Monday Morning Update

The Lord will guide you continually,
      and satisfy your needs in parched places,
      and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
      like a spring of water,
      whose waters never fail.          

Isaiah 58:11

Tomorrow evening is the first Presbytery meeting for 2019, at Knox Presbyterian in Pasadena.  The meeting will start with registration and snacks at 6:30 pm and the call to order will come at 7 pm.  We have heard that some people cannot come to Saturday morning meetings, so this year we have two Tuesday evening meetings and three Saturday meetings, in addition to WinterFest on February 2nd (Saturday).  Hope this will enable more people to participate!

We always try to keep the meetings as efficient and relevant as possible.  We will install our new officers Roberto Ramirez as Moderator and Karen Sapio as Vice Moderator.  Current Moderator Becca Bateman will become Chair of the Executive Commission, and we thank Fried Wilson, outgoing PEC chair.  We will hear the reflections of our General Assembly delegation—Bear Ride, Deborah Owens, and Sophia Alecci—as we look ahead to voting on constitutional amendments in April.

We will show our support for East San Gabriel Valley Coalition for the Homeless, who operates the winter shelter and provides many services for homeless people in central and east San Gabriel Valley.  And we will receive support, as we celebrate our chaplaincy for retired Presbyterian church workers, funded by the generosity of House of Rest.  House of Rest has generously agreed to fund this program for 2019 at an expanded rate, as Monte Vista Grove Homes has requested that Lauren Evans provide chaplaincy services to them as well.

We will also honor the ministry of First Presbyterian Church of Baldwin Park.  The Administrative Commission has been working on resolving the legal issues related to the fraudulent tenant, and helping the members to transition to another church, for now the West Covina Presbyterian Fellowship.  They have been a blessing for West Covina, and it is possible that God may bless the ministry at West Covina in other ways too, which will allow them to continue as a blessing for the West Covina community and now our sisters and brothers from the Baldwin Park church.  The AC will be presenting a report that highlights the unique and groundbreaking ministry at Baldwin Park, a community always dedicated to following Jesus’ call for us to be welcoming of all, and seekers of justice for the oppressed.  I cannot speak of Baldwin Park without thanking Melinda Forbes and Sonnie Swenston.  Melinda especially has dedicated countless hours and worries to supporting the Baldwin Park church these last few years.  My prayer is that she and Sonnie will now be able to gain spiritual renewal in a new church home.

As I look outside my window, the skies are thick with clouds and rain is coming down.  I admit that I hate rain, and when the weather looks like this I would just as soon crawl back into bed.  But I know that rain makes the earth flourish like no human irrigation system can.  (I even saw proof of this, when a previous rain shower made some little plants of mine burst forth in a way that I didn’t think possible, as apparently I had been starving them with my paltry watering.)

It’s important for me to remember that new life springs forth from times that seem dreary.  Last week I attended the memorial services for Leon Fanniel and Zac Bright, and I know there were several other memorial services in our community last week.  As we consider the ending of Baldwin Park’s ministry, and the lives of bright lights like Leon and Zac, the human response is to mourn their loss, and to miss their presence in our lives.  But at Zac’s memorial, I felt this peace, and even as several speakers remembered the complexity and brilliance of Zac’s mind and faith, I sensed the deep love that Zac had for the Lord and for his family, which seemed to be expressed best in music.  Finney Premkumar gave the homily at Zac’s service, and offered a helpful quote which has been attributed to Methodist Bishop Warren Chandler, who did not fear crossing the river from life to death because “I belong to a Father who owns the land on both sides of the river.”

I was in a meeting yesterday with leaders of a church that has gone through great transformation.  But there have definitely been struggles with this transformation, and I mentioned that even in the best of changes, people can’t help but grieve what once was.  So as we remember the people and the churches of the past, as we look at gray skies and flowered caskets, may we look to the other side of that river, and give thanks that God is the God of all, and in God, rainy days can yield to glorious springtime, and death leads to eternal life.  Thanks be to God.

See you tomorrow,




Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.

