Partners in Creation

Partners in Creation

I am a “cradle Presbyterian,” meaning I was born and raised in this church. Because my grandfather and two uncles were Presbyterian pastors who held leadership positions in the church and the community at large, because my father was a perennial Presbytery commissioner and a GA commissioner sent by this presbytery to the 1994 General Assembly in Wichita, I grew up assuming I was just like other Presbyterians.

It wasn’t until I went to seminary that I realized my way of being Presbyterian had a distinctively Japanese flavor to it. I came to this understanding during a class where each week we talked about Christian spirituality and our response to various issues in life. In one class, we discussed the environment. The White students talked about humans being in charge of Creation, as if we were separate and above the rest of Creation, with the power to destroy the Earth. Their perspective was obviously rooted in Psalm 8.

As they spoke, I thought of Japanese landscape paintings, where people and houses are put in proper perspective to the rest of Creation. In my mind, humans are but small members of the family of Creation. Now because humans are powerful, we have a responsibility to manage our power for good and not for destruction. (I learned this from my days working with battered women, that men have a responsibility to manage their anger, because of the destructive power of their physical strength.) While we are powerful, humans are not in charge of, or outside of, the rest of Creation. Also, I do not believe we have the power to destroy the Earth-though we certainly have proved that we can make Earth uninhabitable for humans and other forms of life. Though this perspective may run counter to Psalm 8, I would contend that much of the rest of the Bible highlights the greatness of God, and only God, who uses the universe as God’s footstool, and how humanity and all the rest of Creation are known and loved by God, and all forces of nature can be used by God to care for or discipline humanity.

When I went to Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, I had an experience of the Creation that I never had before. Because this is a true crater-the largest inactive and intact crater in the world-the little jeeps first circle the rim, then drive into the center of the crater by one very bumpy road. Reaching the floor of the crater, I could see the rim creating a fairly effective barrier from the rest of the world. It seemed as if this was a world unto itself, with its own order, safe from the excesses of humanity, as Tanzania has made this a conservation area, restricting access and of course hunting.

Blue wildebeest (gnu) with flamingos on Lake Magadi in background, Ngorongoro Crater, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania

In this sanctuary, where humans are few and relatively unobtrusive, the animals seemed to live in peace. Zebras and warthogs gathered in large numbers in one area, with the zebras walking along with the jeep as if they thought we were some kind of mutant, wheel-footed animal. In other areas, wildebeests, gazelles, and ostriches gathered-with lionesses and their cubs on a raised ridge. The animals seemed to understand each other quite well; at one point two gazelles carefully stepped out to watch the lions, tails wagging, to see if the lions would come after them (the gazelles were far enough away that they could run if need be). The lions were otherwise engaged, so the gazelles walked by with a bit of confidence.

This order is not without danger. At one point we found a hyena eating some other animal with relish. But whether they be hippopotamus in the water, rhinoceros in the distance, elephants in the forest, or the crested crane looking stunning amongst them, my friends and I kept expressing the sense of peace in this place. If only we humans can practice moderation, that we may be partners in, rather than tyrants over, the rest of Creation!

In a week from this Saturday, we will have our next Presbytery meeting. Moderator Becca Bateman is shaping the 2018 Presbytery meetings along our priority to build relationships. So in January, we built relationships with each other, as we learned together in WinterFest, worshiped and sat at table with each other in worship, and installed our new officers for 2018.

On June 2nd, our all-Presbytery Day of Service, we will build relationships with our neighbors near and far, as we work at Westminster Gardens for this retirement community as well as other mission partners. In September, we will focus on our relationship with God, and in November we will hold another Self-Care Fair, as we build relationship with self.

Since our April Presbytery meeting is the day before Earth Day, this meeting will be focused on our relationship with Creation. It is also fitting to have the meeting at Claremont Presbyterian, as they have made significant investments in an urban garden and renovating their Christian Education building to be more energy-efficient.

We will also show support for Pomona Hope’s efforts to continue their community garden. As it happens, the Presbytery is involved in both Pomona-based community gardens. As we have a prospective buyer for the South Hills property, they are waiting for us to effectively close down that garden. And the City of Pomona has sold the property across from First Presbyterian, which means their garden will be closed down. Both sets of gardeners are working with public officials for a permanent, larger community garden, backed by grants from healthcare companies that want to promote healthier living. Pomona Hope is raising funds for a new garden (sadly, soon after it was announced that their garden is to close, their gardening equipment was stolen), and they are holding a fundraiser on April 14th; if you want to learn more about the event and Pomona Hope in general, click here.

