Presbytery Meeting Notes

Presbytery Meeting Notes

For the LORD’s anger is but for a moment;
    God’s favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.

Psalm 30:5

After weeks of heat, smoke, ash, and flames, I stepped outside for a bit on Saturday morning and thought I was hallucinating. The air was cool and damp; in fact it was misting! It felt like a miracle, and was a wonderful reminder of God’s providence before our Presbytery meeting this last weekend.

Our Saturday meeting was our second Zoom-based meeting, and we continued to look for ways to utilize the possibilities of meeting through the internet. We were able to meet and receive Lisa Hansen, new pastor and head of staff for

Pasadena Presbyterian Church, as she was on the road on her way from Texas to California. On the suggestion of GA commissioner N’Yisrela Watts-Afriyie, we also gave people a glimpse of the first on-line General Assembly by playing videos of Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, which we played for our opening prayer and benediction.

We also experienced the video production talents of several of our younger Presbytery members such as Becca Bateman, who produced videos for the Tapestry Youth Work Week

and the upcoming WinterFest training event. As a couple of us remarked via chat, the WinterFest video made us tear up out of love and gratitude for our San Gabriel Presbytery. Ally Lee coordinated the Call to Worship, led by youth and children from several of our churches. Lauren Evans produced the Scripture readings in Korean, Arabic, Kikuyu, Thai, Farsi and German, hearing the voices of San Gabriel members and friends: Heidi Park (from Seoul), Maher Makar (from Temple City), Priscilla Ngunju (from South Pasadena), Esther Wakeman (from Chiang Mai), and Ryan White (from Berlin).

And Lauren and Jennifer Ackerman produced music videos for worship.

Several of these videos are being offered as parts of a World Communion Sunday virtual service, which will be available for churches early this week. We have enjoyed receiving musical offerings from several churches as well, so churches can choose the music they want, and all or select parts of the worship service. If you’d like to see what is available and download what you want, go to https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1J_ef_B3rZlMeA8mjF0S0eKuOTW8vJJ8N?usp=sharing.

With the WinterFest video, our Education, Equipping, and Empowerment Committee announced a new approach this coming year. Rather than one day, where attendees are limited to only two workshops, this WinterFest will be held throughout the week of February 1-6, 2021, all online. The sessions will be recorded, and saved as the beginnings of a resource library of trainings on diverse topics for church leaders. And the week culminates in a plenary celebration and worship service on Saturday, February 6. Details and registration information will be available at https://sangabpres.org/wf/

We also met several new friends who are helping us with some new initiatives. Rae Huang, lead organizer with LA Voice, described the voter education work they are doing, and the inaugural Belong Circle, a relationship-building small group approach to help us connect better across differences. We will start the first group on October 13 with a select group of leaders to “beta test” this curriculum.

Tapestry is organizing a larger Belong Circle for youth, and we are inviting young people from any of our churches to participate. Contact Ashley Roque at mailto:ashleylroque@gmail.com if you are interested.

LA Voice has also played a crucial role in helping us envision an exciting new use for the site of our Baldwin Park church property. We hope to use this property for affordable housing and transitional housing for asylum seekers. We are grateful for the multiple ways our mission work is strengthened through our partnership with LA Voice, so this meeting’s offering was designated towards LA Voice; if you would like to contribute, go to https://sangabpres.org/donate/ and designate your gift “to Presbytery Offering” and we will send it to them.

Speaking of asylum seekers, Kristi Van Nostran gave an update on our Immigrant Accompaniment Ministry.  What an inspiration!  This past year we helped 85 people transition out of Adelanto Detention Center, and when we were able, Kristi hosted visits to Adelanto, enabling us to show our support in person. This ministry has been so effective that we received a grant from a mission partner in Claremont, and another year grant from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. This coming year Kristi will be working with San Gabriel and now Riverside Presbytery.

Of course, we heard several reports—on finances, revisions to our Presbytery Employment Handbook, Representation, and we got two excellent perspectives from GA commissioners Maria Cacarnakis and N’Yisrela Watts-Afriyie. Stated Clerk Diane Frasher announced the schedule of Presbytery meetings for 2021: in addition to WinterFest February 1-6, Presbytery meetings will be held January 26 (7 pm), March 20, June 19, September 18, and November 16 (7 pm).

