Fear of Joy

Fear of Joy

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.

Luke 24:36-37

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!!

It is generally understood that the death and resurrection of Jesus occurred around 30 AD, which means that we are coming up on a full 2,000 years of looking back on this world-changing event and saying, “Alleluia!  Christ is risen!!”

With that time and repetition, churches often labor to find ways to make the Easter story “fresh.”  It is difficult for us to understand the number of times throughout the Bible that we humans responded to the saving actions of God with fear.  The friends of Jesus responded to his resurrection not with joy and potted lilies, but with fear—in this passage, they were startled and terrified at the very sight of the risen Christ.  Their fear evolved into joy and disbelief at the sight of his wounds, and they didn’t settle into belief until they saw him eat a nice piece of broiled fish.

This mix of fear and wonderment seems to pervade our world today.  We feel the hope that vaccinations bring, as we are hearing of the drastic drop in COVID cases and deaths among our senior population, especially in residential communities that experienced real terror in the face of this pandemic.  Seniors are able to see and hug loved ones after a year of isolation, and as vaccines are becoming available to all adults, hope is springing up that we will once again go out to eat, travel, see a baseball game, and actually go—not just log in—to church.

But with these signs of hope come signs of concern.  After a truly horrible winter, California is now seeing the best statistics in the country—but we must always be wary, because states like Michigan and Europe show us how quickly another surge can rise up.  At the same time, every day we are hearing of mass shootings (where four or more individuals have been shot, not necessarily fatally), too often persons are being treated with excessive force by police, and there is massive confusion about safe practices for newly-opening businesses, schools, and churches.

For some months I have anticipated post-pandemic stress rising up as the crisis subsides.  What I have noticed even in myself is that this stress will not show up in nicely rational and scheduled bouts of sadness, but in unpredictable moments of irritability or fatigue.  I have heard of teachers having to rearrange their schedules to go back into school even though their own children are still learning from home, and pastors and church leaders trying to figure out how to go “hybrid” in their worship.  As protocols and research continue to evolve, I have found it irritating that one LA County public health doctor has taken to answering questions about re-opening protocols with “use your common sense”—which I’ve decided is a veiled way of saying “I don’t know anymore than you do what to do.”

So what do we do?  Last week I shared some baseline thoughts, and I am hoping that the Executive Commission will have guidelines next week, that we can discuss via Zoom on April 22nd, 7-8:30 pm.  

I am reminded of the confusion a year ago, because there is still much uncertainty.  I also want to remember the clear evidence of God’s care and creativity showing up in our lives.  And I want to reiterate some basic reminders:  Consider the essentials.  Care for the vulnerable.  Be gentle with yourself, and with others.  Trust God.  As Paul writes in Romans 12, rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  And if it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  We have lived through this season of death, and we will live into this new life—together.

Peace, Wendy

 

Some Thoughts on Opening Our Buildings

Some Thoughts on Opening Our Buildings

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when all is revealed, we will be like Christ, for we will see him as he is.

1 John 3:2

Alleluia! Christ is risen!!

What an interesting coincidence that today, a little over a year but just one day after the Day of Resurrection, Los Angeles County is set to enter the “Orange Tier,” the third of four tiers towards full opening of buildings and activities.  On a personal level, I am getting my first vaccination today, so I feel like I am truly entering into new life—spiritually, physically, and socially.  I can already feel my thinking shifting to things I’ve put out of my mind for 13 months now—travel, in-person meetings, eating Korean food with friends . . . I still don’t know when hugs and singing will be appropriate, but we’re definitely making progress.

It’s important that new life does not mean freedom from responsibility.  The virus is still present in the world, and even as we enjoy lower case and death counts, the possibility of new outbreaks continues, as demonstrated right now in France and Michigan.  So as we Presbyterians understand, we have not been saved for our own pleasure, but we are saved and called into partnership in God’s service.  We continue to be discerning and responsive to the needs of our churches and our communities as we consider the most faithful route towards in-person worship.

Because the progress to the Orange Tier has moved so fast, the Presbytery Executive Commission has not approve any official guidelines, but I thought I would summarize what aspects of the local health orders will continue, what has changed, and some thoughts for your sessions to consider as you plan worship in the coming months.  And please mark your calendars for Thursday, April 22, 7 pm.  We will hold a Zoom-based panel on guidelines and strategies for opening your church buildings.

