Pivot Points for God’s Beloved

Pivot Points for God’s Beloved

This week there are so many pivot points in the histories of everything: from the global geopolitical drama in the West and in the Korean peninsula, to the start of the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the start of the tenure of Diane Givens-Moffett as President and Executive Director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, to several of our churches preparing to welcome new pastors. Another church, Grace Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, will be celebrating their 25th anniversary this Sunday. And, of course, this Sunday is Father’s Day, and for some this will be their first Father’s Day, with all the joy and new awareness and love and responsibility that comes with fatherhood.

It’s a little dizzying to consider all that may be happening, and the potential in these events. After a meeting of leading Western nations where the United States seemed to challenge the relationships with our long-time allies, we are now on the brink of a historic meeting with North Korea. There are indications that North Korea, which has seemed more focused on nuclear arms than the lives of their people, is now looking ahead to economic development, more normalized relations with the rest of the world, and peace and even reunification of the Korean people.

After three starts, the Presbyterian Mission Agency found an ideal candidate for their new leader, showing yet again God’s gracious control over our lives. The new PMA Director, Diane Givens-Moffett, was not available for the first two starts of the search, so perhaps God stopped our first two attempts in order to make us wait for Diane’s availability. Diane represents so much of what the church has been calling for in the PMA Director-a mission-minded, inspiring, culturally proficient, faith-led, forward-thinking leader who has already done much of what we are trying to get the church to look at into the future. She has been a force for reconciliation and collaboration between races, she has provided support for immigrants, she started a new worshiping community, and her ministry has always connected her churches with their communities. She starts her work today, and will be presented to the General Assembly, which begins this Saturday.

Yes, there is another GA coming up, with several different issues at hand. There will be an added emphasis on being present in the host community, this time St. Louis, with opportunities to connect with local churches, serve the community, and voice our concerns for migrants. There is also some controversy over issues at the national level of the PC(USA) regarding its structure, which was developed when the denomination was more than double the size we are now. I would ask your prayers for our contingent: Young Adult Advisory Delegate Sophia Alecci, Ruling Elder Commissioner Deborah Owens, and Teaching Elder Commissioner Bear Ride. Sophia will be leaving Thursday, Stated Clerk Diane Frasher will be joining us a week from Tuesday, and the rest of us will be out Friday, June 15, through Saturday, June 23.

More locally, several of our churches are in the process of calling new pastors. The calls have not been finalized yet, but I anticipate that come this September 15 Presbytery meeting, we will be receiving at least four and maybe a couple more new minister members! Two of these will not be pastoring congregations, though they are all connected with congregations-for instance, Tod Bolsinger has been active with Knox in Pasadena, even as he is extremely busy as Vice President of Fuller Theological Seminary. Tod is even busier with the broad acceptance of his highly recommended book Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in uncharted Territory-and most recently, the announcement that Fuller will be moving to Pomona in three years! I am very impressed with our new members-to-be, and with the churches who are embracing new leadership. I ask your prayers for all our churches and pastors in transition.

Last but certainly not least, I ask that God bless all of you who are fathers or who act as fathers for those in need of support, and guidance, and care. Lately I’ve been seeing the great impact that one individual can do in the lives of others, and certainly fathers can change the world as they raise their children. May we all see glimpses of God our Heavenly Father in the love of our human fathers.

As we consider all the possibilities of change and new adventures in our midst, I have been encouraged by a poem, “Beloved is Where We Begin,” by Jan Richardson:

If you would enter into the wilderness,
Do not begin without a blessing.

Do not leave without hearing who you are:
Beloved,

Named by the one who has traveled this path
Before you.

Do not go without letting it echo in your ears,
and if you find it is hard to let it into your heart,
Do not despair……..

I cannot promise this blessing will free you from danger, from fear,
From hunger or thirst, from scorching of sun or the fall of night.

But I can tell you that on this path there will be help.

I can tell you that on this way there will be rest.

I can tell you that you will know the strange graces
That come to our aid only on a road such as this,
That fly to meet us bearing comfort and strength,
That come alongside us for no other cause
Than to lean themselves
Toward our ear
And with their
Curious insistence
Whisper:

Beloved.
Beloved.
Beloved.

