Love and Knowledge

Love and Knowledge

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11

I hope that you have already heard that LA County has now mandated the use of masking indoors for all again, effective yesterday, July 18. You can read the revised health order here.

Last week, LA County recommended this, but this weekend they moved the recommendation to a new mandate. This is a response to the rapid increase of COVID cases, especially with the Delta variant, which is many times more easily spread. While the case rate has tripled over the last two weeks, and the death rate has doubled, the vaccination rate has stayed essentially the same: 60.1% of residents are partially vaccinated, and 52.6% have been fully vaccinated. The positivity rate has moved to 3.17%, almost 2.5 times the positivity rate from two weeks ago—and 7 times the positivity rate a month ago.

Personally, I think this is more easily administered than the prior order, which allowed vaccinated people to go unmasked. It was highly confusing to have some businesses still requiring full masking, and even when they didn’t, there was no easy way to enforce masking of the unvaccinated. You may know that we had suggested asking all worship attendees to continue wearing masks anyway, so you don’t cause divisions between the masked and the unmasked (and you wouldn’t have to question people about their vaccination status).

While the percentage increases are huge and the growth rapid, the actual numbers are still somewhat low. The confusing thing for me is the fact that the vaccinations seem to protect people extremely well, yet the demand for vaccinations continue to be stalled. It would be sad if the lower vaccination rate enables new variants to appear.

One other new requirement from the County: if you have an unvaccinated employee, you are required to provide a free N95 respirator if asked. There is an organization providing free or low-cost masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE); see the attached flyer.

I’m sure this is confusing and frustrating. But my hope is that we Christians can approach the challenges of life with both love and knowledge, as Paul wrote to the Philippian church, from his prison cell. There are frustrations and setbacks, even injustices and harm done to us. We must not shy away from the knowledge of these challenges, yet we can respond with love and insight and the hope for a “harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” Paul himself modeled it in this letter, as he acknowledges his imprisonment, yet finds reason to give thanks to God, and is encouraged by the knowledge of the faithful prayers of the churches.

It’s interesting how often government officials are asking faith leaders to encourage and facilitate vaccinations. They are counting on the cooperation of church leaders based on your compassion, combined with an education level that leads you to see the logical advantages of vaccinations, and the faith in seeing God’s gift in providing the vaccinations.

In the coming weeks, I join Paul in praying for love and knowledge and insight, always seeking to reflect and share the glory of God trough the grace—and patience—of Jesus Christ. I also ask that you live out your prayers with actions to protect your communities with wise safety protocols.

And, on another note, let us expand and build our knowledge and insight with our summer activities, including taking the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), and joining our “Processing the Pandemic” and anti-racism groups. Let me or Ally Lee know if you have questions or are interested.

In closing, let me again reference Paul, who continued in Philippians 3:12-14:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

May you find strength to press on, knowing that Christ Jesus has made you his own.

Peace,
Wendy

 

Shifting Gears

Shifting Gears

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.

Mark 6:30-31

I feel like we are taking a big turn away from COVID this summer, yet COVID keeps fighting back. There is massive confusion about masking, and after several weeks of celebrating our low case rate for COVID, there is another new increase. So LA County has asked—not mandated, but suggested—that everyone wears masks indoors, whether or not they are vaccinated. The reality is that after so many attempts to get the word out, only a little over half of LA County residents are fully vaccinated, and 59% are partially vaccinated. Just this last week I heard about an entire family at one of our churches who are sick with COVID.

But for those of us who are vaccinated, we are starting to venture out again. I am amazed how quickly we are moving back into our “busy bee” lifestyle. It doesn’t even seem to be a conscious rejection of our 16 months at home; we have just snapped back into our way of hitting the road. In hopes that we now know how to manage life (though doing hybrid worship services is not as easy as it would seem), some of us are venturing out to take time off. In fact, I am taking this week off, and then I will again take time off August 23-September 6, and I am hoping to take a sabbatical in 2022, either early in the year or over next summer. But in the meantime, I am being asked to fill the pulpit, as pastors are going on vacation or sabbatical. And I’m happy to do this, because I do believe that we do need to rest a while, as Jesus suggested.

