Blessed to Be a Blessing

by | Aug 3, 2020

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Romans 12:12-13

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about God’s call to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

In other words, God has blessed us greatly, but not so we can kick back and enjoy the spoils; God blesses us so that we can share the good news of God’s abundant love with a hurting world.

As a Japanese-American Christian, I have felt this for many years, hoping that the Japanese-American community would acknowledge and share the resources we have received. We are in a very good position to do this, because we have in our memory the knowledge of injustice done against us, but we are now relatively well-placed to be able to use that knowledge and our current privilege to advocate for others who are facing injustice. This is the reason I was so happy to attend last Saturday’s vigil of Asian-American and Pacific Islander Christians for Black Lives. During the vigil, there was much to pray for, much to remember in ways that Blacks and AAPIs worked together in the past, much to repent from when AAPIs were complicit in anti-Black racism, much to hope for as we gather AAPI and Black church leaders together, including our own Neal Presa, who opened the day, and Neema Cyrus-Franklin, who gave the closing prayer. San Gabriel Presbytery was a co-sponsor of the event, and Charlene Jin Lee and I were there to represent us.

As Presbyterians, we have much to offer. The PC(USA) is one of the most affluent of Christian denominations; we and the Episcopalian Church are typically the two Christian churches whose members have the highest per capita income, and the highest education levels.

So the Parable of the Talents should speak most directly to us. In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells the story about three servants who were given money by their master. (Yes, “talent” is not what we think of as talents; a talent is a lot of money, about as much as a laborer would earn in 15 years.) The popular

term “Well done, good and faithful servant” comes from this story, as reward for the two servants who took the money and multiplied it. The third servant, whose fear caused him to hold onto the money rather than use it, was condemned.

Last week, the Presbytery Executive Commission met, and discussed the results of the Coronavirus Relief Fund program that ended June 30th. With the help of the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii, the Presbytery was able to give $250 grants to every church and fellowship, and as each church and fellowship requested it, a $5,000 grant and $5,000 loan was given. Fifteen churches received

$115,000 in grants and loans through this program.

Because the Presbytery and Synod both contributed to this program, there are additional funds available. A few things became apparent in our review of the program:

  • Different churches define “need” differently. Many of our smaller churches defined “need” more literally and critically, and would not request the grant and especially the loan unless they were close to not being able to keep the lights
  • Churches that run their own preschools or day care centers faced an extraordinary challenge. Due to COVID-19, it has been extremely difficult to cover payroll costs for the workers with no or little income. Since most churches do not participate in the State Unemployment Insurance program, preschool workers do not have credits to draw from. How can the churches continue with any livelihood or at least benefits during this shutdown time?
  • For whatever reasons, it seemed that dominant culture churches more readily participated in the program. In several cases I had to push churches to request the grant, whereas other churches applied

In order to provide for churches with greater need, and those who are shy to ask, the Executive Commission approved the following grant program for August:

  • Each church and fellowship will receive $2,000. It is up to the church leaders to decide the best use of the grant, to the greatest benefit to God’s mission, either within the congregation or in the community. The PEC wants to encourage churches to think creatively in using these funds, including partnering with a community group or a sister church, investing in something that will move your ministry forward in this very changed world, or encouraging your church members to do something inspired and fed by the
  • Loans from the first round of the Relief Fund have been forgiven, so they do not need to be paid
  • A new round of grants will be given, up to $10,000. The application will be sent to each church and fellowship pastor and clerk and must be submitted by August 31st. Churches who received funds from the first round are eligible to apply for this round of

Even in these uncertain times, it has become clear that we are blessed with resources. May we be good and faithful servants of the Lord, and use what we have to the service of God’s mission, and to reflect God’s glory and abundant grace to a fearful and hurting world. May these grants show our gratitude and sharing in the life of our Presbytery, and our churches.

As this virus continues to impact us in our lives and our ministry, as we turn to God in all things, may we feel the blessings of the saving grace of Jesus Christ and the healing power of the Holy Spirit. And out of our gratitude for God’s blessings, may we be a blessing to others.

In Christ’s peace,