We heard about the funds offered to all churches, to help alleviate the financial challenges from COVID- 19: $2,000 for every active church and fellowship, and 10 churches requesting and receiving $10,000 grants. We also heard from three of the national church agencies: René Myers on the Matthew 25 initiative at Presbyterian Mission Agency, Maggie Harmon from Presbyterian Foundation, and Mickie Choi from Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program; blessings to Mickie especially, as she will be retiring at the end of 2020. And we heard from Veronica Ota from Wyoming, who was enrolled as a CPM Inquirer, and Sam Bang, who will be starting a new worshiping community in Rowland Heights.

As our churches have learned, there are certain advantages to this technology. We are getting better attendance than in physical meetings: 150 participants on Saturday. We are able to connect with friends near and far. We weren’t able to gather at San Marino Community Church, who was scheduled to host us, but San Marino’s Jessica Vaughn Lower celebrated communion with us.

All in all, this meeting gave us inspiring glimpses into the life of our presbytery, highlighted some exciting ministries we are offering, and celebrated the connections with the larger church. In the midst of uncertainty and challenge, our churches and all levels of the Presbyterian Church (USA) are finding ways to be a beacon of hope and light for ourselves and this hurting world, a reflection of the glory of our God. Thanks be to God!

In Christ’s peace,

Wendy

 

Formation

Formation

BListen to me, you that pursue righteousness,
     you that seek the Lord.

Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
    and to the quarry from which you were dug.

Isaiah 51:1

It has been a full month since we received any new orders from the LA County Department of Health. It actually does not feel like that long, but that last big new order (to close worship indoors) was dated July 17, 2020.

Since then, many of us have adjusted our thinking from “when will this end” to “this is the new normal.” Most of our churches seem to be planning to worship online at least until Christmas; one person asked what was so special about December, and I said it’s just a marker far enough into the future that we don’t have to keep wondering whether everything will be turned upside down on a moment’s notice.

In other ways I’ve noticed how life is adjusting to the new normal. Last week, PPC called their head of staff in a well-attended and well-considered congregational meeting via Zoom and landline phone, in three languages. The Presbytery Executive Commission has decided that at least the next two Presbytery meetings, on September 26 and November 17, will be on Zoom. People are making life decisions and contemplating moves, including pastors.

This last weekend was to be my first meeting as a new member of the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission. The meeting happened, though with a few twists. There was a business meeting, and then a hearing, all via Zoom—and the hearing could be viewed via livestream. But since the hearing was on the dispute with SFTS that was raised during this last GA, I recused myself due to my complicated feelings about SFTS. As it turns out, the Synod of the Pacific commissioner is Scott Clark, one of my successors in my position as Associate Dean of SFTS. So we spent the weekend watching and commenting on the hearing, along with almost 500 other observers.

I am guessing that people who have not attended seminary might wonder why there was so much furor over the status of SFTS as a PCUSA seminary. Even I find it remarkable how much stronger is my attachment to SFTS over my other schools, whether undergraduate or my other graduate degree.

I remember going to interim ministry training many years ago, near the height of the controversy over human sexuality. Two other attendees happened to be national leaders on opposite sides of the controversy, and they were known for speaking forcefully in opposite directions. However, upon seeing each other at the training, they hugged each other with joy and asked about their families by name. I asked them about this surprising affection they had for each other, and they explained that they had gone to seminary together, some 40 years prior.

In my years in ministry, I have noticed the indelible impression one’s seminary experience has on their theology, collegial relationships, and views on the PCUSA. One church leader asserted that the vast majority of churches seeking dismissal from the PCUSA were pastored by graduates of non-PCUSA seminaries. I know many pastors, as effective and loyal as any, who graduated from non-PCUSA seminaries. On the other hand, I had a visceral negative reaction to the claim that SFTS was “not a PCUSA seminary.”

Of the many concerns I have about SFTS, one thing I would never imagine is that SFTS is not PCUSA. In fact, after beginning seminary at Fuller and transferring to SFTS, my first reaction was frustration that SFTS functioned as an arm of the PCUSA, which limited its understanding of ministry. I have since learned how much the seminary experience is one of enculturation to the identity and ethos of minister, and how our CPMs count on the seminary to help shape them as pastors consistent with our understanding of Presbyterian ministry.  This also impacts the intangible understandings of the pastoral role that need to be taught to commissioned ruling elders, especially in the power dynamics and boundary responsibilities that pastors must acknowledge and uphold, even in awkward circumstances.

