Righteous Indignation

Let them curse, but you will bless.
Let my assailants be put to shame; may your servant be glad.

Psalm 109:28

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.

Romans 12:17

Lately it seems I’ve been spending more time with lawyers than with pastors or elders.  A week ago, I spent Wednesday with the Sheriff and Friday at court, on two different issues.

When I have mentioned this to others, they sometimes assume it’s due to some problem within the church.  The recent report on sex abuse by clergy in Pennsylvania gives credence to such assumptions.  So I guess the one good thing about these cases is that neither situation was caused by conflict within the body, but by persistent, malicious attempts to take advantage of our churches.

Indeed, this may be the first time I’ve encountered such intentional persecution.  All my life I’ve joked that I’m a walking security risk because I’ve been pretty trusting, and thank God I’ve had plenty of reasons to think the best of others.  I’ve left purses in shops and restaurants only to have people run to bring them to me, and I’ve left keys in the doors of cars and houses, yet I’ve never faced the kinds of concerted campaigns to persecute us as we’re dealing with now.

Even with conflicts within the church, I tend to believe that the opponents are trying to be faithful, but they have differing perspectives or kinds of brokenness that distort a virtuous intent.

So as I continue to battle these forces that persevere in defrauding or stealing property entrusted to our churches, I am also battling to discern Christ’s way in facing these attackers.

My response so far is evolving, and by no means do I share this as some perfect model of Christian ethics in action, but it is important for us to examine how life’s challenges affect us and our faith, and how our faith guides our responses to life’s challenges.

Since both of these issues have required action in civil law, it is easy to feel helpless and dependent on the experts, our attorneys.  We have two attorneys working with us.  Both are dedicated Christians; one is an elder who is married to a pastor, and the other is taking seminary classes.  But in a past situation, I had to deal with an attorney who charged forward like a raging bull without concern for preserving relationships, Christ’s call for mercy, or for that matter depleting our financial, spiritual, and human resources.  My experience back from my “Managers and the Law” class at Apple Computer is that while lawyers counsel the client, it’s ultimately the client’s decision whether to follow the lawyer’s advice.  [The other important learning from that class was the immense respect our system has for separation of church and state—so civil courts do not want to interfere with church governance, as long as the church follows its written policies.  Good advice for us, to have written policies we can live with, and to follow them.]  Thank God for attorneys who can hear our peculiar understanding of mercy as well as justice.  For instance, our current corporate president wanted to shield some people who were caught up in one conflict; it was the attorney who remembered to make a point of making that happen with the court.

Another common response to violations against us is to seek revenge, or become overly protective in the future.  Of course the prayer Jesus taught us includes the plea to “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”—or “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”  So while we Christians are called to forgive, we are tempted to close up our churches and our hearts from anyone else who might do us harm.  One of the great challenges to church growth is our attempts to protect our churches from those we believe to be risky, which may include those who look like someone who has hurt us in the past, or someone who behaves or dresses in an unusual manner, or whose language or background are unfamiliar.  What about those we know to have done harm in the past?

When I was a Stated Clerk, I held an annual training for the clerks of session, and gave a little quiz.  My favorite trick question was “True or False:  The Book of Order states that no person shall be denied membership to a church unless they are deemed to be dangerous to the welfare or unity of the congregation.”  I was impressed that some clerks knew this to be false.  G-1.0302  states:

No person shall be denied membership for any reason not related to profession of faith.  The Gospel leads members to extend the fellowship of Christ to all persons.  Failure to do so constitutes a rejection of Christ himself and causes a scandal to the Gospel.

This mandate causes us to welcome, among other people, registered sex offenders.  So the savvy clerks shared how their churches have developed methods to protect their churches while also welcoming those who have been known to do harm to others.