May you hear these whispers of grace every day,

Wendy

2nd Annual Day of Service

2nd Annual Day of Service

We had our 2nd Annual All-Presbytery Day of Service this last Saturday, and it was enlightening in many ways. We had a short business meeting which was highlighted by the presence of Mission Co-Workers Ryan and Alethia White, who pastor the Farsi-speaking Iranian Presbyterian Church in Berlin, Germany, perhaps the first church in Germany to welcome what is now a very large Middle-Eastern migrant community.

Two other highlights from the business meeting were a report from the survey taken at our April Presbytery meeting by the Vision and Strategy Team. The survey respondents showed the following priorities:

  • A strong need for resources and training to help churches build relationships with their community
  • A strong need to diversify generationally
  • Requests for training and resources in identifying local issues and working with homelessness and hunger issues
  • A preference among pastors for a retreat to be centered around a particular topic or speaker.

You can see all the responses in a separate document here.

Perhaps the most important action of the Presbytery was to transition Community Presbyterian Church, West Covina, to be a fellowship of the Presbytery. This allows the CPC family to continue to worship, while the Presbytery takes on the responsibility of managing and utilizing their impressive property, which seems exceptionally well-suited for ministry by multiple bodies. A new AC was formed to discern the vision for that ministry center, with the hope of seeking staff later in the year to care for the fellowship, manage the property, and grow new ministries. This approach is a new strategy for San Gabriel, as it provides support and pastoral care for our long-time members while better stewarding the property that has been entrusted to us for ministry. Several CPC members were present, as Moderator Becca Bateman prayed in gratitude for all they have been and are, as the first church established in West Covina, and as they take on this new path.

In honor of their 70th Anniversary, Community Presbyterian Church will be holding a celebration luncheon at the church on Saturday, July 14th, at 11:30 a.m.

The rest of the meeting (and yes, the stated meeting continued until lunch) was carried out in service projects. The service projects were well-attended and varied. Several people were out landscaping, utilizing not only physical strength but some artistic flair as they laid out a streambed. Others shared stories of faith with some of the residents of Westminster Gardens, and quite a few sorted and packed dozens of toiletry kits for LAC+USC Medical Center, and several housewarming laundry baskets for people moving from homelessness to homes through Door of Hope. We were all astonished at the generosity of our folks bringing in supplies and gift cards for young asylum-seekers, and especially thankful for the churches that took up collections ahead of time.

The immigrant advocacy group met with Fabrizio, a young man awaiting his asylum hearing, and Guillermo Torres, lead organizer for CLUE (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice), who is coordinating the UCARE Coalition that helps provide legal and family support for unaccompanied minors with the help of Pacific and San Gabriel presbyteries and other people of faith. I will note that many of the strongest and boldest advocates for the immigrants are Jewish, because they see their ancestors in the young asylumseekers, and they want to give back for those who sheltered them when they fled the Nazis.

Indeed, this theme came up a couple of times on Saturday. Dean Thompson asked Ryan and Alethia White whether the Germans feel a sense of redemption in their generous welcome and support for the Arab refugees, and the Whites affirmed that this is the driving motivation for Germany’s leadership in this area. Wendy Gist suggested that what the Whites are doing, welcoming Iranian refugees in a foreign land, is very similar to what many of our churches do.

However, after the immigration advocacy project ended, I asked Alethia White if indeed the issues seemed similar to her. She opened her eyes wide and said no, the idea that the United States of America is forcibly taking children and infants away from their mothers and sending them sometimes thousands of miles away was mind-blowing, as she had no idea this was happening here, and it is totally different from the German government’s approach.

A few days earlier, I suggested that 50 years from now, people are going to look back at our country’s treatment of refugees the way we look back at Nazi Germany, and they will wonder, what did people of faith do? What will we do?

So as we had a wonderful day of learning and serving, we know that the work continues, and we need to be bold in our obedience to our God, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. We did quite a bit of that as one body of Christ on Saturday.

