, there is a vibrancy to their outlook, while they continue to deal with resistance from a few who thought they could control who comes into the church.

On Sunday morning I went to Altadena Community, a small church of about 70 members. As it turned out, there were three special events at the church that day-the confirmation of Eden, Boy Scouts Sunday which allowed about 30 young men see a church celebrate the life of this young person with severe disabilities, and a church member gave his faith story during adult education. The man who shared his faith story spoke of his battle with alcoholism, occasional homelessness, divorce, and the many ways the members of this church loved him through it all, including giving him a place to stay. I only knew this man to be a very friendly person who manages the sound board during worship and is always ready to help out at multiple events, so it was a surprise and an inspiration to hear the ways this church truly saved his life. Over the course of the day my heart was full as this little church revealed a glimpse of God’s kingdom, where grace extends to all, people of all ages, races, and persuasions are loved, and faith is put into very direct action.

As I prayed my thanks for the vibrancy and faithfulness displayed by these two churches, it occurred to me that in recent years, both churches seriously wondered whether they would survive. Both churches saw their long-time leadership group dwindle, either by age or with members moving out of the area, and there were no similar new leaders stepping forward to take their place. Even if new, younger members moved into leadership, they didn’t seem to last long, due to career/life volatility or stumbles over entrenched road blocks in the church’s ministry.

Perhaps they had to reach that point, when their very survival was at risk, before the churches opened up to God’s unpredictable will. Our churches, like our selves, like the PC(USA) as a denomination, have to be willing to let go of our own sense of control over our life in order for us to allow God to work in and through us. As Jesus was quoted multiple times in all four gospels, “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.”

 

Our PC(USA) Book of Order now begins with the Foundations of Presbyterian Polity, which has become the favorite section for many of us, because it makes more clear the basic ideals that guide our governance-ideals so deeply held that in the past we failed to articulate them to those new to the Presbyterian church. One of the statements in this section is relatively new, but is quoted often by national church leaders:

The Church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life. (F-1.0301)

Truly, in order for our churches to thrive in the future, we have to be willing to lose our life for the sake of the gospel, in sure trust that our real life is in the eternal love of our Lord. May we all be a glimpse into God’s kingdom, in our love, in our welcome, in our grace, in our generous spirit, in our willingness to risk our all for Christ’s ministry. And may we feel the smile of God upon us as we do.

 

In faith,

Wendy

In Praise of ACs

In Praise of ACs

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.

Isaiah 11:6

I continue to receive positive feedback on our January 20th Presbytery meeting. One person noted that the meeting was relational, while we also made some important decisions, such as voting to co-sponsor an overture to General Assembly advocating for peace and care for our Syrian sisters and brothers who have suffered so much in the on-going violence. And we received four new minister members, including two who are starting pastorates in our churches. And, of course, WinterFest was a great, well- attended training event.

But I was gratified to hear the term “relational,” because Moderator Becca Bateman said her hope is to help build relationships in the Presbytery during this year. In light of this, the leadership team that plans the Presbytery meetings have given relationship themes to each meeting in 2018:

January: Building relationships with each other
April: Building relationship with Creation
June: Building relationships with neighbors near and far
September: Building relationship with God
November: Building relationship with self.

As we live into the hope of restoration that Isaiah prophesied, may we indeed participate in building a beloved community for ourselves, for the world, even with all of Creation.

This weekend were services of celebration for our friends Art French and Hazel Harken. I was able to attend Art’s service, which was filled with many stories of the love Art showed to everyone he met. According to Pacific Presbytery, even when he chaired administrative commissions for his presbytery, he showed love and respect as he listened to all sides before the AC made any decisions. I really appreciated this because it is so important for ACs to have an attitude of support and care, even in the midst of serious conflict.

It reminded me how often Presbyterians react to ACs with memories of conflict, or even a sense of being oppressed by a presbytery. For some people, it would be troubling to know that we currently have four ACs in place. But I have heard from nearly all these churches that they have greatly appreciated what the ACs are doing with and for them.

In recent months, ACs for San Gabriel Presbytery have:

-Surveyed a church’s membership on their hopes and concerns for the church’s future
-Advised a church on staff and church leader responsibilities
-Refocused financial systems and pastor-church relations to Presbyterian norms
-Suggested streamlined administrative practices for a smaller church
-Structured a church budget
-Moderated or acted as clerk for session meetings
-Guest preached and led town hall congregational meetings
-Supported and advised pastors and elders
-Secured needed financial and legal resources from the Presbytery
-Accompanied church leaders to civil court to defend the church’s pastor, tenants, and property-and by the way, we are making excellent progress in reversing the damage done through the fraud perpetrated against the church.

In all these cases, the administrative commission is a sign of commitment from the Presbytery to appoint qualified leaders to respond to the needs of a church. In the case of these four ACs, they are providing sensitive, knowledgeable, and faithful support and guidance to our churches, and for that I am extremely grateful.

I think I mentioned that my hope for 2018 is to be able to increase Presbytery’s service in support of our churches, and to fulfill together Christ’s ministry within San Gabriel Valley, but also as we contribute to our Synod, the PC(USA), and our mission partners near and far. We are off to an excellent start!!