1 Peter 1:3-4

Happy New Year!

2019 is but a week old now, but more than usual, this new year is rooted in the year past.  While some years I can start the year with a clean slate, clean house, and a list of unbroken resolutions (for a few hours at least), I enter this year with memories of dear ones who have passed, and .  I have also been busier with work than usual.  I have joked that in Presbytery work, the holidays are quiet times because the pastors are busy earning their keep by preaching (so I am not needed for pulpit supply), and the church folk are busy planning their holiday events to get into a conflict.  But this year, we have had several pastorates end.  Jim Conner has left Arcadia Community Church, Walter Contreras has left Pasadena, Ken Tracy finished his contract with St. Andrew’s in La Puente, and Jake Kim finished his contract with Northminster in Diamond Bar.  One of the most important roles for a Presbytery is to help churches secure faithful and effective pastoral leadership, so we have been busy not only working with these churches but also supporting the many new pastors who have joined us this past year.

As we begin this new year, I see many different streams of activity in Presbytery life, almost like the marbling that happens when different colors of paints are swirled together.  We have had several loved ones pass away, so we sorely feel the loss of Leon Fanniel and Zac Bright, as well as Mariko Yanagihara’s father and Margarita Reyes’ mother and others.  Some churches are saying good-bye to their pastors while others are embarking on new adventures, such as First Thai Presbyterian Church wanting to change their name to Praise Community Church, as they have become a faith community for all their Covina neighbors.  Many of the Baldwin Park folks are worshiping with the West Covina Fellowship, and we continue to work on pastoral leadership and a partnership with International Theological Seminary that could prove to be a huge blessing for all involved.  Westminster in Temple City has found new leadership and new energy to evangelize their neighbors.  And Pasadena, having developed a new mission study that deepens their multicultural commitment into their confirmed identity as an intercultural church, will soon begin to search for an installed pastor/head of staff.

I had the opportunity to celebrate Epiphany with Northminster yesterday, and I commented on the discomfort we feel facing an unknown future.  (Ironically, we ALL face an unknown future, but sometimes it seems more uncertain than at other times.)  As the wise men were told, sometimes we have to take another road, and it can be scary to take that unknown path.  But even if we don’t know WHAT is ahead of us, we can be assured that we always know WHO is ahead of us.  Our faith is in God who loves us so much as to care for us throughout history, come to us as Jesus to live with us and die for us, and lives now and forever in and around us, calling us forth into mission, strengthening us for the journey, and walking with us every step of the way.

We can see how new life is rooted in the past, and that it is only as a grain of wheat dies does it bear much fruit.  So as we go forth into 2019, let us give thanks for all who have brought us to this place, let us reach out to those who struggle and grieve, and let us always be emboldened in the knowledge that our risen Christ, who defeated death, calls us forth to serve and share the good news of hope and love.  Let us walk together as partners, even sisters and brothers, in Christ.

Blessings for the year ahead,




Reflection: When We Need God Most

God proves God’s love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

Even though Christmas is a week away, I don’t experience the loud clamor of Christmas cheer.  I’m not sure if it’s because I don’t spend much time shopping in decked-out stores, or watching the Hallmark TV channel.  I live near a mansion that drew many people because of their over-the-top Christmas decorations, but now they only turn on the lights around Christmas Eve.  

Or it might be hearing news that reminds me of the fragility of human life.  We experience tragedy even during the Christmas season, and it’s even more poignant for families who face the joyous celebrations with reminders of the ones they’ve lost.  I continue to ask for your prayers for the family and friends of Maha Hakim of Arabic Evangelical Church, and now I ask your prayers for the family of Zac Bright, one of our Presbytery members who passed away last Thursday, and for Margarita Reyes, whose mother passed on to the Lord yesterday.

There is a poignancy in Advent, as we wait for the hope of redemption that the Christ baby brings.  Songs like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” or the anthem “We Wait for Thee” by Victor C. Johnson (“Come, Thou Prince of Peace . . . come and set Your people free”) remind us that Jesus did not come for those who are fully satisfied with wealth, health, and love.  Jesus came especially for those who seek God’s help to save the lost, to heal the sick, to welcome the outcast, to raise up the oppressed.