Let us know Christ’s peace as we continue in his footsteps.

In gratitude and joy,

Wendy

Blessed to be a Blessing

Blessed to be a Blessing

This Sunday is not only Memorial Day weekend, it is the first of many “ordinary” Sundays in the season after Pentecost. This season lasts from Pentecost to the end of the liturgical year, right before Advent-so that’s around 27 weeks. It’s always struck me as a little odd that there are so many Sundays in this season; a few years ago folks tried to make it more interesting by riffing off the liturgical color of green for this season. So instead of just “ordinary time,” they called it “growing time.”

Perhaps it can be called “growing time” or “time to work.” When I think of the story of the church in the Bible, we see:

  • God’s saving intervention in Jesus Christ,
  • the small band of people who were loved and led by Jesus,
  • the disciples seeing his death and resurrection,
  • Jesus promising the power of the Holy Spirit to be his witnesses,
  • Jesus ascending to heaven, and sending the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to empower the church.

So now what? Were the disciples given the gift of language and the power of the Holy Spirit to sit back and enjoy their special status? Or were they to wait quietly until Jesus comes again?

I always loved the image of the disciples when Jesus ascends, their mouths open as they looked up to heaven-until two men in white robes arrive to tell them to stop looking to heaven and get on with things.

Of course, I am a child of my tradition, as we Presbyterians are not known for sitting around and reveling in our blessed status. We believe that God has blessed us, as God blessed Abraham, in order that we may be a blessing to others.

Perhaps that’s the connecting point between this long season in the church calendar, and Memorial Day-we look back on those who have gone before us, and we give thanks for their service that has been such a blessing for us today. Whether you focus on military service or on all whom we remember, we are inspired by the work, the sacrifice, the faithfulness, the courageous obedience to our Lord that our ancestors exemplified.

This Saturday we will be having our 2nd Annual Day of Service. We are purposely compressing our regular Presbytery business so we can get on with the Presbytery at work in the world. Because we are called to many different kinds of work, the projects are varied as well-from working in the garden of Westminster Gardens, to putting together hygiene kits for LAC+USC Medical Center patients and housewarming baskets for Door of Hope clients as they escape homelessness, to advocating for migrant people fleeing violence and poverty, to sharing sacred stories with each other, including retired church workers.

As you may remember, Rev. Lauren Evans is our chaplain for retired Presbyterian church workers, and two wonderful side benefits of her ministry are the opportunity to get to know and hear from our retirees, and “Weekend Wanderings,” Lauren’s new newsletter that speaks specifically to the retiree community. This electronic newsletter includes reflections and information that is useful for retirees, and Lauren hopes to share stories of our wonderful retirees. (You can let Twila know at presby@sangabpres.org if you want to subscribe to this.) And at our Presbytery meeting this Saturday, we can hear some of these stories-stories of work, and sacrifice, and faithfulness, and courageous obedience to our Lord. I have been inspired, energized, and challenged by such stories, and I expect you have also.

So as we gather up items to bring this Saturday (see shopping lists below), as we help our service project leaders by registering ahead of time for your service project preference here, as we get ready to connect with each other with love, prayer, and work, let me leave you with a little story that always makes me pause:

A man, distraught by all the pain and suffering he saw all around him, broke down and banged his fists into the dirt. His head turned upward and he cried out to God, “Look at this mess. Look at all this pain and suffering. Look at all this killing and hate. God, O God! WHY DON’T YOU DO SOMETHING!!”

And God answered him and said, “I did. I sent you.”

As we enter this season of growth and service, may we enjoy exercising the power of the Holy Spirit moving through us, for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of the people God has called us to serve. See you Saturday.

In love and service,

Wendy

The Language of Service

The Language of Service

For some reason, it felt like Pentecost came very early this year. Yesterday I heard a pastor friend saying that things are so busy there wasn’t time to really think about Pentecost, and it reminded me how sometimes we try to fit God into our very-busy lives (even those of us who work for the church can get too busy to contemplate the One we have vowed to serve). I thought how Jesus’ followers would not be busy with tasks, as they were in fear and mourning, having first lost Jesus to crucifixion, and then having Jesus leave again as he ascended into heaven-yet devoting themselves to prayer and preaching to their congregation of around 120. Their lives were open for the coming of the Spirit-though certainly the rest of Jerusalem was taken by surprise!