Most elements of the Health Order have not changed:

  1. Mask up—all the time you are in presence of others, indoors or outdoors.
  2. 6-foot distancing between households is still in place, indoors or outdoors. There had been mention of 3-foot distancing for children, but this does not apply to churches.
  3. Online worship is still safest, so churches are encouraged to continue online worship even after indoor worship is implemented. Outdoor worship and activities are better than indoors.
  4. Singing is strongly discouraged; if done, all singers (including leaders) should stay masked and people from different households should be at least 8-10 feet apart with masks. If a leader is not masked, each singer must be 12 feet apart.
  5. Instrumentalists must also keep an extended distance (or separated by Plexiglas shields); wind instruments are strongly discouraged.
  6. No food or drink should be consumed in a group setting. (Even when it was pointed out that large crowds at a baseball game are being allowed to consume food and drink, the County Health Officer confirmed that churches should not serve food or drink except to go.)
  7. Communion elements should be served in a “no-contact” manner.
  8. Likewise, offering should be received in a “no-contact” manner.
  9. Ventilation is important; keep doors and windows open, and maintain one-way traffic patterns.
  10. Building owners should set protocols for activities on their premises and communicate to all who use the facility, with advance notice and on-site signage. All groups using the facility should follow the protocol (conversely, if a church rents space, they must follow the protocol of the building owner).
  11. Employer protocols are still in place, including:
  12. a. encouraging working from home or staggering hours in the office
    b.egular cleaning (hourly for high-touch surfaces)
    c. 6-foot social distancing
    d. send any employee or volunteer with symptoms home for self-quarantine
    e. reporting: if 3 or more cases of COVID-19 occur among employees within a span of 14 days, the employer must report the outbreak to the Department of Public Health at (888) 397-3993 or (213) 240-7821, or online at redcap.link/covidreport.

  13. In PC(USA), the Session approves the protocols for safe environments.

What is changing with the Orange Tier:

  1. 12-step groups (Alcoholics Anonymous) and therapy groups can now have up to 12 participants (limit was 10).
  2. Indoor worship must still maintain 6 feet between household groups (greater if singing), with a maximum capacity of 50% building occupancy. That means that if a worship space can only hold 30% of building occupancy in order to maintain 6-foot distancing (for instance, if there are many individuals from different households), then only 30% is allowed.
  3. Office work is more allowed, but still with 6-foot social distancing, cleaning, etc.

Some recommendations and things to consider:

  1. Again, online worship is safest, and outdoor worship is safer than indoors. You don’t have to rush to worship indoors!  Sessions need to consider what’s best for their members, given the design of their physical space.  Many churches have a committee to focus on opening plans.
  2. Require pre-registration for indoor worship, and have all attendees sign in on-site for contact tracing and staying within capacity limits.
  3. Ask attendees if they have symptoms, fever, recent exposure to COVID, or have traveled recently when they pre-register; post clear signage on-site asking people not to enter if they say yes to any screening questions (as well as wearing masks, etc.).
  4. Communion elements can be offered as self-contained kits or placed in multiple places for small groups.
  5. Continue to encourage online offering, or ask people to drop offering in baskets (do not pass offering plates from person to person).
  6. Have ushers to ensure sufficient distance between household groups and consider asking people to leave row by row to lessen traffic.
  7. Teach church members a no-contact way of greeting and showing care for each other.
  8. Phase into opening (start small and grow month by month), and set and communicate a backup plan (eg, if an outbreak occurs).
  9. Shorten worship services or the length of time people meet indoors. For instance, one church is planning to have congregants go outside for communion.
  10. For child care, consider meeting outdoors but ensure there is enough supervision so children maintain proper distancing and stay safe.
  11. Look for ways to encourage vaccination for members and neighbors in your community.

As we move into the new possibilities that come with Easter, with the sunshine of spring, with vaccinations, with the easing of COVID-related restrictions, there is much to be grateful for.  May you know the joy of the risen Christ in your midst, today and every day.