As we witness families fleeing violence and poverty in other countries, we are reminded that we are not so far from such suffering.  In our midst are homeless people trying to make it through every cold night, people fearful that they cannot get health coverage to help them through medical crises, victims of domestic violence trying to weigh the risks of leaving their home with the danger of staying in it.

And some decades ago, the Great Depression impacted millions of Americans.  Those who were already poor, in areas like Appalachia, which is still one of the poorest regions in the United States, suffered even more when the whole country’s economy collapsed.

In the midst of the Depression, composer and song collector John Jacob Niles came upon a poignant scene in rural North Carolina.  Here are his words describing it:

The place was Murphy, North Carolina, and the time was July, 1933.  The Morgan family, revivalists all, were about to be ejected by the police, after having camped in the town square for some little time, cooking, washing, hanging their wash from the Confederate monument and generally conducting themselves in such a way as to be classed a public nuisance.  Preacher Morgan and his wife pled poverty; they had to hold one more meeting in order to buy enough gas to get out of town.  It was then that Annie Morgan . . . stepped out to the edge of the little platform attached to the automobile. She began to sing.  Her clothes were unbelievable dirty and ragged, and she, too, was unwashed.  Her ash-blond hair hung down in long skeins. . . . But, best of all, she was beautiful, and in her untutored way, she could sing.  She smiled as she sang, smiled rather sadly, and sang only a single line of a song.

The girl sang “I wonder as I wander, out under the sky, how Jesus the Savior did come for to die.”  And based on that snippet, Niles wrote the carol we know now.

There is always a hushed moment on Christmas Eve, when we Christians remember a humble setting, with a temporarily homeless couple giving birth to a little baby in a small country occupied by a powerful empire—and yet in that baby was the fulfillment of God’s promise to go to any lengths necessary to save us.  God went so far as to come as a baby born in these poor circumstances, as a holy man confronting and being confronted by church and civil authorities, and as an outcast himself facing execution.  All for love of this world.  All “for poor on’ry people like you and like I.”  God gives us love and grace beyond words; God gives us in Jesus love and grace in the flesh.

Because we will not send another Monday Morning Update until January 7, let me highlight a few things coming up in the new year, some of which help us continue Jesus’ ministry of love and grace:

  • The annual Homeless Count will come up January 22-24, with mandatory orientation January 16-17.  Take a look at the information flyer and register now!  I hope to join Wendy Gist, Ken Baker, and Areta Crowell, who did it last year and will do it again in 2019; Angelica Michail and Deidra Goulding will represent Shepherd of the Valley in Rowland Heights. 
  • There will be a short Presbytery meeting on January 15 at Knox in Pasadena.  You can come register and hang out starting at 6:30, and the meeting will start at 7 pm.  We will install our new moderator and vice moderator, Roberto Ramirez and Karen Sapio, and celebrate our ongoing relationship with the House of Rest, who are again funding our Chaplain for Retired Presbyterian Church Workers program, now to include Monte Vista Grove Homes.  Congratulations to Lauren Evans for her faithful and innovative work in this area.  And we will collect an offering for East San Gabriel Valley Coalition for the Homeless, which provides multiple services including a cold-weather shelter in the area from El Monte to Glendora.  You can learn more about them at
  • Board of Pensions is offering a pre-retirement seminar at Westminster Gardens in Duarte February 13-14.  This will be one of the last in-person seminars, as future seminars will be on-line.  Registration is limited but all Board of Pensions members are welcome; go to BoP to register on-line.
  • And don’t forget to register your church groups for WinterFest, which will be held February 2 at Northminster in Diamond Bar.  Groups of 5 or more receive special additional resources! And even if you’re on your own, you will be inspired and empowered with keynote speaker Alexia Salvatierra and others.  Register and get more information here.

