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

God’s Appearance to Us

God’s Appearance to Us

This last Saturday was Epiphany. This holiday celebrates the revelation of God to us in the birth of Jesus Christ. This is dramatically represented with the arrival of foreign, Gentile leaders who searched for the new king of the Jews, following a star. The Western tradition is that the trip took twelve days, arriving on January 6th according to our calendar.

On Sunday I was in a church where the nativity scene was fully displayed, with the addition of the three kings. As I considered the search of the wise men, I noticed that the little baby Jesus in the scene was so small that I could not see him. In fact, someone had placed an angel figure (which was not part of the original set) behind and between the Mary and Joseph figures, such that I imagined how some might have confused the angel for the object of their search.

I’m always awed that God came to be one of us, and chose to come as the baby of a poor, displaced young woman in a small outpost of a world empire, who got pregnant under questionable circumstances. Not only does this represent God’s love for the poor and the powerless, but it also resulted in obscuring the divine nature of Jesus for most of the world. Even believers in God read the Hebrew Scriptures and imagined that when the Messiah comes, he will come as a mighty king who will overthrow the oppressor. It would be easy to miss the Messiah, or get distracted by one who appears more majestic, just as I had a hard time finding the Christ figure in the nativity set, even when I was looking for him.

As we consider God’s appearance to us, do we sit back and wait for God to come to us, looking the way we want God to look, or do we search out God’s face even when we must leave our comfort zones? And even if we are actively seeking, do we sometimes miss Christ in our presence, because Christ is in the least of us, in the unexpected person, in an undesirable place?

During this Epiphany time, especially now as displaced people continue to be turned away from safety and security, may we be willing to open our eyes, our hearts, our minds that we may discern God’s star for us, leading us forward as we actively search for Christ’s presence in our lives. May we see Christ in our neighbor, in our church, in ourselves, but also in places of pain and poverty. And may we, too, pay him homage, wherever we find him.

Here are a few ways you might encounter Christ in a more meaningful way:

Pray. You may have heard that Rev. Art French died just last night. Art suffered a serious fall at Monte Vista Grove on Thursday, hitting his head and also breaking some bones. Please pray for Art’s family and we’ll let you know when a service is planned. We can also pray thanksgiving for the life of Hazel Harken, especially at the service celebrating her life at Westminster Gardens, 3:30 p.m. January 27.

Learn. I expect you know that “disciple” comes from a word for “student.” We Presbyterians prioritize training for all of God’s people, so I invite everyone to WinterFest. It’s not only for elders and deacons; you don’t even need to be a church member to attend WinterFest, which is coming up in just a couple of weeks. You can find WinterFest above in the top-right of the header or under “News and Events”. I also invite you to look around the new website. (Note: due to my delays, the contents of the site need updating, so please be patient-but you’ll get the idea.)

Follow Christ’s mission. As Jesus was born temporarily homeless, we have an opportunity to act in a meaningful way for the homeless in our community. See below for information on the homeless count-an annual census of those who are unsheltered during these colder winter nights. The count is used to secure resources to aid them in the coming year. The count takes place at night and early morning January 23-25 depending on the area; in Pasadena the count is scheduled for 8-10 pm January 23, and 6-8 am January 24. See here for details and to sign up.

May we spend our days witnessing to Christ’s presence in our lives, and in the world. As we live in growing and constant awareness of this blessing, may we too be a blessing for others, and point to Christ for all to see.

Thanks for being on the journey together,

Wendy

Connecting

Connecting

I am writing this column from Chicago O’Hare Airport, on the way back from several days in Louisville, so let’s give thanks to the miracle of technology that keeps us connected wherever we are.

I am half-joking, but actually I have wanted to share something that’s happening thanks to technology that I find really wondrous. One of the worship leaders at Mideast Evangelical Church, Ray Henain, is Associate Director of Church Connections for Sat-7, a satellite television network founded and led by Dr. Terence Ascott. It is the oldest and largest Christian satellite organization operating in the Middle East and North Africa; the network covers this region as well as most of Europe.

They have been beaming Christian broadcasting since 1995, sometimes featuring our own pastors. But what caught my attention is a new venture. They have had a Sat-7 KIDS series since 2007, but recently they have addressed the need for basic education. In an effort reminiscent of the Presbyterian traditional commitment to education for all, they have developed a basic education curriculum including mathematics and language skills in both Arabic and English. The approach is not overtly religious but guided by Christian principles, including empowering girls as well as boys with education. And since it’s being carried on a free network, anyone can access the programming.

This means that even families who have been displaced by war and persecution can have access to high-quality, inclusive education wherever they can get a satellite feed. When they first launched this programming, there were reports of 400 kids crowding in front of a television at a refugee camp in northern Iraq, teaching girls and boys of many different ethnic and religious backgrounds together.