 

Alleluia! Amen

Wendy

 

 

Getting Unstuck

Getting Unstuck

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 is Holy Week, and in the span of a week we move from being stuck in a state of despair to the release of salvation, the freedom of new life.

We are in a time when it seems that we are stuck in many kinds of despair. Even as we hear the first glimmers of hope in the COVID-19 pandemic, we also hear of rising caseloads again, and continuing concerns from other countries. We see as a nation the persistent burden of racism plaguing us, manifested in the rise of anti-Asian hatred as well as in the seemingly endless number of incidents of African-Americans dying by the actions of police. And we as individuals are stuck in patterns of addiction and dysfunction, our fulfillment hampered by adherence to so many myths and habits and dependencies that distract us from God.

What does it take to free us of this despair? Sometimes we hope for human effort, such as the herculean efforts of health care workers to care for the sick and scientists to develop vaccine, as well as the simple actions of wearing masks and refraining from “trading air.” Sometimes we fear that we are permanently stuck in our death-dealing ways; this week also marks the beginning of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the man whose knee stayed on George Floyd’s neck even after he became unresponsive. My own level of despair is that I cannot hope for a sense of restoration from the trial; I only hope things will not get even worse. And during Lent we are often asked to examine our own weaknesses and broken places; I committed to a simple practice of letter-writing that I failed to maintain even for the 40 days of Lent.

In the midst of these difficult days comes a rather spectacular metaphor for our “stuck” feelings: the Ever Given cargo ship, run aground in the Suez Canal, blocking the path of any other ship. With 18,300 containers full of goods, the 220,000-ton, 1300-foot ship was helpless to extricate itself of its predicament —and its failure blocked hundreds of other ships from their forward purpose.

The ship stayed stuck for almost a week, and for days no one knew how to free it. One photo of a digger attempting to loosen sand and mud from under the bow seemed to reflect the enormity of the problem, and how miniscule our ability to resolve it.

Indeed, the prognosis was so uncertain that some ships chose to take the long route around the Suez Canal, which meant going all the way around the continent of Africa, adding weeks to their journey at $26,000 a day in added fuel costs.

The Japanese owners of the ship attempted to acknowledge their regret at the mishap, bowing deeply in humility. But that did not move the ship. Eventually, 11 tugboats from many different countries arrived on the scene to attempt to pull the ship back fully into the water.

They managed to get it to budge about 100 feet, but no more.

In what seems like God’s providence, an unusually high tide was due today. The army of engineers, salvage operators, and tugboat crews involved in extricating the ship coordinated their work with the high tide, and thank God this massive container ship, almost as long as the Empire State Building is tall, was freed! The relief, and the freedom which was granted the 300 blocked ships, was immediate.

As we look ahead to Easter, this strikes me as a great metaphor for our life of faith. We seem to be inextricably stuck in our own brokenness, and the enormity of our broken ambition may even impact others. Our own attempts to save ourselves are woefully insufficient, even when we work together. But if we admit our error and coordinate our collective efforts with the awesome power of God to save us, we can experience the freedom of new life.

May we open our hearts and minds to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and in humility may we align ourselves to God’s saving will, that we may be freed to move and live and serve with purpose and gratitude.

And may we live to glorify God, and to enjoy God forever. Let us not rush past the events of this Holy Week, but thank God that our spiritual ancestors told us the good news of Easter. Let us give thanks that sin and death do not have the final answer. God’s power is indeed awesome, and awesome to save!

Looking ahead to resurrection hope,

Wendy

 

Breakout Presbytery

Breakout Presbytery

“And who is my neighbor?” Ephesians 4:15-16

We had a very meaningful Presbytery meeting on Saturday. We took several actions, several of which affirmed emerging and veteran leadership in the Presbytery:

  • Charlene Jin Lee was advanced to candidacy in the preparation for ministry process
  • Harlan Redmond’s proposal for Interwoven New Worshiping Community was approved
  • Jeff O’Grady and Jan Cook were granted Honorably Retired status as they leave their pastorates with San Marino Community Church later this spring
  • Ally Lee was elected Stated Clerk for Administration, Steve Salyards elected as Stated Clerk for Judicial Process, and my call as Executive Presbyter was renewed for another 3 years
  • Deidra Goulding was made Moderator of Session for St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in La Puente, and the contracts for Ally Lee with Knox Presbyterian Church in Pasadena and Larry Ballenger with Arcadia Community Church were renewed
  • The Presbytery offering was dedicated to the Immigrant Accompaniment Ministry
  • The June 19 Presbytery meeting was announced as a Zoom-based day of education
  • Presbytery members were invited to an April 22nd discussion on reopening church sanctuaries, and a virtual border trip to learn more about justice for immigrants in May and September.