For the April 21st Presbytery offering, we will give to Pomona Hope, the program of First Presbyterian Pomona that runs the Center Street Garden. We will give in honor of our relationship with Creation, in loving memory of Jonah Hwang, the child of First Presbyterian Pomona who loved superheroes and remains in the hearts of the Pomona Pres family, and in support of the Center Street Garden.

As we give thanks for new life this Eastertide, even in the midst of so much destruction and violence in Syria and in our own neighborhoods, let us pray for and nurture new life for all of Creation, whose care was entrusted to us, and whose bounty sustains our own lives. If you cannot come to the Presbytery meeting, you can always give directly to the garden at saveourgarden.org.

Praying for peace for all of us,

Wendy

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter!

I pray that you had a promise-filling and inspiring Resurrection Day.

In fact, I had a full and meaningful Holy Week, and hope you did too. I witnessed churches trying new ways of experiencing Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. I went to a sunrise service on Easter morning, the first one I’ve attended since coming back to California 10 years ago (they don’t seem as popular as when I was growing up, or still practiced in Hawai`i). This sunrise service was given by Pasadena Presbyterian Church, as they are experimenting with new ways of being intercultural in worship and ministry. It was very encouraging to me, partly because it was the best representation of the full PPC community gathered in one place. I mentioned that to a couple of PPC folks, and they said yes, and they experienced that same fullness at their Maundy Thursday supper.

I also attended a very productive meeting with the Vision and Strategy Team, who looked back on our presbytery’s current mission statement to gain clarity in mission that I found excitingly helpful-I’m sure this will be discussed in the future. I also have had the opportunity to speak with churches who are seeking new pastors, and possible candidates for some of our churches. This weekend, I also prayed for a new pastorate with Rev. Yanchih “Yank” Lee, who started on Easter Sunday as co-pastor of Shepherd of the Valley.

Of course, we are reminded that beginnings often require something else to end, just as Jesus’ saving death had to happen on Good Friday in order for him to be resurrected on Easter. So I also pray for churches and pastors in our presbytery who are facing transitions. On March 31, Rev. Roger Shervington retired from Eagle Rock Presbyterian Church, and Rev. James Peng retired from Shepherd of the Valley. As Shepherd of the Valley continues to seek a co-pastor for their English worship service, Rev. Nancy Moore contemplates her eventual departure. And Rev. Thomas Chen fulfilled his temporary pastor contract with Grace Taiwanese in March, and chose to return to his home in Nevada. So we now have eight churches seeking pastoral leadership.

Through these transitions, I trust that the church leaders continue and even further the ministry of the church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, as Jesus predicted so long ago. Even in his resurrected state, Jesus was transformed, and warned Mary not to cling to him. He would not remain in that form for long, as God’s plan is not for the church to depend on any one human leader, but for all of us to serve together, gathered as Christ’s body in the world.

I witnessed this in my own life, as the ministry of the Presbytery did not miss a beat in my absence. I have always believed that the goal of pastoral leadership is to help strengthen the body of Christ, so the ministry continues strong after a leader leaves-and that pertains to executive presbyters as well as pastors. So for those who led in my absence, thank you.

As for me, I am back from Africa, though my sleep rhythms are still off, and I don’t have any coherent reflection on the trip, only snippets of thoughts and observations and learnings, such as:

A scholar stated that of the 25 million Christians in her home country of India, 70% are Dalit (untouchables). Though many converted to Christianity because they saw our faith as one of liberation that taught all people are created and loved by God, there are still vestiges of the caste system practiced within the church, which shows the ways we all struggle with external social pressure that threaten to distort our Christian values.

One Albanian Orthodox priest shared how they have faced resistance from Muslims. When building a church, the Muslims threw stones at them-which the Christians then used as part of their building material! A lovely rendering of 1 Peter 2:4-10.