But sometimes, rest isn’t just stopping activity. It can be changing your focus, so you are getting a rest from your usual work and everyday stresses, but not ceasing activity. Recently I had a great discussion with the team who is planning activities to shore up our mental health in this COVID era. The team is comprised of our Chaplains for Retired Presbyterian Church Workers, Lauren Evans and Diane Frasher, and Sophie Eurich-Rascoe. The first offering are the two mutual support groups facilitated by Sophie, who has a PhD as well as an MDiv from Fuller, and offers wonderful caring gifts within the context of her Presbyterianism. The groups are confidential and drop-in. I’ve decided to stay out of the groups to allow for more freedom, but I am totally confident that these groups will be a great time for self-care and haring. Remember, you can join whenever you can; just click:

Come this fall, we will also offer webinars on Managing Post-Pandemic Stress, Recognizing and Responding to Mental Illness in the Congregation, and Suicide Prevention. And we will be offering a curated set of mental health resources online, so anyone can access resources that are well-suited to our churches.

We were discussing how events keep happening that cause stress and uncertainty—if it isn’t COVID, it’s gun violence, or hate crimes, or now shocking heat, even in the Northwest. So how do we take a moment to reduce our stress, in the midst of it all?  The popular exercise is intentional breathing (breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts). But for some of us, breathing just doesn’t do it—I think it feels too passive. For others, we can cross our arms in front of us and give ourselves a little hug. Or you can try a technique called “tapping” which is a more active way of focusing our intentions on managing stress.

I am excited that we are starting to move ahead with different opportunities to try something new this summer. The support groups have already started. This week we are asking you to let us know if you are interested in taking the Intercultural Developmental Inventory (IDI), and/or participate in any of three discussion/learning/action groups. Sign up today by clicking here to check out the IDI, or any of these three groups:

  • Dialogues on Race: The group will meet weekly for seven weeks using the Dialogues on Race curriculum by Augsburg Press, starting in late July. The group will practice dialogue techniques and learn about the history of racism in the American
  • Conversations on Reparations with African Americans: This group will start with study and self-reflection on one accessible situation that calls out for reparations. We will resist our desire to jump to a “quick fix” but practice the many steps towards reconciliation, including reparations that come out of relationship with the community. Wendy Gist is scheduling the initial meeting for the end of July or early August; contact her at wendy@gmail.com if you’re interested.
  • Reforming Presbytery Practices: This group will review Presbytery practices and values that exclude potential leaders, and propose changes to the way we “do business” that invite broader participation and more faith-focused discernment in our decision-making. We may ask those who are available to join an initial meeting at 12:15 pm on Tuesday, July 20. A Zoom link will be sent to those who have signed up early next week.

So rather than jumping back into the ways we always seemed so busy (yet not always fulfilled) with our pre-COVID life, consider taking a break—by getting rest, changing your venue for a while, or focusing on new topics of study and mutual support. And again, in all things, let us be gentle with ourselves and each other.

Peace,

Wendy

 

Knowing Your Intercultural Competence

Knowing Your Intercultural Competence

I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9:22b-23

Last week I wrote about the new groups we are launching this summer. The first groups, Processing the Pandemic, are drop-in but facilitated times for church members and friends, or clergy and pastors, to support each other as they reflect on these last 16 months. The organizing meetings were a good start, and the folks decided to keep the times as listed below, and to meet by Zoom. You are welcome to join—no need to pre-register—just click:

There are three other groups that offer Presbytery members to focus on different aspects of anti-racism which are described below. But even if you don’t like working in groups, there is another resource we are offering this summer, and that is the Intercultural Development Inventory, or IDI.

The IDI uses a survey that is designed to assess an individual’s level of intercultural competence. The analysis places participants in one of five general categories:

  • Denial of cultural differences; folks in this group do not recognize cultural differences
  • Polarization sees differences and judges them either negatively, or judges their own culture negatively in favor of another culture
  • Minimization deemphasizes difference and tries to focus on commonalities
  • Acceptance deeply comprehends difference
  • Adaptation bridges across difference; people in this group can move smoothly between

As a Presbytery, we will receive a report giving totals of all respondents (anonymously). This group report, which will be presented at the September 18 Presbytery meeting, will give a snapshot of our presbytery, which will guide the leaders in considering how we might approach intercultural activities. This approach allows us to see the diversity of perspectives in the Presbytery, rather than assuming we are all in the same place.