There was much to be celebrated, and this meeting highlighted many gifted members in our presbytery family. Charlene’s evolving sense of her ministry was affirmed by her youth pastor (Rev. Mark Hong, who is now our Synod Executive and Stated Clerk) to students whom she taught as a seminary professor, such as Bong Bringas. Charlene’s call includes her voice in the public square; her appearance with us coincided with a powerful column in Presbyterian Outlook in response to the March 16 shootings in the Atlanta area, “Aching Hope: Mourning Violence Against Asian-American Women.”

The vision expressed in Harlan Redmond’s proposal for the new worshiping community, Interwoven, was an inspiration to everyone, especially Pasadena residents who know the need for a holistic ministry of empowerment and racial reconciliation that Interwoven anticipates.

It was a testament to the ministry of Jan Cook and Jeff O’Grady—and as Jan later wrote, God’s “holy synchronicity”—that the meeting affirming their retirement also affirmed Charlene and Harlan, who are both members of San Marino Community Church. As Jeff and Jan retire in May and June, they can see how they contributed to the next generation of leaders as pastors and CPM chair.

But importantly, this meeting also marked the Presbytery’s commitment to focus on dismantling structural racism throughout this year. Dismantling structural racism is one of three priorities set by the national church as we follow the vision of being a Matthew 25 Church. The other two priorities are eradicating systemic poverty and supporting congregational vitality.

Because of the diversity in our presbytery membership, we can learn a lot just from getting to know each other better. So we had three breakout room conversations in the meeting, to check in on the

state of our world, to share our personal experiences of racism, and to share how we have—or have not—taken action to confront racism in our individual lives.

In just these short interchanges, I heard of a COVID-induced conversation group that started among one person’s diverse neighbors, and how people stood up for people with disabilities whom they love. It confirmed for me the importance of relationships, because it’s easier for people to confront racism if they have beloved people in their lives who would be hurt by that racism, just as they felt for their loved ones who were hurt when they were ridiculed for their disabilities. And getting to know and appreciate your neighbors is a great way to love more people with whom you can stand in solidarity.

Finally, a survey was made available, so presbytery members can share their interest in various discussion groups, participation in the Intercultural Development Inventory, the virtual border trips, and/or participating in leadership in the Presbytery. If you have not yet taken the survey, please do so by clicking here.

Last week, I happened to see a Facebook post from Pasadena Presbyterian Church from a year ago, after our own Rev. Dr. Casper Glenn gave a talk on his friendship with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The post ended with this:

When someone in the group mentioned that it was an honor to hear these stories from a person who had so much to do with the civil rights movement, Rev. Glenn put his arms around everyone and said, “it is great for all of us to be together.”

This is my hope, that we fight against racism not as brave individuals, but because it is great for all of us to be together, and to more fully enjoy God’s marvelous creativity in crafting each one of us. It may be uncomfortable to reflect on the ways we are infected by racism, but just like confession, just like Lent, it’s important for us to reject what is not of God, so that we may rejoice in the new life that Jesus suffered to create for us. So I pray that this presbytery meeting was not just a breakout for how we use Zoom, but it marked the beginning of us being an even stronger and more vibrant reflection of God’s kin-dom.

Thank you for being partners on this journey.

In Christ’s peace,

Wendy

 

Pronouns

Pronouns

It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:16-17

Saturday was a great day in God’s world. At Westwood Presbyterian Church, the Presbytery of the Pacific ordained to the ministry of Word and sacrament Elder Mark S. Jones, Sr.