In my experience, this is the crux of our problem:  how do we combine forgiveness with accountability?  Too often I have counseled churches with elders or staff who have been problematic, and the session’s response has been to either look the other way, or to seek exclusion.  It’s hard to take the third way of addressing the issue directly, respectfully, compassionately, and decisively.  To look the other way for fear of conflict gives the offender—and the rest of the church—the signal that the negative behavior (such as bullying or gossiping) is acceptable, even effective.  Abusive husbands who were “forgiven” by a conflict-avoiding church have said this allowed them to continue their abusive behavior.  To exclude those who offend us denies our call to be forgiving and welcoming.

Remember, all are welcome, but not all have the gifts to lead.  And all are welcome, but no one has the right to break the sacredness of the church as sanctuary, as refuge.

So how do we as Christians welcome all, forgive even those who sin against us, but also care for all that have been entrusted to us?  As our world becomes increasingly diverse, as our church traditions go through fundamental change, and as more and more people have less and less respect for the church, we all must consider how to deal with this challenge.  We can look to the early church for guidance, when Jews were expected to welcome Gentiles, ex-slaves were asked to forgive their masters, and Christians came to be led by one who tried to kill them.  While the early church did not have the task and benefit of stewarding the abundant wealth of the PC(USA), Jesus told several parables about servants being entrusted with property.  So we do have guidance, and ancestors in faith to learn from.

May we live out our faith as welcoming, caring, forgiving people to all we encounter.  May we have the perseverance to protect and use wisely the gifts entrusted to us.  And may we always look to Christ for guidance and salvation, as we continue to seek to serve him in a world that does not know him.

Blessings, and prayers for you and your churches,



Katie Cannon

Katie Cannon

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel.

Micah 5:2a

Today I intended to write about the Presbyterian Church’s tradition and perspective on civic engagement.  While some live by a popular rule to never discuss religion and politics, those of us from the Reformed tradition have believed otherwise, which may be why we’re known for our vigorous and persistent debates.  We cannot forget that our theological forebear, John Calvin, was trained in the law and held great political and religious influence in Geneva, Switzerland.  As Reformed Christians, we believe not only in praying for a blessed afterlife, but also engaging in the world to carry out Christ’s mission of justice and compassion.

I wanted to point to some helpful resources from the PC(USA) in case you and your church are interested in promoting open and fair elections this November.  There is a list of resources to consult on issues related to voter education, voter registration, and guidelines for churches to act as 501(c)(3) non-profits; you can find it here.

For a summary of what is and is not permissible, you can consult the Election Checklist from bolderadvocacy.org.

I know many of our churches open their doors as polling places, which is great.  If you are interested in partnering with another church in providing nonpartisan workshops or other election support activities, please let me or Wendy Gist know.

I also wanted to remind folks that we have the great opportunity to hear first-hand from a leader in Haiti who coordinates local work in promoting agriculture, environmental improvements, clean water, and education.  What a great benefit it is to have Fabienne Jean, coordinator of Hands Together Foundation, come to our Presbytery this September.  Please contact Liz Daley of Calvary Presbyterian in South Pasadena if you want to invite Ms. Jean and World Mission Co-Worker Cindy Correll to your church September 22-26.  Scroll down for more information, and contact Liz at Liz@Daley.name to schedule a visit.

Another timely opportunity is coming up August 23, 9 am—noon.  The Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health is holding a light networking breakfast for local faith leaders—pastors, staff, and volunteers.  The presentation is on “Spirituality and Mental Health:  What can we learn from each other?” and will be presented by John M. Warrington, PhD.  The County has some good resources on working with those struggling with mental illness, especially among our homeless population, and they have occasionally reached out to provide resources to our churches.  I recommend you attend this, as these workshops don’t happen often.  The meeting is at Covina Community Church, 1551 E. Old Badillo Street, Covina 91724.  RSVP by August 20 to Evelyn Lemus at ELemus@dmh.lacounty.gov or (626) 430-2937 or Vicki Xu at yxu@dmh.lacounty.gov or (626) 430-2938.