After the group report is presented, respondents will be invited to schedule a meeting with a trained administrator who can interpret your personal responses in full confidentiality. It is optional for you to go over your personal profile, and the only person who will see your profile is yourself and the administrator you meet with. In this meeting, you will go over your individual survey results, and discuss ideas to increase your cultural awareness.

Several of us have taken this survey, and we believe that it offers insights to reflect on and discuss, and a common language with which we can talk about cultural differences. By the way, culture is not limited to ethnicity or race; IDI considers “culture” to mean a system of “shared expectations [that] structure how individuals in the community act toward one another and how they likely may act toward people who do not share the same patterns of interpretation and behavior.” This can mean ethnic heritage, or social class, gender, age, etc.

One insight from the IDI approach outlines the difference between “diversity” and “inclusion.” Many of us—including San Gabriel Presbytery— can boast of the diversity in our membership. But if we are not interculturally competent to honor the different cultures among our members, this diversity can be a hindrance rather than a gift.

Here’s a graphic that explains the concept.

The strength that comes from diversity is revealed only as we invite everyone to participate from their varied perspectives.

One analogy might be an orchestra. We can either allow all the musicians to play their instruments

as they were taught, but committed to work together, or we can bring in all the different musicians but expect them all to play like violins. In subtle ways, our practices and assumptions are rooted in one particular culture, so we don’t always allow for gifts of other cultures to contribute all that they can.

Interested? I hope so! Those of us who have taken the survey have already had deep and insightful conversations about how we swim in these waters of mixed cultures, even within our own identities. For myself, the survey challenged me out of my own complacency. Since the individual reports are given confidentially, you can use it as a tool however works best for you, and you create a development plan for yourself. This survey will not be used to evaluate you, but it helps your own self-reflection.

If you’re not interested in that much self-reflection, you can join one or more groups that are starting this summer to look at different topics related to God’s call to work for justice for all people.

A couple of churches have inquired about having a group report done for their congregation. If you would like to do that, please contact Ally Lee at ally@sangabpres.org. If you want to take the IDI or join a group, we ask that you let us know by clicking here by July 12 so that the group leaders can contact you directly to start the group. In addition to the support groups mentioned above, we are starting three different groups related to race, justice and inclusion:

  • Dialogues on Race: The group will meet weekly for seven weeks using the Dialogues on Race curriculum by Augsburg Press, starting in late The group will practice dialogue techniques and learn about the history of racism in the American church.
  • Conversations on Reparations with African Americans: This group will start with study and self-reflection on one accessible situation that calls out for reparations. We will resist our desire to jump to a “quick fix” but practice the many steps towards reconciliation, including reparations that come out of relationship with the community.
  • Reforming Presbytery Practices: This group will review Presbytery practices and values that exclude potential leaders, and propose changes to the way we “do business” that invite broader participation and more faith-focused discernment in our decision-making.

There is a flyer about all of the groups that you can distribute to your church and friends. Sign up today

to join a group or two; group descriptions are on the registration form.

I’m excited about the opportunities to connect with each other in reflection and reconciliation. All the work will be done in the spirit of Christ, with respect for the person God made in each of us. Join us!

 

Peace,

Wendy

 

Processing the Pandemic

Processing the Pandemic

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

I always loved this statement from our then-Stated Clerk of the PC(USA), Gradye Parsons: We are a “Do It Together” church in a “Do It Yourself” world.

As we weathered these last 16 months, it became clear that we do better when we can meet to share ideas, raise concerns, share wisdom and experience, and offer compassion and forgiveness as we tried to “do church” in ways we never imagined before.

Now as we try to figure out what a post-COVID world will look like, we are trying not to conform to the tendency to “get back to normal,” but to discern what God was trying to teach us during these COVID times. Certainly there are things we will be happy to put behind us, but we also learned many things that I hope we don’t forget.  Also, as we move out of survival mode, other thoughts will arise, like: How did we do during the pandemic? What did we learn that will impact the way we do church now? Where was God in all of this confusion and tragedy?