I share some information that Ray Heinan sent me to see some of Sat-7’s work:

SAT-7 overview, by Dr. Terence Ascott (SAT-7 CEO and founder)
Myriam story blesses and pray for isis. this story has gone viral through social media made over a million share within 48 hours.
Short introduction to MYSCHOOL
Meet our audience, visiting refugees’ camp after one year of having MYSCHOOL on SAT-7 KIDS channel
SAT-7 ACADEMY website.

I was so heartened by the forward-thinking and generous spirit of this network, which offers a future of hope to families even in the most dire circumstances. Since we share offices with Mideast Evangelical Church now, I am learning even more of the many proactive and creative ways they participate in mission, here in Southern California, through international networks with educational and Christian inspirational programming, and with mission trips where they can share the good news of salvation and healing in Jesus Christ to people who have been isolated from the gospel.

You know that a couple of years ago, MEC sent a team to northern Iraq, and had to cancel a follow-up trip. In the meantime, Rev. Maher Makar was asked to go to Tunisia in North Africa. Tunisia does not have much of a Protestant Christian presence yet, so the Christian communities are small, underdeveloped, and lacking in leadership. It was sad for Maher to go there and wonder what will happen after he left. He is discerning what the next steps might be for evangelizing in this small nation, which turned out to be fairly tolerant and supportive of their work. (The government actually sent peace officers to ensure the mission team was safe as they met and baptized new Christians.)

Please pray for the Christians in the Middle East and North Africa, and for guidance and support for MEC as they seek to discern God’s will for their gifts of Christian love and charity that crosses bounds of nation, religion, and history.

I invite you to contact Ray Heinan at Sat-7 or Maher Makar at MEC if you are interested in learning more, or having them speak at your church. Their contact information is:

Ray Henain: rayhenain@sat7.org; www.sat7usa.org
Maher Makar: mahermakar@gmail.com or mecpasadena@gmail.com; www.mec.church

And please put Oct. 7-8 on your calendar for several special events (scroll down for more info), including a welcoming worship service for MEC in their new home at 9723 Garibaldi Avenue in Temple City. They are asking that presbytery and ecumenical partners come to bless their ministry in this new home. The service begins at their regular worship time, Sunday October 8 at 1:30 p.m. If you want to let them know you’re coming, you can email them at mecpasadena@gmail.com

As my time on the board of the Presbyterian Mission Agency winds down, I look forward to having more time to visit with more of our churches and hear of the many ways you are serving our Savior in your neighborhoods. Praise God for you, and I hope you too feel the desire to praise God for San Gabriel Presbytery!

Blessings, Wendy

Out of Chaos, Hope

Out of Chaos, Hope

It’s been said that one can judge the quality of a society by the way they treat their children and the elderly. In the midst of the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, the strength and the love of the people of Southeast Texas shone brightly, especially as they came to the aid of those who were most vulnerable.

If you have ever been in a country whose language you don’t speak, you know vulnerability. I remember being alone in Japan in a train that stopped suddenly in the Japan Alps. I knew I was the only person on the train who didn’t speak Japanese. I tried to manage my panic until an older woman handed me a candy. Though I didn’t know what emergency instructions might be said, at least there was another human being who knew I was there!

So I loved watching an announcement from the Houston officials, who spoke mostly in English, and some in Spanish-but throughout, whether Spanish or English was spoken, everything was interpreted handily in sign language.

And there were dramatic images of people carrying children and pets (one man carried his son, who in turn had a dog on his lap), and extra care for the elderly and those with disabilities.

College student Austin Seth read on Facebook the call for anyone with a boat to come help rescue people from the floods. He drove an hour from his home in Lake Jackson and allowed a CNN reporter, Ed Lavandera (video), to ride in his boat to get a better sense of the situation in Dickinson. Ed pointed out evidence that people were rescued from their roofs, including several homes where the people clearly chopped through the roof to escape their attics.

About 5 pm Austin and Ed were on their way out when they heard a woman calling to them. While they were on the air, the woman first handed one dog to Ed, who was able to bring the dog into the boat while still giving his update. Then an elderly man, the woman’s father, walked out with a cane. The water was chest high, and the entrance to the boat was higher than that. Austin had jumped into the water and entered the house, because the woman went to get her mother, who had Alzheimer’s.

Ed first tried to pull the father into the boat but clearly that would not work. Austin came up and gently asked, “I can lift you up, if that’s okay?” He said yes and they brought the father into the boat. After bringing in another dog, Ed told the anchorwoman that they should cut away until they checked the condition of the mother. On the web, they did show the mother, who did express concern about her looks, to which Ed answered, “You look great!” The sensitivity shown by the young volunteer and this news reporter preserved not only the lives but the dignity of this family.