Tanzania’s official national language is Swahili, but English is also predominant, and the World Council of Churches conducts virtually all their business in English. I looked at the 1,000 attendees from all over the world, and I would guess that at least 75% of them are not native English speakers. I realized that the prevalence of English made Tanzania feel less foreign to me than countries that are more similar to the US, but where English is not dominant. I became aware of the role language plays in identity and security, and while I was straining to stay alert in the conference (the sessions went from 8:30 in the morning to 9:00 at night), I could only imagine how tiring it would be if English was not my first language. I also reflected on how spoiled we English-speakers are at this moment in history, when English is the closest thing there is to a universal language, and how difficult it may be for our immigrant church members, who must adopt a foreign language and culture.

I did have a chance to go to Ngorongoro Crater on safari (yes, they really use that word). What an incredible experience! I have never before felt as I did there, like I had been transported to the Garden of Eden, where God’s order is lived out in peace.

Perhaps I will continue to “process” my experiences and learnings, and can speak of my own transformations in future columns.

In the meantime, God’s blessings be upon you this Eastertide. May the joy and power of Christ’s resurrection continue to encourage and embolden us as we proclaim in word and deed the saving grace of our Lord.

Peace and new life to you,

Wendy

 

 

God Defies Expectations

God Defies Expectations

We have just begun Holy Week, that long walk from the shouts of praise and adoration at the entrance of Jerusalem that will land us, in just a few short days, squarely at the foot of the cross. Yesterday we celebrated – we raised our palm branches high and shouted our hosannas. We often think of the word “hosanna” as fairly generic, religious acclamation of praise. A holy form of “hooray!” But in reality, the word “hosanna” is transliterated from the Hebrew words that mean “We beg you, save us!”

What a powerful image it is to think of those words – “We beg you, save us!” – shouted as the cries of joy and acclamation as they were heard on Palm Sunday. It is not normally with tones of joy that one would beg for help. But that joy came from the hope and expectation that the people had already chosen to entrust Jesus with that their salvation was assured, that the powers of Rome would be defeated and all would be set to right. Of course, we know that the people’s expectation for what would happen with Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem was not what came to pass. Instead, something far more reaching, world-upsetting, and expectation flipping happened.

Holy Week is about God defying our expectations and bringing us to something so much bigger and world-changing than we could have ever hoped for. My favorite part of this passage is the end of it – “His disciples didn’t understand these things at first. After he was glorified, they remembered that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.” How often do we look at what is happening in the world and in our own lives and have a set of expectations for God’s actions in the midst of them that do not come to pass? How often do we ourselves cry “We beg you, save us!” and then wonder why God has not swooped in with all of God’s might to strong-arm a victory in the world, or in our lives? How often do we wonder if we have put our hopes behind a God who does not deliver?

But what would it mean if we, like the disciples, were able to look back on the events of our lives and the events of the world and look for the ways that God met us where we were in the ways we would never have expected? It is a well-known adage that hindsight is 20/20. When the world around us seems lost and unstable, can we look to our own histories to see where God has been, and perhaps trust that if God was with us then doing things we could not have anticipated, is it not possible that God is doing the same today, saving us all in ways that subvert ours and the world’s expectations?

There is power in looking backwards. When we see where God has been with us along the way of our lives, we are better able to see where God is with us as our lives move forward, even if we move forward with uncertainty. Starting in May, as the Chaplain to Retired Church Workers of our presbytery, I am beginning a monthly newsletter specifically for our retired church workers, aimed at helping us to trust the road forward by looking back on where God has been and what God has done to bring us to this point in our lives. Expect it to arrive in your inboxes on May 1st, and if you don’t receive it at would like to, please reach out to me at RevLaurenEvans@gmail.com to be added to the mailing list.

As we walk into this Holy Week together, as our cries of “Hosanna!” fade into the tears of Maundy Thursday and Holy Friday, may we wait in joyful expectation of Easter morning. When the light grows dark this week, may we trust that the bright light of the resurrection promise, the light of the God who subverts our every expectation to truly change the world and change our hearts, is on its way.

Don’t be afraid, Daughter Zion.
Look! Your King is coming.