So we invite you to connect with others in the presbytery family to share your questions, your experiences, and your wisdom. We know that everyone is approaching this differently, so we are offering the groups on a “drop in” basis, so that you can touch base with others in a safe, mutually supportive environment. The groups, called “Processing the Pandemic,” will be facilitated by Rev. Dr. Sophie Eurich-Rascoe, who has been a blessing to many who have worked with her in individual and group spiritual direction and therapeutic settings, as a guest preacher and guide for churches in transition, and as a wise and caring colleague for folks trying to process a difficult situation.

We want the groups to be a safe place to connect, so they will be confidential to whoever is in that particular group session, they are offered at no cost thanks to a grant from the national church, and we are offering one group for church members and friends, and one for active and retired clergy and pastors. We do hope that these groups will be a small oasis of care as we consider what we just went through in this period of pandemic, racial violence and awakening, political division, and whatever else.

This week we will hold organizing meetings for anyone interested. We want to find the best time to meet, and how (in person? Zoom? hybrid?). The organizing meetings will be on Zoom:

Note you don’t have to pre-register; just click on the meeting you want to attend, and you’ll be sent immediately into the meeting. And even if this isn’t a good time for you to meet regularly, I would urge you to attend this meeting, so you can suggest a better time when more folks can meet.

At our last presbytery meeting, we announced three other groups. These groups are more focused on a particular topic related to confront systemic racism. We will begin these groups this summer, and we do ask that you express your interest in these groups so that the group leaders can contact you directly.

The groups are:

  • Dialogues on Race: Co-led by Harlan Redmond and Rev. Ally Lee (Organizing Pastors, Interwoven New Worshiping Community). The group will meet weekly for seven weeks using the Dialogues on Race curriculum by Augsburg Press. The group will practice dialogue techniques and learn about the history of racism in the American church. Group conversations will start at the end of July and meeting day and time will be determined by the group. Contact Ally Lee: ally@sangabpres.org.
  • Conversations on Reparations with African Americans: The group will be convened by Wendy Gist. Group to determine meeting dates and times. This group will start with study and self-reflection on one accessible situation that calls out for reparations. We will resist our desire to jump to a “quick fix” but practice the many steps towards reconciliation, including reparations that come out of relationship with the Contact Wendy Gist: gist.wendy@gmail.com.
  • Reforming Presbytery Practices: This group will gather with Wendy Tajima and members of the Committee on Representation and Nominations (CoRN) to review Presbytery practices and values that exclude many potential leaders, and propose changes to the way we “do business” that invite broader participation and more faith-focused discernment in our decision-making. Contact Wendy Tajima: wendytajima@sangabpres.org.

There is a flyer about all of the groups that you can distribute to your church and friends.

Our experience is that we have a wonderful resource of faith, kindness, and wisdom among the members of our presbytery family, so I am so happy that we can invite you to join any of these groups. Sign up today to join a group or two; group descriptions are on the registration form. With this form you can also tell us if you are interested in taking the Intercultural Development Inventory (I will discuss this more next week). Again, the “Processing the Pandemic” groups are drop-in, with initial meetings scheduled, so just show up!

Finally, we are holding a Mission Week for all youth, grades 6-12, July 26-30. We will be going to a different non-profit in a different city each day, in person. These have been great opportunities for youth from all our churches to experience mission work, and get to know other youth in our presbytery. More details to come.

Truly we are better together—so I am very thankful that we can invite you to connect this summer as partners in ministry.

Peace,

Wendy

 

Faith Persevering

Faith Persevering

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

Psalm 30:11-12

This last weekend marked Juneteenth (now a national holiday), World Refugee Day, Father’s Day— and our Presbytery Day of Empowerment and Engagement. The “business” portion of the meeting gave many opportunities for thanksgiving and celebration, thoughtfulness and prayer, inspiration and action. Here’s an overview.

Finances: Thanks to the churches for remembering the Presbytery’s shared mission as you have been able to contribute. And the Presbytery’s PPP loan of $58,600 looks to be forgiven, awaiting final approval by the SBA.

Kristi Van Nostran was enrolled as an Inquirer under care of our CPM. Blessings on Kristi, who just graduated with her MDiv from Fuller Seminary.

GKI-LA will be enrolled as an official fellowship of the Presbytery, and a subcommittee of COM will work with them on chartering. (By the way, “GKI” means “Gereja Kristen Indonesia,” or “Indonesia Christian Church,” a Presbyterian denomination in Indonesia.)