Our prayers go to the thousands of people who have lost so much in the wake of the hurricane and floods. Personally, I thought of our sisters and brothers of New Covenant Presbytery, where my friend Lynn Hargrove is part-time Stated Clerk. Their long-time executive Mike Cole has retired, and the position is still vacant, so Lynn posted the following on their website:

Harvey shows no signs of leaving our presbytery yet. Please know that Presbyterian Disaster Assistance plans to be here later this week. Our offices are closed on Monday, and possibly longer. Please email, use our Facebook page, or call cell phones. Our disaster preparedness team will be contacting you. Pastors and clerks have been asked to provide updates. People from across the country are praying for us.

So as those in leadership seek out those in need, let us continue to pray, let us be inspired to help those in our neighborhoods who need help, and let us pledge support, now and on-going, to these Harvey survivors, as they rebuild their lives.

Your partner in prayer and in action,

Wendy

When God Intervenes

When God Intervenes

 

 

I know this is proof texting (digging around the Bible to find a quote to fit your purposes, even if it doesn’t reflect the meaning of the Scripture), but I couldn’t resist thinking about the attention put to this morning’s solar eclipse. Certainly such an event could bring great fear among those who do not understand the systematic design of the universe that incorporates it. This fear can only be exacerbated by yet another collision of a US Navy ship in the ocean around Asia which just occurred.

But even if today’s events portend the end of the world as we know it, for Christians (and all those who suffer from the brokenness of the world) are to celebrate it. Indeed, this prediction is followed by Jesus’ conclusion that “when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28) By the way, if we don’t welcome the end of the world as we know it, we may consider if we are on the rich young man’s side of God’s preferential option for the poor.

What we often forget is that for something new and significant to happen, there needs to be a discontinuous break-that is, change, such that your old maps and logic don’t work anymore. That can be scary for many, and a loss for those who loved the “good old days”-or at least the memory of them. I have noticed this when a church makes a significant change, even a good one, as long-time members miss aspects of the old way they did church.

The Bible is filled with moments when God intervenes in human history, which results in a reversal of existing power structures. I’m sure you have noticed how often messengers from heaven start their announcement to us mortals with “Do not fear!” This happens, of course, in the stories of Christ’s birth as well as Christ’s resurrection-both miraculous moments of total upheaval. They are moments of unprecedented change, but since we look back on it, it is change that we celebrate.

In our lives, many of us have seen great change that may be good but also stunning. Consider the shock of the new when people immigrate to the United States. The radically different culture of the United States can upend the traditional values of the immigrant family. Also, those with professions in their home country may not enjoy the same status in the US, and parental authority may be challenged when children are asked to take on adult responsibilities because of their English language abilities.

Recently there seems to be a simmering war between those who most fear the changes in our society. But I can sense some of the fear they are feeling. When talking about diversity, I often think how hard it can be to welcome in people of different cultures-not just for them to assimilate to our ways, but to be open to the change a new culture might introduce. I think about the revulsion many Asians had to drinking the milk of another mammal, which one person likened to drinking blood. Yet when the US occupied Japan after World War II, they introduced milk, which resulted in an increase in height and bone health-and a learning that many Asians are lactose-intolerant.

By contrast, what if someone who drank only milk their whole lives was offered a glass of lemonade? That person might think they were being poisoned! And so those who were raised thinking that America at its best is filled with a certain demographic would become concerned when they realize that the nation’s population is much changed. And the moment when the US will no longer be a white-majority nation is coming soon, and has already arrived in, for instance, San Gabriel Valley. Not only that, the non-white populace is gaining in status, most vividly demonstrated by the first African-American President. Add to this the rapid acceptance of people of different sexual orientations, even to the point of military commanders speaking out in favor of transgendered people in our armed forces. The changes really have been breathtaking-and for some, the changes have been shocking.

But again, change can be scary but also good. How do we manage our fear when confronted with a new world, even if it turns out to be a wonderful new birth? Recently our national church has responded to the violence at Charlottesville with several resources, which I share here:

  1. A letter to the Church was offered by Co-Moderators T. Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston, Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, and PMA Interim Executive Tony De La Rosa. If you’d like to read it, click here.
  2. There are many different resources developed to help churches learn about and deal with racism, and they can be accessed at one website, facingracism.org.
  3. For those who want to take much more direct action, the Office of Public Witness is organizing a day of advocacy in Washington, DC, on September 12. They have also announced next year’s Ecumenical Advocacy Days for April 20-23, 2018. The PC(USA) has been a key leader of this annual event, which is acknowledged as a gift to the larger church. You can go to their OPW webpage for general information and resources.

These reflect a few of the ways we Christians can face a changed future of any kind. We can learn from our leaders and resources developed by sisters and brothers in the faith. We can step forward in faith, knowing that our encounters with God are often realized when we step outside our comfort zones. And, of course, we can always pray for comfort and guidance, we can read Scripture to learn more of God’s will for the world, and we can share our concerns and our wisdom with our community of faith.

In these unusual times, when so much change offers both promise and concern, may we continue to be strengthened by the enduring love of Jesus Christ, and may we share that love with this worrying world.

In faith,

Wendy

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.

Charlottesville

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,

Wendy