Blessings,

Rev. Lauren Evans
Chaplain to Retired Church Workers

Statistical Reporting

Statistical Reporting

The Statistical Reporting Season for the winter of 2017/2018 has come to an end. I am sure all the Clerks of Session are sighing with relief! This period of time requires a lot of work on the part of the Clerk of Session. I am very thankful that we have such wonderful clerks in this presbytery. They do this tedious work year after year without a grumble. This year we had a 72% congregational participation rate versus last year’s 77% participation rate. We dropped a little in participation, but not too much. Hopefully, next year we will exceed last year’s 77% participation rate. Thank you to all the dedicated Clerks of Session for their work this year. The congregations that made sure they got statistical information into GA were:

Alhambra True Light Presbyterian, Alhambra
First Presbyterian, Altadena
Village Presbyterian, Arcadia
Emmanuel Hispanic Presbyterian, Claremont
Claremont Presbyterian, Claremont
First Thai Presbyterian, Covina
Northminster Presbyterian, Diamond Bar
Divine Light Presbyterian, El Monte
Shepherd of the Valley Presbyterian, Hacienda Heights
Iglesia De La Communidad, Highland Park
Puente de Esperanza Presbyterian Church, La Puente
St. Andrews Presbyterian, La Puente
La Verne Heights Presbyterian, La Verne
Glendale Korean Presbyterian, Los Angeles
Grace Presbyterian, Los Angeles
Occidental Presbyterian, Los Angeles
Good Shepherd Taiwanese Presbyterian, Monterey Park
First Taiwanese Presbyterian, Pasadena
New Hope Presbyterian, Pasadena
Westminster Presbyterian, Pasadena
Knox Presbyterian, Pasadena
Trinity Presbyterian, Pasadena
First Presbyterian, Pomona
San Marino Community, San Marino
Calvary Presbyterian, South Pasadena
Grace Taiwanese Presbyterian, Temple City
Westminster Presbyterian, Temple City
Community Presbyterian, West Covina

 

Looking statistically at the presbytery, as a whole, our membership dropped from 7026 to 6558. We had 128 total gains and 596 total losses during the year, which equates to a loss of 468 members. We believe this number is not quite accurate, as some of the congregations who did not participate have been healthy and growing. This is one reason we would love to get to a higher rate of congregational participation. We would love to have our figures be more accurate, so we really can see what is happening in the presbytery. Several of these non-participatory congregations have not reported for years, making their statistics way under-reported. We are also aware that we have had some closures of congregations this past year which accounts for some of the loss.

San Gabriel Presbytery is very diverse ethnically. The summary of the GA statistical report gives us the breakdown according to those congregations who have participated. The breakdown of Ruling Elders according to GA categories within the presbytery looks like this: ELDERS – 54 Asian, 3 Black, 2 African American, 1 African, 22 Hispanic, 111 White. We know that we have Middle Eastern elders, but no entries were made in that category. DEACONS – 118 Asian, 1 Black,2 African American, 1 African, 19 Hispanic, 72 White, and 1 Other. Here again, we know that we have Middle Eastern Deacons, but no entries were made in that category. We may actually be more diverse than is recorded in GA Statistical Reporting. But, the diversity in leadership within this presbytery, as recorded, is exciting to see!

Announcement

The Spring Review of Minute Books will be held at Shepherd of the Valley Presbyterian Church, Hacienda Heights on May 5, 2018 at 10:00 AM. The Review Form has been updated to contain the newly added item: Safety Policy for Youth in addition to one we previously had for Children. This is a new item, but we need to be working on this safety policy as it is a new GA requirement. And we most certainly want to keep our children and youth safe while they are on our campuses or on a field trip of some sort. The two policies should look a little different as it takes different approaches to care for the two different age brackets. Please think independently on each. Click HERE to download the Review Form.

I look forward to seeing many of the clerks and pastors at the Spring Review of Minute Books and Registers. Remember, if you haven’t had your books reviewed for a couple of years, we would expect to see those years too. Now, a caveat to that statement: If you are behind in your Minute Books and Registers for some years, but have this year’s up-to-date, please come and bring what you have. It is better to get started reviewing than to continuing remaining behind. We want to help you start catching up.

The Fall Review of Minute Books is still planned for October 2018 at New Hope Presbyterian Church in Pasadena. We will publish the date as soon as we have it.

Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual Gifts

We all have been graced with spiritual gifts. We may not know what they are, but they are part of us and come through whether identified or not. The fact that there are a “great variety of spiritual gifts” is evident when working with groups going to Peru. I am always thankful for the variety of gifts and gift combinations amongst us because it means that everyone on a trip contributes in a unique way to the group and that is what makes us truly a team. My gifts of Administration, Leadership, and Pastor/Shepherd help me to plan, coordinate, and lead the trips in conjunction with others, which is one of my roles on these adventures. All of us drawn to these trips have to some degree the gift of Service. We feel called to serve in love to help bring about the improvement of communities near and far.

Back in 2009 when San Gabriel Presbytery (SGP) sent its first group of people to get trained for the Living Waters for the World (LWW) ministry work we had no idea where that training would take us. Since 2010 when we first traveled to Peru we’ve had a good number of people beyond that initial group participate in trips to build relationships with Peruvian brothers and sisters, to help install water purification systems, and to lead health and spiritual education. It’s been a rich and enriching experience for everyone.

In the eight years we’ve been traveling to Peru we have become covenant relationship partners with seven different communities in Peru. Six water systems have been installed to date in churches, community centers, and a school. A seventh system is going to be installed at a school in Lima this May.

Do you feel called to serve in love to help improve communities near and far? Might you want to use your gift of Service and the others you have been given on a trip to Peru with the SGP LWW team? We can use people with all kinds of spiritual gift combinations and would love to have you join us this May when we install a water purification system at the school in Lima.

The trip dates are May 24 – June 2, 2018. If you want more information contact Rev. Cyndie Crowell or Wendy Gist as soon as possible.

How Are You?

How Are You?

I heard the story about Peter’s denial of Jesus in worship yesterday morning. I don’t know why this was covered on the third Sunday in Lent, as this reading is part of the passion narrative usually featured on Good Friday. But the pastor believes that one of the things we should reflect on during Lent is, how have we shown-or failed to show-our commitment to serve Jesus Christ?

During the reading, I heard something I hadn’t noticed before. In this account, John emphasizes relationships. Jesus had just been arrested and taken to be interrogated by the high priest. Peter and one other disciple were with Jesus, but only the other disciple was allowed to go with Jesus, because the other disciple knew the high priest. Peter was allowed to come into the courtyard because this disciple spoke up for him. So it’s not surprising that Peter was asked about his relationship with Jesus, as he was allowed in based on the word of Jesus’ companion.

Once in, Peter tried to blend in with others hanging out in the courtyard, but he was questioned again. Finally, Peter was identified a third time, now by a relative of the man whose ear was cut off by Peter when Jesus was arrested.

It’s interesting that these relationships-Jesus’ other disciple with the high priest, or the relative of the guard Peter hurt-are mentioned, because they seem pretty incidental and unimportant. But perhaps these relationships are mentioned as a contrast to the most consequential relationship of all, Peter’s relationship with Jesus, which Peter betrayed.

So as we continue our Lenten journey, let us ask ourselves: how is your relationship with Jesus? Is it incidental? Is it central in your life? Is it important as long as you get benefit from it, but easily forgotten when the authorities put the heat on you? And how well do we relate with other disciples, including those we don’t yet know?

Tomorrow I leave for the World Council of Churches Conference on World Mission and Evangelism in Tanzania. As delegates, our first priority is to relate with others, and learn from their experiences. Our delegation leader mentioned that we should avoid hanging out with each other, or with other North Americans, but to make an effort to connect with members of the body of Christ who are not familiar to us.

Relating with others can have its challenges, just as Peter was challenged when his beloved teacher was arrested and treated like a criminal. As we open our hearts to others, it’s harder to turn away when they suffer pain or injustice-but we also experience so much more of God’s great kingdom. That’s the amazing thing about being claimed by Jesus-we get to see who else Jesus is claiming, and as we claim them ourselves as our sisters and brothers, we get a better understanding of God’s magnificent creativity.

I will be out for the next two weeks; though I may not be available by phone you can contact Twila, and she can either help you or find someone who can. I appreciate your prayers for all those who are traveling to Tanzania, and I give thanks to God for this wonderful opportunity. Just as I can bring with me knowledge of our little piece of God’s kingdom, may I bring back stories and lessons gained from these new relationships.

In faith,

Wendy