But today, I want to honor Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon, who passed away of leukemia last Wednesday.  Most recently, Katie was the Annie Scales Rogers Professor of Christian Ethics at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Virginia, and a foremost scholar of womanist theology and ethics.  By raising the voices of African-American women, she enriched the Christian church in ways only God can quantify.  Katie was ordained in 1974, the first African-American woman ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Several people, especially women of color, have shared memories of Katie and her impact on their lives and ministry, among them Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett, president of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and Rev. Dr. Rhashell Hunter, director of Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries.  Rev. T. Denise Anderson, recent co-moderator of the General Assembly, wrote a beautiful remembrance of Dr. Cannon, remembering the liberating moment when she heard her say “Even when they call your truth a lie, tell it anyway! Tell it anyway!”

Denise writes:

The moment I heard her say that, that was the moment my truth-telling ministry began. That was the day I stopped trying to shrink myself to fit a mold that was too small for me. That was the day I lost my appetite for the crumbs that fall from the table. That was the day I grabbed my chair, pulled it to the table and took my seat. . . .

If you have ever benefited from the ministerial leadership of black women in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), you have Katie Geneva Cannon to thank for that. She opened the door for us. She gave this church pastors, chaplains, theologians, professors, ethicists, executives — and moderators. She was the midwife to our ministries. In telling her story, she gave us permission and courage to tell our own.

I had my own brief and empowering encounter with Dr. Cannon, who was tireless and generous in her work to support not only her students at seminary, but so many people around our church, especially those who were not sure this church was open to us.  I was helping to host a meeting of Presbyterian women college students, and Katie was there to share her wisdom and encouragement.  Katie had a way of being real in all that God made her—an academic, a pastor, a theologian, yes, but she never forgot that her roots, her identity, came from her Black Presbyterian family in rural North Carolina.  She shared her sharp wit as she navigated the sometimes hostile waters of academia, uncharted by Black women until she came along.  She shared how, as among the first African-American women to earn a PhD from Union Theological Seminary in New York, professors would question her intelligence, writing on her papers, “Good work.  Who helped you with this paper?”  She also critiqued the narrowness of the Western academic tradition, including the common expectation that theologians study German, saying “I wondered why I needed to learn German in order to write about poor Black women in the South.”  Finally, I always smile at her family’s adventures attending the wedding of her nephew, Nick Cannon, to singer Mariah Carey!

As I reflect on her life, I marvel at the ways that God can work through all of us in amazing ways, and how that work can be magnified through the lives we touch.  God delights especially in working through those of us who are young and small like the shepherd-king David, or unimportant places like Bethlehem, the little country of Israel, or even young Black girls from Kannapolis, North Carolina, like Katie Cannon.

I close with the woman who inspired me to write this column, because she herself wrote a moving tribute to her mentor.  Dr. Charlene Jin Lee, a Korean-American scholar, had a deep connection with Katie Cannon from her time as a PhD student at Union Virginia.  She writes:

It was my first doctoral seminar in Dr. Cannon’s classroom on the second floor of Watts Hall where I found my voice. The agency and substance of my voice. Dr. Cannon amplified it by adding hers to mine then fading away until one day I heard the fullness of my solo sound, at times with boom boom, surprising myself at the cadence and rhythm of my own truths. . . .

She is the kind of teacher-woman-scholar I want to emulate. And in the years since, in every classroom, behind every lectern and pulpit, I have made my earnest attempt. . . . I realize that what I was ultimately emulating was her radical generosity, genuine curiosity, deliberate attention: her love. There was poetry in her majestic, humble way.

In gratitude for Dr. Cannon’s generosity, Charlene shared some of the wisdom she remembers:

Prepare. Always prepare. Go prepared. You must be doubly prepared, for you are required to be expert of the truth occupying the structural center and expert of your own truth: “Read even when the lights are out.”

Listen. Listen attentively. But don’t listen for too long. Speak. Interrupt. Announce!

Don’t be stingy with time for people, for conversation, for relationship.

Don’t be stingy with affirmation and encouragement.

“People’s rejection is God’s protection.”

It is possible to be simultaneously an astute theologian, a church woman, a lover. All with integrity.