The Westminster Temple City Administrative Commission was dissolved, with prayers and celebration that the church is stabilized and reinvigorated.

Ally Lee will be Organizing Teaching Pastor of Interwoven New Worshiping Community, which was approved at our March meeting. She will transition out of Knox in August and officially join Interwoven in September. (Congratulations to Harlan Redmond for earning his MDiv from Princeton. And the Synod approved the $50,000 matching grant of the Presbytery.)

The Presbytery approved the continuing ministry of Erik Dailey with Occidental and Bong Bringas with San Marino, and different ways Roger Shervington, Ralph Su, and Andrew Ritiau are serving churches in the presbyteries of San Gabriel and Nevada.

Melinda Forbes and the Baldwin Park Administrative Commission gave an update on the exciting proposed partnership with Habitat for Humanity. The MOU has not yet been finalized, so prayers are requested for our shared commitment to offer affordable housing for local families, while also keeping a presence of the Presbytery in the community of Baldwin Park.

Life after June 15: For my report, I gave an overview of recommendations for life without many blanket restrictions due to COVID (though there are still restrictions to protect the unvaccinated). The report is attached for your reference.

Iglesia de la Comunidad gave a rousing video of “Grande y Fuerte” (“Great and Strong is our God”), which was commended later in the Church Leaders Panel.

The May Virtual Border Trip was reviewed by N’Yisrela Watts-Afriyie. Folks are invited to join the September Virtual Border Trip. See the Immigration Toolkit for more information, or go to https://www.presbywelcome.com/border-pilgrimage. This meeting’s Presbytery offering is going for scholarships for the September Border Trip and you can still give at https://sangabpres.org/donate/.

We heard from an asylum seeker who is being supported by the Eriksson family and Knox Presbyterian Church. Irma gave an update on her life, including her new employment, her dream of reuniting with her children, and great wisdom about mental health that we all can learn from. Please pray that her children can join her in Southern California.

Kristi Van Nostran gave an update on the Immigrant Accompaniment Ministry. Now that Adelanto Detention Center has only around 100 detainees (its capacity is over 2,000), Kristi is working with the intake center at Pomona Fairplex for unaccompanied minors, and hopes we will be able to offer support there. Also, there are new migrant families who will need welcome, and an urgent call for people to accompany asylum seekers in Tijuana to the border, as the presence of North Americans improves the response of border officials.

Immigration Toolkit: Kristi provided an updated list of resources for people wanting to support asylum seekers in our midst and in Tijuana in the Immigration Toolkit.

Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI): Sam Bang and Sophie Eurich-Rascoe gave an overview of the IDI, and I outlined our plan for using it in San Gabriel Presbytery. It is a survey that individuals take which gauges our levels of intercultural competence. We will receive a group report which will help Presbytery leadership plan future activities, and individuals can receive confidential reports that offer insights to help us become more effective working with people of different cultures of all kinds (not just ethnicity or race). Several presbytery leaders (PEC, COM, CPM, Inquirers and Candidates, and Staff) will take the inventory, but all are welcome to participate. Please contact Ally Lee or me soon if you are interested. You can use the online registration form or email us. The Presbytery Executive Commission is covering the costs, so you can participate for free (it would normally cost over $100 per participant).

Group signup: Based on this spring’s survey, we are offering groups starting this summer on a variety of topics:

  • Dialogues on Race
  • Reparations with the African-American Community
  • Reforming Presbytery Practices
  • Processing the Pandemic (church members and friends): Initial meeting June 30, 7 pm
  • Processing the Pandemic (clergy and pastors): Initial meeting July 1, 10:30

Sign up today to join a group or two; group descriptions are on the registration form. The “Processing the Pandemic” groups are drop-in, with initial meetings scheduled, so just show up!

Church Leaders Panel: We had a wonderful time hearing from some of our San Gabriel siblings who came to us from Egypt, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, and Taiwan. They enlightened us about their background, and gave great insights as they talked about the experience of coming to the United States, and the PC(USA). Unfortunately the meeting went long so some of you could not stay, but we are hoping to make a video of this important panel available for future viewing.

This Day of Empowerment and Engagement was truly inspiring and fulfilling. As I mentioned to some friends, it made me fall in love with San Gabriel Presbytery all over again!

Thank you for being partners in ministry!

Wendy