There are other churches we are working with, of course, and each week we highlight a church that I hope your church prays for. But this week I would ask you to pray also for these churches and their ACs: Baldwin Park (Bear Ride, chair; Rob Crowell, Melinda Forbes), Pasadena (Dave Tomlinson, chair; Rubi Benítez, Daniel Chang, Roberto Colón, Dee Kelley, Ann Oglesby-Edwards, Fried Wilson), West Covina (Jennifer Ackerman, chair; James Lee, Chris Muiga, Corliss Roenicke), and Westminster Temple City (Mariko Yanagihara, chair; Nick Banks, Huw Christopher, Pat Collins).

We are truly blessed to have these and other dedicated leaders volunteering their time and gifts in order to walk alongside our churches. May we continue to grow stronger in our relationships, that we may be one faithful body, caring for the parts of the body that right now need some extra attention.

Blessings,

Wendy

 

New Perspective

New Perspective

But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:15-16

 

This last Saturday was our annual WinterFest training event, which continues to be the largest and most vibrant gathering of the presbytery each year. I give thanks to the Education Committee – chair Jennifer Ackerman, Sophia Alecci, Ally Lee, Pat Martinez-Miller, Deborah Owens, and staff Jake Kim – for their excellent planning and coordination for WinterFest.

This last Saturday we heard from Jake Mulder, director of the Fuller Youth Institute, who gave some encouraging data on ways that churches can connect with young people. Actually, some of what he shared sounded like advice that helps us connect with any group who are underrepresented in our churches-make the effort to reach out, don’t make assumptions that block you from real connections and care, make a commitment to Jesus and to neighbors and young people, and offer them respect and leadership opportunities. At least this is what I heard-for the real content, go to Fuller Institute.

For myself, I got some new perspective on San Gabriel Presbytery on Saturday.

Marking our 50th anniversary as a separate presbytery (we were formed when the Los Angeles Presbytery was split up on January 4, 1968), we shared with each other memories of the last 50 years, gifts and values we hold dear, and hopes for the future. We remembered those who passed into glory in 2017, including San Gabriel members Bob Linthicum, Don Berns, Deane Hendricks, and Gayle Beanland, as well as dear friends Ed Tanng, Art French, Hazel Harken, Gordon Douglass, and Art Edwards. Let us gather this weekend to celebrate the lives and ministries of Art French (Friday at 2 pm at Pasadena Presbyterian) and Hazel Harken (Saturday at 3:30 pm at Westminster Gardens).

We looked at who we are now, with the representation report for 2017, including the statistic that our presbytery leadership is 39% people of color-which is closer to our full membership than I had thought, so that’s good news. Our Justice Peacemaking and Mission Committee began to fulfill their two 2018 priorities (stewardship of Creation and immigrant justice and advocacy) by introducing the use of compostable supplies at meals, and presenting the General Assembly overture “On Responding to the Current Syria Crisis,” endorsed by our Claremont and Knox churches, to advocate for a ceasefire, reconciliation, care for the suffering of the Syrian people, and to deepen our relationships with Syrian Christians. Several of our churches are actively involved in connecting with Syrian churches and/or helping Syrian refugees, so the Presbytery decided, after some lunchtime discussion, to approve this overture.

And there was an incidental new look at our Presbytery, as we met for the first time at our new Presbytery Center in Temple City. It seems that Presbytery members were comfortable in their new home base, and enjoyed the hospitality of the shared ministry partners at the Center – Mideast Evangelical Church, who led the morning worship and offered breakfast (and whose gifted leaders supervised the renovation of the Sanctuary and installation of the video and sound system); Grace Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, who led the afternoon worship and helped with lunch; and Playfactory Preschool, who helped with registration and lunch (including making cookies!).

Thanks to Jennifer Ackerman, who planned a worship service that incorporated the languages of the Presbytery Center hosts (Arabic, Taiwanese, and English), as well as the other main languages of the Presbytery (Spanish and Korean). It was fun to sing in Taiwanese-and it occurred to me that Taiwanese may be the language that is spoken by more of our members, after English. Because of that, I was so happy that we could receive not only retired pastors Huw Christopher and Martin Miller-Hessel, but also our friend and Stated Clerk (and now transitional pastor for Westminster Temple City) Diane Frasher, AND the young and gifted Taiwanese pastor Yanchih “Yank” Lee, who will start at Shepherd of the Valley on April 1. Our offering went to help with the rebuilding of the Presbyterian Church in Joquicingo, Mexico, after it was destroyed in the 2017 earthquake. We received $850 on their behalf; if you would like to contribute please send in checks to the Presbytery by the end of this month. The offering was introduced by Margarita Reyes, who grew up in that area.

Finally, we have reason to hope for the future, as we see new and renewed leadership with Becca Bateman as Moderator of the Presbytery, Roberto Ramirez as Vice Moderator, and new leaders such as Education members Sophia Alecci and Ally Lee, and newly-elected Bong Bringas (Committee on Representation and Nominations), Karen Sapio (Vision and Strategy), Mark Carlson (Personnel), and Karen Berns, Tony Garcia and Frank Hsieh (CPM).