And I say, Read Katie’s Canon! (especially, Appendix: Exposing My Home Point of View).

Charlene Jin Lee is in fact carrying out Katie Cannon’s legacy.  I met Charlene when she joined the SFTS faculty here in Southern California.  She taught the incoming seminarians in the integrated “Introduction to Ministry” course that, according to several students, was a life-changing experience for them.  She also teaches in the Doctor of Ministry program at SFTS, again helping experience pastors to open their eyes to their identity, their calling, as practical theologians.  Charlene has returned to church work, now at Brentwood Presbyterian, as well as sharing her life with husband Rev. Dr. James Lee, president of International Theological Seminary and their three children.

Consider the people who have been impacted directly by Katie Cannon, and the countless people whose faith lives have been formed and affirmed by them.  All from one Black woman from the rural South.  What an example of God’s glory shining forth throughout Christ’s church!

May you take up your place in spreading the life-giving love of Jesus Christ in your life, and may you have a glimpse of the ways your story has lifted up the lives of others.

Thank God for Katie Cannon, and thank God for you,



Poor People’s Campaign

Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debts. There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the Lord is sure to bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession to occupy.

– Matthew 6:11

Yesterday I was listening to a sermon from a UCC pastor about the Poor People’s Campaign:  A National Call for Moral Revival.  This movement is a renewed action to further the original Poor People’s Campaign, founded 50 years ago by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was convicted by this sermon because one of the co-chairs of this campaign is Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, a PC(USA) teaching elder in New York City, and I have failed to share her important work with San Gabriel Presbytery, while the UCC is doing so.

I don’t remember if I mentioned that this summer’s General Assembly was begun with a Bible study led by Rev. Theoharis, who is dedicated to eliminating the structural causes of poverty in the United States.  Her book, Always with Us?: What Jesus Really Said about the Poor, was recommended by our former co-moderators to the denomination for book study this year.  It is not a “how-to” book on working with the poor, but looks more at theological misunderstandings that Christians have used to turn away from God’s repeated call to fight poverty.

Rev. Theoharis’ co-chair for the Poor People’s Campaign is Rev. Dr William Barber II, a Disciples of Christ pastor who has been the president of the North Carolina NAACP since 2006, the founder of “Moral Mondays,” and one of the most important voices for human rights in the United States today.  You can find a summary of the motivation of the Poor People’s Campaign, and some key challenges to the ways all of us are dehumanized in the current world system, in its Moral Agenda.  And you can download a copy of an analysis of poverty in the United States, The Souls of Poor Folk, here.

You probably know by now I like to use statistics to illustrate the scope of an issue, so here are the Poor People’s Campaign’s estimates of poor or low-income people in our nation, based on a methodology called Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM).

43.5 percent of the U.S. population — or 140 million people — were poor or low-income in 2016. Our government does not provide information under the SPM on poverty and low-income status for all races, gender identities, or sexual identities. However, according to existing data from the SPM for 2016, the 140 million people who were poor or low-income include:

  • 9% of children under the age of 18 (38.2 million children)
  • 7% of adults between the ages of 18-64 (81.5 million adults)
  • 5% of our elders over the age of 65 (20.8 million elders)
  • 45% of women and girls (73.5 million people)
  • 9% of White people (67.1 million people)
  • 3% of Black people (25.9 million people)
  • 1% of Latinx people (37.4 million people)
  • 1% of Asian people (7.6 million people)

There is grossly inadequate information on the poverty and low-income status of First Nations, Native Americans, Alaskan Native, LGBTQIA and disabled people in this country.

But it has been estimated that Native Americans, people with disabilities, and transgender people experience poverty at double the rate of the general population.

The Poor People’s Campaign has developed demands that reflect several interrelated concerns:

  • Systemic Racism
  • Poverty and Inequality
  • Ecological Devastation
  • War Economy and Militarism
  • National Morality.

