Becoming More Faithful Servants
This weekend we had a Presbytery meeting at Claremont Presbyterian Church, and we thank them for their warm welcome. The meeting did not have big surprises or conflicts, but we confirmed several transitions that have been discussed:
–we officially approved the sale of the former South Hills property in Pomona, which has been marketed for months;
–we approved Roger Shervington’s retirement and prayed for him and wife Sandy as they are both facing health issues;
–we transferred out John D’Elia and Steve Yamaguchi as they are already serving churches in neighboring presbyteries;
–we commissioned the 9-person team going to Lima in May for a Living Waters for the World installation;
–we celebrated the positive resolution of the fraud faced by our Baldwin Park church;
–we heard updates on the move towards negotiations with Alhambra True Light if they are to be dismissed;
–we considered ways to support our veteran members of small churches who can no longer manage the property, and look ahead to serve underserved communities; and
–we heard about Pomona Hope’s efforts to secure a new location for their Center Street Community Garden, and we gathered over $1,000 for this important productive and green space in the city, in loving memory of Jonah Hwang (this includes at least one on-line gift; you can still give at saveourgarden.org).
But most of the meeting was dedicated to sharing knowledge about becoming better stewards of Creation, and witnessing to God’s love and justice with neighbors as close as Pomona and as far as Peru. I think this was the most educational meeting we’ve had (other than WinterFest, of course)-I can tell by the number of people who followed up with questions about urban farming and food security (as mentioned by Claremont and Pomona), or PILP’s Restoring Creation or Accessibility loans with reduced interest, or ways we can reduce landfill waste.
I am especially happy with a fresh way of looking at our vision as a Presbytery, which the Vision and Strategy Team will use to guide them as they consider how to support and form healthy congregations. They found the vision of the Presbytery-and the marks of a healthy congregation-in our existing mission statement, focusing on how we “work for the transformation of the valley by sharing our faith in Jesus Christ, becoming a mosaic of Godly diversity in a deeply divided society, and by demonstrating our faith by engagement in public life.” In other words, how do we transform our communities by making disciples of Jesus Christ, by reflecting God’s creativity in making us diverse but one, and by bringing the love of God into the world?
Early in the meeting, the Presbytery also voted to offer new 3-year contracts to Diane Frasher as Stated Clerk and myself as Executive Presbyter, effective on our anniversary of May 2nd. Thank you for your confidence and commitment, and I pray that we can continue to serve you well in the coming three years.
This moment prompted me to reflect on where we’ve been and where we might be going. I found a summary of my first report to the Presbytery four years ago (I have been here four years, as the first year was an interim year). I listed four priorities for my work in San Gabriel:
- To look at who we are now, and how to have our leadership better reflect our membership.
- To identify gaps in our ministry coverage of the region in which we are responsible for proclaiming the gospel.
- To assess our financial and property resources with the goal of ensuring they are aligned with our current needs and opportunities.
- To make structural changes (such as coming out of a long sabbatical period) so we can focus on the needed work of Presbytery support and leadership.
Of course, we must continue the core part of our work as a presbytery, which is supporting and walking with our congregations as we all seek to follow God’s call for this time and this place.
As I look back and consider future priorities, I see the following:
- Our leadership does look more like our membership in race and ethnicity and age, as we have people of diverse backgrounds and younger leadership while we continue to rely on active and retired leaders to serve. The one area we are still lacking is ruling elder leadership. We Presbyterians are big believers in shared leadership among all of God’s people, especially the importance of balancing ruling elder and teaching elder authority, but we still have far too few ruling elders in elected presbytery leadership.
- With the departure of several churches, we need to look at the communities in the center of our Presbytery, and how we can better serve them. Several of our Presbytery leaders are considering this, including the ACs of Community West Covina and Baldwin Park, the Administration and Finance Committee, and the Vision and Strategy Team. We are starting to look at redevelopment for our existing churches and properties, while seeking to start new ministries.
- We do have financial reserves and active participation from member churches to sustain the Presbytery, though we are using restricted funds in a way that is cautious but not sustainable long-term. We are also looking at new ways of managing property, to free up new and older congregations from the burden of maintaining buildings, and to provide some income, which lessens the financial need for our congregations to cover the costs of the Presbytery.
- One of my first tasks was to work with others to rewrite the bylaws. In doing so, we created three committees (Justice Peacemaking and Mission, Education, and Vision and Strategy) that have provided great leadership for the Presbytery while also offering new entryways to leadership. Most of the members of these committees have never served on a Presbytery committee before. Looking at this last meeting, most of the new learning came from these committees. In addition, we utilize ACs more extensively, not as a weapon but as the best way for the Presbytery to commit gifted leaders to work more deeply with a congregation, and there are many examples of how the ACs have already helped congregations deal with issues that would have been too complex or painful to handle on their own.
There has been a lot of great work and progress over the years, and much that needs to be done. I look forward to continuing to move forward with you as we seek to be ever more faithful servants of God in this valley.