Yesterday I heard a sermon focusing on the Pentecost gift being that of language. Now I happen to think of “language” in a larger sense-that is, all the ways we communicate with others. So there are the words we use, but also the way we communicate our faith through the choices we make, the ways we treat people, the love and forgiveness we offer, as Jesus gave to us. We even know that the architecture of our buildings and the songs we sing in worship express something of what we believe about God, and who we are as God’s church. And we speak of serving Jesus when we serve others, especially when we show concern for those who struggle in the world, “the least of these.”

I once heard a person say, “I want my life to be my sermon.” What language do you use to proclaim Christ in your life?

For many of us, we communicate, and fellowship, and learn through service. If that’s you too, please be sure to come to our next Presbytery meeting, June 2, which is also our 2nd Annual All-Presbytery Day of Service, held at Westminster Gardens in Duarte. That’s less than two weeks away!

We are planning the day to really be a morning-registration starts at 8:30, and the meeting starts at 9 am. We expect that the meeting will move into service projects by 10:30, so the meeting adjourns at 12:30 with lunch. All the service projects will be done at Westminster Gardens, though not all the projects are for Westminster Gardens. So we are hoping that everyone stays for the full meeting, which includes the service opportunities. As with last year, we are posting a Google Docs sign-up for the service projects-though you can also register on-site, you can give the organizers some advance notice by signing up here – Open in Docs

You’ll see that there’s a variety of options-from a few landscaping projects, to putting together housewarming baskets and hygiene kits, to sharing sacred stories with long-time servants of God, to immigrant advocacy. Along with the service, there will be learning along the way, as service project leaders such as Angel Interfaith Network and Door of Hope (hygiene kits and housewarming baskets) and Margarita Reyes and Walter Contreras (immigrant advocacy) will give information about the communities they serve, and ways we can be Christ’s hands and heart for them.

There’s even a shopping component. At the last Presbytery meeting and in last week’s Monday Morning Update, we gave you shopping lists for the hygiene kits and housewarming baskets-see the list again in a separate box. In addition, we invite you to bring in $5 Target gift cards for families who are caring for unaccompanied minors as they seek asylum here in Southern California. These young people are fleeing the rampant violence in Central America, and are in our immigration court system, living with volunteer families until they can appear before a judge. As part of the immigrant advocacy project, we will be writing notes of encouragement to the young people and their families, and we will insert a gift card in each note. You can bring in any of these items, regardless of your participation in that service project.

So now you can be shoppers for Jesus, and invite your friends to join us for a very short Presbytery meeting-or invite them to come to Westminster Gardens at 10:00 for worship, and 10:30 for the service projects. We hope that we can get to know each other better as we learn and serve for the kingdom.

Later this week, several of our own will be leaving to learn and serve in Peru. This year we will be sending a 9-person Living Waters team, to install a clean water system for a school in Lima. Because this is the first time we are not working in a high-altitude community, this team includes folks who have not been able to serve in the past. We are grateful that we can continue in this on-going commitment to the people of Peru. I ask that you pray for the team, as well as for the people of the Big Island whose homes were overtaken by the Kilauea volcano. I have visited this area (and worked with churches there), when the lava would pour out of Kilauea in a slow stream, not like the violent eruptions happening today. There are multiple hazards resulting from this open break in the earth’s crust, even as eventually this will lead to new land being birthed. May we all remember with reverence the power of God’s creation.

In love and service,

Wendy

Pentecost and Peace

Pentecost and Peace

Some of you may know that I argued long and hard with God before becoming ordained.

Among the countless (and I mean countless) reasons I should not be a pastor was my intense stage fright. Even during seminary, my voice would shake if the Scripture passage I was to read was long, and every time I gave a practice sermon in preaching class, the first comment from the professor was a very concerned “Wendy, are you feeling all right?”