You may not think any of this is important. But I have been burdened lately by the struggles of another seminary that is dear to us, Fuller Theological Seminary. They have sustained severe financial difficulties that were made all the more painful when their move to Pomona fell through. There are members of our own Presbytery whose ministries are being changed or curtailed due to Fuller’s need to cut back their staff, so if nothing else some of our friends and colleagues are facing difficult life decisions. (By the way, the same is happening at the national level of the PCUSA, with 35% cuts being made in Louisville, as a result of severe cuts in shared mission giving, which reflect financial constraints at the local level.

Thank God we have not been experienced this as critically as other presbyteries.)

I have never been strong in the area of Christian Education, but I do see how our families, our churches, and our seminaries have great responsibility to form our members as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. This does not mean forcing them to fit into one rigid mold, but to help each of us to realize God’s will for us, and to nurture and strengthen the diverse gifts that God gives to us, to be used for the glory of God and in the service of Christ’s church. Like the sculpture that is already complete in Michelangelo’s marble block, we all contain the spark of the Holy Spirit within us; the job of our seminaries and all of the church is to chip away the constraints (like sin and prejudice) that keep us from being all that God wants us to be.

I ask you to pray for our seminaries, who are going through a very painful season of transformation, that they may find new ways to form and nurture our future pastors. And I ask that you consider how your churches are intentionally training and developing your members, as you are the seminaries that form and nurture our future church leaders. Together, we are all parts of Christ’s one church.

In Christ’s peace,

Wendy

 

New Beginnings

New Beginnings

They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.

Acts 16:6

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is an ethnic church.  We are a child of the Church of Scotland, and even now there are still signs of our Scottish heritage.  The first time I realized this was at my seminary, where every commencement service began with a procession, led by a bagpiper.  At the General Assembly, the people often enter the first plenary session following a bagpiper.  Our friend and 1001 New Worshiping Communities staffer, Sean Chow, remembers with fondness his favorite childhood church event, the annual Highlands Games at 1st Presbyterian Oxnard.  Even our denominational revulsion of bishops may come from John Knox’ fight with bishops who challenged his reform movement and acted as agents of the English crown.  (A great insight for which I will always be thankful to the late great Robina Winbush.)

So our church family ancestry goes back through the Church of Scotland (with a nod to the Dutch Reformed Church in New Amsterdam, aka New York), to the Roman Catholic Church, to Paul’s trip to Greece, where he met and taught the first Christian convert in Europe, the businesswoman Lydia.  Some believe that the Philippian church was started in Lydia’s home, with her prayer circle of women.

As Acts 16 tells us, the only reason Paul went to Philippi was out of frustration.  He had been visiting existing churches to strengthen them, going to who was familiar, but his path was blocked.  In a dream, a man from Macedonia begged him to come and help them, and so he went, and got to Philippi.

We continue to struggle with the limitations that have been set upon us by the Coronavirus, and yet these restrictions have caused us to try new things, and live out our faith in new ways.  Several churches report that they have more people joining them in virtual worship than would come into the sanctuary on any given Sunday.  And now, as churches are being forced to hold congregational meetings by Zoom and phone, they are finding better attendance.  One clerk of session said that their recent meeting had better attendance than they’ve had in many years. 

And yesterday, Pasadena Presbyterian Church held a congregational meeting with great attendance, joining by Zoom and phone, held in Korean, Spanish, and English.  Again, heartfelt thanks to Rev. Ally Lee, who gave technical support for the meeting.  It was definitely the most complicated virtual meeting we have held in San Gabriel Presbytery, but recommendations were made, discussion happened, votes were cast, and PPC called Rev. Dr. Lisa Hansen as their new Pastor and Head of Staff.  We hope to receive her into San Gabriel Presbytery at our September 26 meeting.  And yes, the September 26 and November 17 Presbytery meetings will be held by Zoom.  Congratulations to PPC and welcome Lisa!

You can hear Lisa preach to the PPC congregation in English and with translation in Korean.  She also visited the service in Spanish before the 4 pm congregational meeting.  In the sermon, Lisa shared an experience climbing to the top of Mt. Sinai as an Air Force chaplain.  She was set to preach at sunrise, and they did arrive there in time to see the sun rise, and to kneel in silent prayer.  Though she had her message ready, she was struck dumb by the power of God, speaking to them in the silence.

This was the strong image I heard in her sermon, ironically as she spoke about being silenced.  We are descendants of Paul’s thwarted attempt to carry out HIS mission—but God had other plans.  And we cannot know right now what new ministries are being started in this time of restriction and frustration.  As has been said, God can make a way out of no way.  Our only job is to keep going, and follow.