May you have a warm and joyous Christmas.  Let us thank God with all our hearts for coming down to be with us, all of us, bringing hope even to those who have every reason to despair.  And as the body of Christ for this place at this time, may we, too, be agents of God’s love for the hurting around us today. 

Emmanuel—God with us,




Servant of the Lord

Servant of the Lord

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Luke 1:38a

As you know, there are four Sundays in Advent.  You may have noticed a general pattern of the readings over the years.  On the first Sunday of Advent, the gospel passage is a prophecy about the coming day of the Lord, reminding us that Advent is not only a season of expectation of the birth of baby Jesus, but also expectation of the second coming of Christ.  The second Sunday focuses on the ministry of John the Baptist.  The third Sunday compares John the Baptist and Jesus.  And the fourth Sunday focuses on Mary.

While Christians have widely differing views of Mary, there is no argument that she was a woman of bold obedience and faith.

This last weekend I was able to celebrate the lives of two other women of bold obedience and faith.

Geraldine Marks is celebrating her 103rd birthday this Wednesday, so friends were invited to come visit her home yesterday.  Mrs. Marks has been a faithful leader of South Hills Presbyterian Church for generations; even during the last weeks at South Hills, her smiling presence was constant and inspiring.  Thanks to Piccola Ford-Levine and email, the people of South Hills still have a connection, and they gather and share news of the family on occasion.

Even as she nears 103, Mrs. Marks was alert and gracious, enjoying chocolates, reminiscing about South Hills, and advising young adult women who grew up at the church.  I was reminded again of a comforting assertion by Rev. Ivan Walks’ son, that the ministry of South Hills is no longer contained in the building on Fremont Street, but it continues through the lives of all its members—and all the generations they raise.

But speaking of the building, since Mrs. Walks lives a few blocks from the church, I went by to see how it’s doing.  I saw a member of the new church working in the yard, the buildings nicely repaired and painted.  As a couple of South Hills leaders have commented, they are comforted that the building has passed on to another spiritual community, even though they are not Christian.

On Saturday, hundreds of people gathered at Arcadia Community Church to give thanks for the life of Maha Hakim.  This day was marked by tears as well as praise, for Maha was an incredible leader of Arabic Evangelical Church who died after being hit by a car.  Maha’s ministry was focused on children and youth, but she was known as a can-do person, one of those women who are critical for any church ministry, because she got things done, with faith and with love.

Though I didn’t know her personally, I knew of Maha because she was the lead organizer for a children’s camp that Arabic Evangelical offers each summer.  In these camps, hundreds of kids, mostly from families who had recently come to Southern California from the violence in the Middle East, gather and see that they aren’t alone, and they can connect with each other and with God in a safe, fun and supportive environment.

But of course, this was just one small part of Maha’s ministry.  Story after story was shared on Saturday about her outreach not only with children and youth at Arabic Evangelical, but also in the world—one of the speakers was a Latino pastor who shared in Spanish about his partnership with Maha and her family to share the Gospel with children of all backgrounds.

Surely Maha’s love for children and her God have been magnified in the lives of her family, her church, and especially all the children and youth who have come to know the love of Jesus Christ through her.  My heart goes out to her husband and three children, her extended family including pastor Hisham Kamel, and Arabic Evangelical Church.  There will continue to be the question of how this woman of God could be taken from us in the prime of her life.  While this question was acknowledged in her memorial service, the overwhelming message was affirmation that Maha is now welcomed into heaven, at one with the Lord.  I ask for your prayers for Arabic Evangelical Church, and especially for the young ones who will miss Maha so much.

As we honor these women by name, there are countless others whose love goes unrecognized.  Tomorrow evening, there will be a memorial service at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena to honor and acknowledge their lives and membership in the human family.  Also, LAC+USC Chaplain Rev. Elizabeth Gibbs-Zehnder shared photos from a service on December 5th, when the remains of 1,467 people were laid to rest in the county cemetery.  These people died in 2015 but their bodies were never claimed by a family member or acquaintance.  You can find her reflection on the service, and also a list of ways you can help patients of the LAC+USC Chaplaincy, here.