I share this information not to urge you just to join the Poor People’s Campaign, but to consider how God is calling you and your church to eliminate poverty in your community.  I, like others, have tended to assume that Jesus’ comment “you always have the poor with you” means that there’s no reason to attempt to eliminate poverty, but to simply be charitable.  But rather than resigning ourselves to persistent poverty, God calls us to go outside our comfort zones in order to open our hands in generosity, that all people may live in safety and peace.  As Elizabeth Ann Seton, founder of the Sisters of Charity, said:  “Live simply, so that all may simply live.”

Every Sunday we say the Lord’s Prayer.  I always consider how our tradition—unlike some others—uses the word “debts” in the phrase “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  Other traditions will replace this with trespasses or sins.  I believe our use of this term is Biblical not only in the Matthean text, but more importantly it is a sign that Presbyterians have taken seriously God’s call for debt forgiveness as a method of economic restorative justice.  Are we willing to live this out, by giving not as an investment or a loan, but as a faithful response to God’s call to share God’s blessings with all people?

I have heard compelling reasons for Christians to give to the poor in front of them (eg, Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement), or to fight for systemic change (eg, Liz Theoharis and William Barber and the Poor People’s Campaign).  I don’t know that there is one perfect answer for all of us.  Like all our responses in faith and obedience, it is up to us to discern God’s guidance for ourselves and our churches.  I do believe that God will use us as long as we turn to God in humility and openness whenever we pray.  May it be so.

May God continue to bless you, as you bless others,



What Is a Pastor, part 2

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

–Isaiah 6:8

Last week I was so excited about the incoming group of new pastors, I made two big mistakes:  I spoke too loosely about the searches, and I committed to writing a follow-up column on the topic of pastoral leadership.

It’s ironic that I spoke so loosely, as I always go to great lengths to repeatedly teach, implore, and demand that pastor nominating committees take confidentiality extremely seriously.  So it’s a humbling moment for me to experience how things get out of hand when dealing with such important information as a pastor search.

The second is in committing to writing on this topic again.  I am so undisciplined a writer (as one can guess, looking back at the random variety of topics in this column) that it’s a week later, and I can’t remember what was so urgent that I felt the need to speak to this!  This also happens those very few occasions when I have to write a sermon several days in advance of preaching it.  By the time the worship service comes around, the sermon seems stale already, and I have a hard time connecting with the words.

But I don’t like to disappoint, so let me speak to my totally non-scientific perspectives on pastors.  I will structure the discussion by commenting on some common terms for pastors.  I start with the qualification that this is a fairly random set of thoughts, so if I have left something out, or you have questions or issue with my views, let me know.

  • Pastor:  This is the title that the Presbyterian Church uses for a teaching elder/minister of word and sacrament who serves a congregation.  On the one hand, it distinguishes a pastor from other ministries, such as hospital chaplain, professor, writer, non-profit leader, or service to the church outside the congregation (eg, mid-council or national staff).  But a pastoral function can sometimes focus on the caring ministry, which is critical for any congregational leader but may overlook other important functions such as teacher, administrator, change agent, or community leader.

By the way, the technical term for a solo or lead pastor in the PC(USA) is “Pastor” and other pastors on staff, including associates, are called “Other Pastor.”  There is no official designation for “Senior Pastor”—the lead pastor among a multi-pastor staff is more commonly called “Head of Staff.”  I think this acknowledges the administrative function but tries to represent parity between pastors in their sense of call.  You’ll notice below that the installation vows are exactly the same for pastor or associate pastor.

  • Preacher:  I happen to believe that the preaching function is very important in leading a congregation.  It seems to me that the PC(USA) has downplayed the preaching function in favor of critical factors like institutional dependability and credentials.  I hope it’s not because we’ve given up encouraging pastors to focus on preaching as perhaps the most important role they have in shaping and guiding the life of a congregation.  In seminary I heard of one theory that the preacher develops the shared memory of the congregation, and I definitely have seen congregations making significant changes based on one enlightening sermon.