In Christ’s peace,

Wendy

 

Blessed to Be a Blessing

Blessed to Be a Blessing

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Romans 12:12-13

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about God’s call to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

In other words, God has blessed us greatly, but not so we can kick back and enjoy the spoils; God blesses us so that we can share the good news of God’s abundant love with a hurting world.

As a Japanese-American Christian, I have felt this for many years, hoping that the Japanese-American community would acknowledge and share the resources we have received. We are in a very good position to do this, because we have in our memory the knowledge of injustice done against us, but we are now relatively well-placed to be able to use that knowledge and our current privilege to advocate for others who are facing injustice. This is the reason I was so happy to attend last Saturday’s vigil of Asian-American and Pacific Islander Christians for Black Lives. During the vigil, there was much to pray for, much to remember in ways that Blacks and AAPIs worked together in the past, much to repent from when AAPIs were complicit in anti-Black racism, much to hope for as we gather AAPI and Black church leaders together, including our own Neal Presa, who opened the day, and Neema Cyrus-Franklin, who gave the closing prayer. San Gabriel Presbytery was a co-sponsor of the event, and Charlene Jin Lee and I were there to represent us.

As Presbyterians, we have much to offer. The PC(USA) is one of the most affluent of Christian denominations; we and the Episcopalian Church are typically the two Christian churches whose members have the highest per capita income, and the highest education levels.

So the Parable of the Talents should speak most directly to us. In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells the story about three servants who were given money by their master. (Yes, “talent” is not what we think of as talents; a talent is a lot of money, about as much as a laborer would earn in 15 years.) The popular

term “Well done, good and faithful servant” comes from this story, as reward for the two servants who took the money and multiplied it. The third servant, whose fear caused him to hold onto the money rather than use it, was condemned.

Last week, the Presbytery Executive Commission met, and discussed the results of the Coronavirus Relief Fund program that ended June 30th. With the help of the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii, the Presbytery was able to give $250 grants to every church and fellowship, and as each church and fellowship requested it, a $5,000 grant and $5,000 loan was given. Fifteen churches received

$115,000 in grants and loans through this program.

Because the Presbytery and Synod both contributed to this program, there are additional funds available. A few things became apparent in our review of the program:

  • Different churches define “need” differently. Many of our smaller churches defined “need” more literally and critically, and would not request the grant and especially the loan unless they were close to not being able to keep the lights
  • Churches that run their own preschools or day care centers faced an extraordinary challenge. Due to COVID-19, it has been extremely difficult to cover payroll costs for the workers with no or little income. Since most churches do not participate in the State Unemployment Insurance program, preschool workers do not have credits to draw from. How can the churches continue with any livelihood or at least benefits during this shutdown time?
  • For whatever reasons, it seemed that dominant culture churches more readily participated in the program. In several cases I had to push churches to request the grant, whereas other churches applied

In order to provide for churches with greater need, and those who are shy to ask, the Executive Commission approved the following grant program for August:

  • Each church and fellowship will receive $2,000. It is up to the church leaders to decide the best use of the grant, to the greatest benefit to God’s mission, either within the congregation or in the community. The PEC wants to encourage churches to think creatively in using these funds, including partnering with a community group or a sister church, investing in something that will move your ministry forward in this very changed world, or encouraging your church members to do something inspired and fed by the
  • Loans from the first round of the Relief Fund have been forgiven, so they do not need to be paid
  • A new round of grants will be given, up to $10,000. The application will be sent to each church and fellowship pastor and clerk and must be submitted by August 31st. Churches who received funds from the first round are eligible to apply for this round of

Even in these uncertain times, it has become clear that we are blessed with resources. May we be good and faithful servants of the Lord, and use what we have to the service of God’s mission, and to reflect God’s glory and abundant grace to a fearful and hurting world. May these grants show our gratitude and sharing in the life of our Presbytery, and our churches.

As this virus continues to impact us in our lives and our ministry, as we turn to God in all things, may we feel the blessings of the saving grace of Jesus Christ and the healing power of the Holy Spirit. And out of our gratitude for God’s blessings, may we be a blessing to others.