As we continue in this holy season, let us give thanks for the women of faith who have answered God’s call to service, including Mary, and Gerry Marks, and Maha Hakim, and all the women who serve so faithfully in your church and your life.  As we celebrate the holidays, let us show care and comfort for those whose grief throws a shadow on the festivities all around us.  And always, always, always, let us stay focused on the hope that the baby Jesus brings to this hurting world.  Let us all, as servants of the Lord, let it be with us, according to God’s word.

In the love of Christ,



We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Romans 8:22-23

We are just now in the season of Advent.  You most likely know that the roots of the word “Advent” are ad (to) and venire (come), so it is quite literally the time when we contemplate God’s grace in coming to us through Jesus Christ.  Indeed, God chose to come to us not as a grand king or powerful military commander, but born of a poor young unmarried woman, temporarily displaced and homeless due to the government’s census order.

So this is a season of expectation, of Mary in her pregnancy, and of God’s people waiting in urgent hope for redemption and for the restoration of peace on this earth.

The urgency of hope requires a few ingredients:  the patience to wait, the neediness to want change, the faith that God will effect the change, and the alertness to receive the change.  Those who wait for change, those who groan waiting for redemption, don’t experience life as good enough.  But it has occurred to me that many of us don’t like change, which means life is pretty good for us.  This may be the essential challenge for the “haves” of the world to give their lives to this God who wills change, and one reason Jesus said that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

I have thought about this as tributes have been offered about President George H. W. Bush, because he was a man who came from wealth and privilege, but acted out of a quiet faith.  His upbringing was sheltered but he was taught not to assume he was more worthy than any other person.  One person suggested that his time in the military exposed him to people of different backgrounds, and he applied this humility to the breadth of the human experience.  As a young congressman, he took the politically unpopular stance of voting for the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which opened housing to people regardless of color, saying “I served with these men in the Pacific and they should be able to live wherever they want to.”

I don’t want to delve too deeply into the moral triumphs and failings of President Bush, but it does seem that in his interpersonal relationships, he saw every person as his equal, as a fellow child of God.  A story I have always remembered was first shared by Robert Shannon:

One Sunday a homeless man was standing in front of the National Cathedral when then President George Bush and his wife Barbara were going in.  “Pray for me,” he said to the President.  “No,” said President Bush.  “Come in and pray for yourself.”  He did, and after that he came in every Sunday and sat in the back.  The congregation got to know him and began to help him in small ways.  When he died that homeless man was buried in the churchyard of the National Cathedral!  That homeless man was buried in one of the most prestigious plots of land in this country.  How fitting for a church that is dedicated to another homeless man, Jesus Christ.

This reflects the idea that the President saw this homeless man as equally worthy to enter the National Cathedral, to make his appeal directly to the same God—and to the church’s credit, for God’s people to receive him as an honored member of the family.

What do you wait in expectant hope for, this Advent?  I am touched by these stories of President Bush because the most basic prayer I have always had is that all people are seen and respected as fellow children of God, and I continue to pray for that.  I pray especially for those who are not shown that respect—those who are being demonized as murderers and rapists because they are foreign and poor; those who have to worry about food and healthcare even though they are citizens of the wealthiest nation in the world; those whose troubles are ignored because we are too focused on ourselves or the most salacious news items in the press.

Just as God came to become one of us, just as Jesus chose to call us friend, just as even the wealthiest of us can use their privilege to share and support the cause of others, may we wait in expectant, urgent hope for God’s kingdom to come.  May we have the patience to wait and not settle for short-term fixes to make ourselves feel better.  May we care enough for those in need to be willing to give of ourselves for change.  May we have the faith to keep praying for God to effect the change, and to step forward in faith to be agents of God’s change.  And may we stay alert to herald and even participate in the change, even if it means drastic change in our own lives.

As a young couple gets their nursery ready for their coming baby, let us get our hearts, our lives, our churches ready, not only to receive the baby Jesus, but to receive all the children of God whom Jesus loves.

In urgent expectation and hope,