I thank God for this hopeful start to the new year, and pray that we continue to grow even closer as the body of Christ for San Gabriel Valley.

 

Praying for a life-giving 2018,

Wendy

 

Communion

Communion

In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Ephesians 3:5-6

Last week, our COM considered some of the new flexibility now allowed by the Presbyterian Church (USA) to serve the gospel to our ever-changing community. Shepherd of the Valley Presbyterian Church is unique in my knowledge, as one church that serves both people from Taiwan and mainland China. Actually, they serve people with a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, but those who know of the on-going tension between Taiwan and China are impressed that Shepherd of the Valley continues to strive to witness to the reconciling love of Jesus Christ.

Finding pastoral leadership for the three worship services at Shepherd of the Valley is a joyous challenge for our presbytery. Nancy Moore, who speaks English, and James Peng, who is Taiwanese, currently serve as temporary co-pastors, and Fischer Peng preaches in Mandarin for the people from China. Fischer has earned the MDiv degree from a Baptist seminary and is ordained as a Baptist pastor, but he has been a member and a ruling elder at Shepherd of the Valley for several years. He has been a gift to us, as we have a shortage of pastors who can teach and pastor to immigrants from China, many of whom are new Christians.

Shepherd of the Valley requested that Fischer be authorized to celebrate communion with the Mandarin service, which is allowed under G-3.0301b of the Book of Order. For all the years he has been their pastoral leader, they have had to ask one of the other pastors to preside at the table-I remember once preaching there and marveling at the intricate choreography that included the Mandarin speakers coming into the English service an hour after their own worship service had ended, so that they could take communion. (They have since changed it so they hold a bilingual service in Mandarin and English on communion Sundays, but there still have been occasional glitches with this system.)

Our COM interviewed Fischer to ensure that he understands the Reformed understanding of communion, and much of our discussion focused on another example of the PC(USA)’s new flexibility. In fact, some would consider this to be the most significant change with the newly adopted Directory for Worship, and that is the change in who may take communion.

Up until this new Directory for Worship, which was ratified in 2017, the Presbyterian Church stated that the Lord’s Table was a celebration of the baptized: “Around the Table of the Lord, God’s people are in communion with Christ and with all who belong to Christ”-and we who belong to Christ are marked through baptism. But the new Directory for Worship turns toward inclusion, focusing more on the radical grace of Jesus Christ in welcoming all to His table. See W-3.0409 for the theological view of communion in today’s PC(USA), which includes the following:

The opportunity to eat and drink with Christ is not a right bestowed upon the worthy, but a privilege given to the undeserving who come in faith, repentance, and love. All who come to the table are offered the bread and cup, regardless of their age or understanding. If some of those who come have not yet been baptized, an invitation to baptismal preparation and Baptism should be graciously extended.

I find that many (but not all) pastors get really worked up over the theology of communion, and almost no one else does. So some of you may wonder why I’m going on about this.

This may be important to me because one of the cornerstones of my ministry is my own sense of being excluded as an Asian-American woman. So for me, and perhaps for others, one of the most significant signs of God’s grace is the inclusiveness of the church, and Christ’s welcome to the Lord’s Table, as Jesus welcomed all to the table in the Gospels. This doesn’t mean all come and we do nothing to disciple them in the good news and mandates of Jesus Christ-but we must make every effort to be a facilitator, not an obstacle of God’s gracious welcome to all people, because we are all in need of forgiveness and healing.

One way we are able to extend God’s healing love to others, even those who can’t make it to our communion tables, is through the ministry of Rev. Elizabeth Gibbs-Zehnder, the Presbyterian chaplain at LAC+USC Medical Center, a ministry supported by or presbytery. Click HERE to see reports from two events she participated in last month, one a service of remembrance for 1,461 people who died without anyone to claim their bodies in death, another sharing handmade blankets to over 600 patients at the Center, many of whom are in need of companionship as well as physical healing.

This last weekend showed two extremes of the American understanding of welcome. We celebrated what would have been the 89th birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man whose faith led him to preach and act towards a vision where all people are welcomed, respected and loved as children of God. But we also heard a debate over who are welcome as immigrants to the United States. Amidst the disputes over this debate, it was clear that country (or continent) of origin seems to be a determining factor for some-and one defense of this view is that not only people from Europe would be favored, but so would people from Asia. To anyone who might be flattered by this, I beg you to reject it, because this creates a whole new layer of divisiveness for reasons that will not fit in this column.

One of the challenges that faces us who enjoy worldly privilege is how we negotiate our path of comfort along with Christ’s path of faithfulness. The one way that is harsh in its simplicity is to put our all, even our privilege, at the feet of the cross of Jesus. May we give our all, as Jesus gave his life, that all may be welcome to Christ’s table in glory. And may we make our churches, our community, even our nation and world, be places of gracious welcome, as God wills it.

In Christ’s peace,

Wendy