In Christ’s peace,

Wendy

 

Zoilita and Osvaldo Garcia

Zoilita and Osvaldo Garcia

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Ephesians 4:15-16

It seems that marriage has fallen out of fashion these days, and the COVID-19 pandemic might further suppress it. The marriage rate in the United States fell to 7.9 per 1,000 people in 1932, down from 12.0 in 1929, at the start of the Great Depression. The marriage rate reached an all-time high at 16.4 per 1,000 people in 1946. The marriage rate has been falling since 1982, and in 2018 the rate fell to 6.5, the lowest level since the government started keeping track in 1867.

So the concept of an enduring marriage—a long-term partnership in life and love and, in our case, ministry—seems mythic, almost like an unattainable goal.

As I write this, many of us are praying for Shirley and Charlie Castles. Shirley suffered a massive brain aneurysm in the night between Friday and Saturday this weekend, and though she was sent by ambulance to Huntington Hospital, she has been in a coma and is now in palliative care. Given the COVID-related restrictions on hospital visits, it was all Charlie and his daughters could do to get in to visit, but they were able to spend one hour with her, and brought in an iPad so that Shirley’s mother and a few other family members could join them virtually. On last report, Shirley is resting on a bed of morphine, and while they would love a miracle to happen, the family is bracing to lose this life force of love, energy, and care for so many, including many at Monte Vista Grove Homes, where the Castles live. Once Diane Frasher and I were talking about a group activity she was planning to start at Monte Vista that Shirley had once led, and when I asked if Shirley could help with this, Diane said “Well I can ask, but she’s already doing like 75 other things right now.”

Charlie shared how he is grateful for 43 years of life together, for their two daughters, for some travel they have done recently, for enjoying their first grandchild (who is all of 7 months old), and for the perfectly lovely day and weeks before the aneurysm, which came with no warning at all. We pray that the Spirit of healing and comfort may fill the hearts of Shirley, Charlie, and all who love them.

Along with this prayer of concern, we also have much to celebrate. On July 21, 1960, Osvaldo Garcia was ordained into ministry, and on July 25, 1960, Osvaldo and Zoila were married. This last weekend, Zoilita and Osvaldo’s loving and lively family held a “drive-by” 60th wedding anniversary celebration, marking six decades of love and family and ministry.

Zoilita told me that it was important that Osvaldo was ordained first, if only for a few days. Back then, the Presbyterian Church in Cuba was part of the Synod of New Jersey, and Zoilita’s father was the superintendent of the Cuba ministry for the Synod. The expectation was that seminarians should not be married, so he needed to be ordained before their wedding! Then as now, they did things in an orderly but very efficient manner.

Osvaldo graduated from Matanzas and was ordained to serve the Presbyterian church in Sancti Spíritus in Las Villas Province, Cuba. This was a large church with a Presbyterian school, with good Cuban Presbyterian teachers. Zoilita remembers with gratitude the strong witness of teachers and pastors, and the wonderful fellowship and gathering of churches each year for an intensive week of fellowship, fun,

and studying the Bible. All this laid the basis for a strong spiritual life for many, a fruitful ministry that continues today. This was noted when several PC(USA) leaders visited the Sancti Spiritus church in 2018. A Presbyterian News article describes the work—and dance!—they are doing with children in a poor barrio in the city.

The Garcias came to Southern California in 1972 and served Emmanuel for 30 years, and they thank God for this long life of joint ministry, enjoying great company and great fellowship in the Presbyterian Church, in Cuba and here in San Gabriel Presbytery.

In my few years with this presbytery, I have many reasons to thank God for their joy and energy, ever present in the life of San Gabriel. I love seeing them at every Presbytery meeting, and presbytery events such as a celebration like La Verne Heights’ 50th Anniversary, and the Presbytery Work Day. Here is Osvaldo clearing cobwebs as part of the 2017 Work Day team, sprucing up Puente de Esperanza’s new home in La Puente.

But I have also witnessed Osvaldo’s sensitive and articulate way of explaining our peculiar Presbyterian approach to the world to a pastor new to our tradition.

What a wonderful witness to God’s faithfulness and love! May we ever give thanks to God for the beautiful partnerships of love and ministry that we see in Shirley and Charlie Castles, and in Zoilita and Osvaldo Garcia. We know their love will last an eternity, and we pray that we all may enjoy their love for many years to come, in spirit and here on this earth. We know that they have made their own loving and faithful imprints on their world: on their children and grandchildren, on their church members, and on all who came to know God’s grace better through their lives.

Whether we are blessed with a life partner or not, we can all enjoy and love and learn from each other in our family of Christ. Thanks be to God!

In Christ’s love,

 

Wendy