I figured I would not be ordained because in order to be ordained, you have to preach at least one time, and that was one too many. I imagined beginning my first sermon with the Jerry Seinfeld joke that when polled, the fear expressed by most Americans was that of speaking in public, even ahead of the fear of dying. So, Seinfeld reasoned, at any given funeral, more people feared giving the eulogy than lying in the casket. In my one and only sermon, I would tell the joke (which would bomb, of course), give a stultifyingly dry sermon, and walk out of the pulpit saying to God, “See?! I told you I couldn’t do it!”

Well, my first sermon was a miracle of the community of faith surrounding me with love, which is how I ended up where I am now-no great preacher by any length, but still trying. However, it was my SECOND sermon when I had the nightmare preaching experience I thought would kill off my ministry career. I was asked to fill the pulpit for a friend of mine who was serving a Japanese-American church in the Bay Area, a church whose stubbornness caused their large young adult group to break away and start their own fellowship; a church whose insistence on focusing exclusively on Japanese people severely limited their future ministry. My friend and I thought that I could say a prophetic word to these stiff-necked people because as a guest preacher, I could get away with it.

I focused on Acts 1:8, the very last words of Jesus upon his ascension and just before the day of Pentecost (which we will be celebrating this Sunday-I hope with the Pentecost Offering). My main point was that Jesus didn’t just say “you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth” but that he first directed them to witness on his behalf in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. I especially focused on Samaria, who I consider to be estranged cousins of the Jews of Judea, children of the Northern Kingdom of Israel who were subjugated by the Assyrians and then rejected by the Judeans as traitors and half-breeds. History shows us how invaders will use rape as a form of violence that changes the ethnic legacy of a conquered region, and this is how I think of the hybrid nature of Samaria. Unfortunately, as I interpret the legend of La Malinche in Mexico, the conquered are sometimes demonized as enemy sympathizers.

In his final words, I suggested that Jesus is telling his followers to first reconcile with estranged neighbors before going out to the rest of the world. By reconciling with those closest to us, we can be effective witnesses to the reconciling love of Jesus Christ.

This thought comes to me on the day that the United States government opened its embassy in Jerusalem. As I write this column on Monday morning, 52 people have reportedly died in protests of this embassy move. Mainline Christian churches, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), have denounced this move as being premature, since it was understood that the resolution of Jerusalem would occur as part of the shalom, or fulfillment, of peace talks among the Jews, Muslims, and Christians who all see Jerusalem as a holy city.

When President Trump announced his decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem in December 2017, leaders of the Orthodox, Coptic, Episcopal, Lutheran and other churches in Jerusalem sent an open letter, saying:

Our land is called to be a land of peace. Jerusalem, the city of God, is a city of peace for us and for the world. Unfortunately, though, our holy land with Jerusalem the Holy City, is today a land of conflict.

Those who love Jerusalem have every will to work and make it a land and a city of peace, life and dignity for all its inhabitants. The prayers of all believers in it-the three religions and two peoples who belong to this city-rise to God and ask for peace. . . . We are certain that [the embassy move] will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. . . . As the Christian leaders of Jerusalem, we invite you to walk with us in hope as we build a just, inclusive peace for all the people of this unique and Holy City.

I have often believed that Jerusalem is the nexus of God’s peace for the world. If the children of Abraham cannot learn to live together in peace, what kind of witness do we have for the rest of the world of the reconciling power of our love for our Lord?

While I am gravely concerned for our nation’s role in disrupting the cause of peace, I always take comfort in the many times I have been wrong when discounting the power of God to overcome our shortcomings. Take a little thing like my fear of public speaking, to the utter miracle of our Presbyterian Mission Agency finding a new Executive Director in the Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett in the midst of turmoil and distrust in the church-God can certainly do what we cannot do for ourselves. So I always pray that God’s will is much larger and more righteous than my fears.

So I close with Paul’s letter to the Philippians, a letter written from prison, when all might seem lost:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (4:4-7)

Praying for peace on this Pentecost, for all nations, Wendy