On the other hand, preaching is not the only function of the pastor, and when pastors get in trouble with a congregation, it’s usually not from their preaching.  I joke that just about anyone can behave for one hour a week, so you usually don’t have problems with pastors in worship.  While preaching is very important, it cannot make up for other needs such as effective session leadership, leadership development, pastoral care, or modeling the integrity of Christian life.

  • Teacher:  When I first heard the term “Teaching Elder,” I really disliked it.  I personally feel more called to the sacramental role of “Minister of Word and Sacrament.”  But in my administrative function as presbytery executive, I have come to appreciate the way that the title “Teaching Elder” challenges pastors to teach and empower the church members to carry out the ministry of the church.  Too often I have seen how weak and dependent a church can become, especially with a long-term, “highly functioning” pastor, even to the point where the remaining session cannot remember how to lock up the building!

The pastor must remember to prioritize teaching, delegating, sharing decision-making, and other body-building approaches to ministry.  It is often harder to NOT do the task at hand, but to enable and encourage others, especially if others are not as well-trained to do it—or the pastor is the only one paid to tend to the church.  But the long-term health of a church requires faithful, informed, and active shared leadership.

  • Shepherd:  I personally resist this term, because the image that comes to my mind is that of a human shepherd in the role of tending to and controlling sheep.  Pastors are not some other species of being, totally separate and in charge of the congregation, and the Presbyterian view of church membership is exactly opposite of that of a flock of sheep.  A better biblical image is that Jesus Christ is the shepherd; pastors might be the “mother sheep” or educated sheep.  While the pastor’s membership is with the Presbytery, we are strong believers in the priesthood of all believers, so I think any image that denigrates the authority of church members is dangerous, even when it’s the church membership wanting to abdicate this authority.


  • Administrator:  Pastors, especially Presbyterian pastors, are required to spend significant time in administrative functions.  When I graduated from seminary, the main critique I gave was the lack of training in church administration, especially in the areas of finance, staff/volunteer management, and effective leadership of meetings and groups.  My seminary’s response was that they expect this to be learned in the internship.  But so many current pastors are equally ill-prepared to guide others in this function that they either ignore this in their internship supervision, or their lesson is “this is how I mess up.”  I believe that pastors who are intimidated by what they don’t understand in, say, a financial statement are apt to give it more weight out of fear, or they cannot manage financial matters within a gospel context.  To me, some critical issues of justice are lived out or missed in the areas of personnel management or finances.  Anyone can be holy in worship, but it takes a bit more effort to apply Kingdom principles to budgets and staff compensation, investment decisions, or even how a session meeting is facilitated.

These are the most common ways we view the pastoral function.  I have other thoughts, but again I’ve run out of space.  I hope to return to this topic again, perhaps next week or some other time.  But let me close with another excerpt from the Constitution, this time from the Directory for Worship, W-4.04, which are the vows given during an installation.  They are helpful for any pastoral relationship.

W-4.0404i(3) (For minister of the Word and Sacrament†)  Will you be a faithful minister of the Word and Sacrament†, proclaiming the good news in Word and Sacrament, teaching faith and caring for people?  Will you be active in government and discipline, serving in the councils of the church; and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?

Following the affirmative answers to the questions asked of the person(s) being installed, a ruling elder shall face the congregation along with the (associate) pastor-elect and ask the congregation to answer the following questions:

  1. Do we, the members of the church, accept [name] as our (associate) pastor, chosen by God through the voice of this congregation to guide us in the way of Jesus Christ?
  2. Do we agree to pray for [her/him], to encourage [her/him], to respect [her/his] decisions, and to follow as [she/he] guides us, serving Jesus Christ, who alone is Head of the Church?
  3. Do we promise to pay [her/him] fairly and provide for [her/his] welfare as [she/he] works among us; to stand by [her/him] in trouble and share [her/his] joys?  Will we listen to the Word [she/he] preaches, welcome [her/his] pastoral care, and honor [her/his] authority as [she/he] seeks to honor and obey Jesus Christ our Lord?

May all our relationships as pastors and congregations honor and obey the One we serve, Jesus Christ our Lord.




What Is a Pastor?

Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.

–1 Timothy 4:13-14

We are rejoicing in a bumper crop of new pastors this month, and it’s a joy to anticipate seeing new colleagues-and very gifted ones at that-coming into the life of our congregations and the Presbytery.

On July 1, Erik Dailey began his work as temporary pastor for Eagle Rock Presbyterian, and Ralph Su began his work as temporary pastor for Good Shepherd Presbyterian in Monterey Park. Actually, neither Erik or Ralph are new to the Presbytery. Erik, of course, has been pastoring Occidental, so he is now serving both of our Eagle Rock churches (this is called a “yoked” pastorate). Ralph was ordained in 1999 by us to serve as associate pastor for Good Shepherd. He has since become a greatly respected pastor, having served in several different states, and returns to us from San Jose Presbytery.

This last weekend, both Claremont Presbyterian and San Marino Community called new associate pastors. Claremont called Brian Gaeta-Symonds, a member of Pacific Presbytery. (By the way, Brian is an alumnus of the old SFTS-Southern California campus in Pasadena and was on staff of the New Theological Seminary of the West.) Both of these calls are what we Presbyterians tend to consider the “norm” but which now seem rare: an installed associate pastor called after a nationwide search, with an undesignated term. And hot off the press, Shepherd of the Valley’s session will be requesting that we ordain Deidra Goulding to be temporary co-pastor-and there may be more in the future!

As you can see, we will have a lot to celebrate at our next Presbytery meeting, September 15 at Calvary Presbyterian in South Pasadena. We will also be welcoming Tod Bolsinger, Vice President of Fuller Seminary, and examining for ordination Stephanie Kang, one of our candidates who has become a highly-valued hospital chaplain and parish associate for First Presbyterian Altadena.

Other churches are seeking new pastors as well, and almost always a session member will comment on the critical importance of finding the right pastor, usually saying something along the lines of the pastor having the power to build, resurrect, or destroy the church.

When such a statement gets made, a teaching elder in the room will respond with something like “No, only God has that power” or “The pastor is only one person; in our tradition we need all church members to work together for the leadership of the church.” A regular joke for Presbyterian pastors is that the only authority we have is to pick the hymns for Sunday (which I know is not even true at many churches). Indeed, a common complaint or frustration for non-Presbyterians coming into our system is what they consider the stultifying inefficiency of this kind of shared governance model-I remember a seminarian asking “how do they ever get anything done” when Presbyterian pastors have to consult the session all the time (and he didn’t even know how often they have to consult the Presbytery as well).

So what is the right answer? I have often thought about this question, but especially as presbytery staff, I believe it very important to help churches find and work with the right pastor. I don’t have enough room in this column to share my personal thoughts, so I will try to remember to take up this topic next week. In preparation, let me close with what the Constitution of the PC(USA) says about the role of pastor. See below, and note that I formatted the text in order to facilitate reading, but I did not change any words.

In the meantime, please join me in congratulating these churches and pastors, praying for them in their ministry partnership, and greeting them on September 15.




G-2.0504 Pastoral Relationships

When ministers of the Word and Sacramentare called as pastor, co-pastor, or associate pastor of a congregation, they are to be responsible for a quality of life and relationships that commends the gospel to all persons and that communicates its joy and justice. They are responsible

  • for studying, teaching, and preaching the Word,
  • for celebrating Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and
  • for praying with and for the congregation.

With the ruling elders, they are

  • to encourage people in the worship and service of God;
  • to equip and enable them for their tasks within the church and their mission in the world;
  • to exercise pastoral care, devoting special attention to the poor, the sick, the troubled, and the dying;
  • to participate in governing responsibilities, including leadership of the congregation in implementing the principles of participation and inclusiveness in the decision-making life of the congregation, and its task of reaching out in concern and service to the life of the human community as a whole.

With the deacons they are

  • to share in the ministries of compassion, witness, and service.

In addition to these pastoral duties, they are responsible for sharing in the ministry of the church in councils higher than the session and in ecumenical relationships.