I hope that some of you might know Mark Jones, and not just because he spent 26 years in the CPM process before his ordination. Like many people under care of CPM, Mark has been too busy doing ministry to prepare for it. Among other things, Mark has been a long-time ruling elder at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, he has been on staff of Westwood Presbyterian Church in a variety of ministries, and heqw1aza was CRE pastor of Community United Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles. Throughout, Mark has been a faithful leader in the National Black Presbyterian Caucus, he has served the national church through the Racial Equity Advisory Committee (formerly ACREC), and has been a tireless, always loving, servant of the Lord.

As Mark gave his first benediction as the Reverend Mark S. Jones, Sr., I was flooded with memories of great stories about him—just as every other person had their favorite stories. One that struck me was a tragic one, though. We were at a national meeting, sitting together in the back of the room of the closing service. The plenary speaker was a woman missionary who was talking about how “we Presbyterians” needed to reach out to “them,” meaning people of color and immigrants. This is a common irritation for me, because many dominant-culture Presbyterians have a habit of speaking to each other as if all Presbyterians are of the same background. Even though they do account for over 90% of the denomination, there are a few of us who don’t fit that category, yet long to be recognized as part of the “we Presbyterians.”

This mild irritation took on tragic proportions that day, however, because while we were finishing up the meeting, Mark was getting texts from his sister, whose teenaged son Bijan had been shot while in his car, and who was about to die in the hospital. Whereas most Presbyterians think about victims of drive-by shootings as a very distant “them,” here was a constantly faithful leader whose beloved nephew was most definitely one of us.

This and other joyous stories came to my mind during Mark’s ordination service. Because of COVID, there were very few people physically present in the Westwood sanctuary, so only one person was allowed to lay his hand on Mark for his ordination. That person was Rev. Dr. Charles Marks, another great leader in the Church, who has served as pastor, seminary professor, and staff of Synod of Southern California and Hawai‘i as well as the national church. As Charles stood with his hand on Mark’s head, I was reminded of the story of Elijah and Elisha, and all the ways the inheritance of service to God is passed from generation to generation.

The tradition of Black Presbyterians is an exceptional one, marked by current leaders such as Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, President of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk; Rev. Dr. Charles Marks and Rev. Dr. Casper Glenn, both of whom are retired in our

community (and both should have books written about their amazing lives); mathematician Elder Katherine Johnson, who DID have a book written about her (“Hidden Figures”) and Condoleezza Rice, daughter and granddaughter of Presbyterian pastors, who has had several; and Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon, who wrote the book on Womanist ethics (including “Black Womanist Ethics” and “Katie’s Canon:  Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community”).

Of course, there are countless saints of all backgrounds who reflect the giftedness of the Presbyterian Church. One of my great mentors in this Presbytery is Rev. Bryce Little, who in turn shared the news about Elder George Cassat, long-time Treasurer, Trustee, and generous supporter of the Presbytery and Synod. Elder Cassat, a financial advisor who volunteered his expertise to others and was a lifelong Rotarian, was a member of our churches in Arcadia and San Marino, and passed on to the Lord at the age of 97 on December 3, 2020.

This Saturday is our Presbytery meeting. Among other things, the meeting will be the opportunity to celebrate two exceptionally gifted leaders in our church who will be retiring, Revs. Jan Cook and Jeff O’Grady. We will also have the opportunity to celebrate two exceptionally gifted leaders who are coming into greater leadership in our church: Dr. Charlene Jin Lee, whose PhD advisor was Katie Cannon and who will be seeking advancement as Candidate under care of our CPM, and Harlan Redmond, well-respected community organizer and soon-to-be Princeton MDiv who is also under care of CPM, and who has a compelling proposal for a new worshiping community in our Presbytery.

This is an exciting time for the Presbyterian Church, and for San Gabriel Presbytery. We give thanks for the great leaders who helped bring us to where we are now, and we can look ahead to outstanding leaders who will continue to fulfill God’s mission in this area, with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love (W-4.0404h). We have a wonderful opportunity to expand greatly who is included when we say “we Presbyterians,” and the Presbytery leaders are hoping to provide more ways for us to explore what it means to connect with more children of God than ever before. May our hearts and faith be big enough to embrace all whom God puts into our branch of the family tree.

I encourage you to register for the Presbytery meeting—even if you are not a commissioner, you are welcome!—and I hope to see you on Saturday.

In Christ’s peace,

Wendy