Walking Paths

Walking Paths

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.

Isaiah 11:1-3 (NRSVUE)

Each year, I look forward to returning to the familiar texts of Advent. These texts serve as a reminder of the journey so far and as an invitation to a new year and a new part of the path. Recently, I was describing how I think of our life of faith as a journey where we walk the same path again and again, but with each lap, we see new aspects of the path. Parts of the path are easier to traverse and other parts provide new challenges. Much like the stump, held fast by tree roots that have a long history of providing stability and nourishment, giving way to a new shoot, there is new growth that comes from well worn paths. We see new life from broken things that are mended.

My prayer this Advent is for the spirit of the Lord to rest on each of our leaders and communities. A spirit of wisdom, understanding, and discernment. A spirit of counsel, might, and courage. A spirit of knowledge and fear of the LORD that brings peace and joy rather than fear and shame. As the season inevitably becomes filled traditions and work, I pray that the well-worn paths lead you to new experiences of God’s Spirit at work in your life, at work in your congregations and communities, and at work in our world.

Today, I leave with you with a poem for your reflection on Isaiah 11:1-10.

Stump of Jesse

Slowly wasted. Left for dead. Hacked at the root. Broken.
The tree of Jesse wasted by wind and war.
Tiny green spring. Reflecting light. Hope.
Growing, flourishing.
Wisdom and understanding.
Counsel and might.
Knowledge and fear of the Lord rest upon it.
Unseeing eyes, unhearing ears judge with righteousness.
The poor, the meek receive their due.

The tiny spring a new world reveals.
Wolf and lamb, leopard and kid lie together.
A child leads the lion and the calf.
What is destructive no longer destroys.
What is arrogant bows.
What is irreverent bends toward the holy mountain.
All the earth is filled with the knowledge of God.

The root of Jesse made anew.
A signal for all the people.
Hope from brokenness.
Peace from destruction.
Life from death.

-Ally Lee (2016) 

Peace,

Ally Lee

 

Latchkey Stew

Latchkey Stew

So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God

Ephesians 2:19

As you may know for the November Presbytery meeting, I was quarantined at home due to both of my family members testing positive for COVID. A few hours after the meeting I too was in bed with symptoms, so I am grateful for the early warning given by their positive tests. Because of COVID restrictions much of my work with the Presbytery has been online since I started back in 2020. As I come up on my third anniversary working with the Presbytery, I am grateful that it has been possible for me to do so much of my work online. Yet, I think we all have a sense that our lives are much fuller when they happen in person. I have heard from many of our church leaders that making the transition back to in person has been a burden they were not expecting.

I am reminded of a story1 about a hungry traveler who came upon a town hoping to find food. Each house in the town had a lovely lawn and windows open to let in the breeze, but curiously each door had half a dozen locks on it. The traveler wondered what they were trying to protect, but she thought surely, they will have some food to share, so she began knocking on doors. Door after door she was rejected. They townspeople told her they worked hard for their food and wouldn’t even share with their neighbors, so why would they share with a stranger. The traveler started to leave, but then had an idea.

She went into the forest to collect wood to build a fire and water to fill her tin pot. She started the fire in the middle of the main street and brought the water to a boil. The townspeople stuck their head out of the doors and shouted to her, asking her what she was doing. She told them making a magic stew. She got their attention, and they began to ask questions about her magic stew. She told them she needed a special ingredient, keys. Well, the townspeople had plenty of keys and ran into their homes to get some to share with her. I imagine you can see where the story is going, the townspeople end up eagerly sharing their pots, salt and pepper, and vegetables. They think of all the things they have that would make this magic stew even better and, in the end, have a large party enjoying stew around shared tables and chairs. The party goes late into the night as they tell stories, play music, and dance. When it becomes too cold to remain outside, they unlock their doors and move the party into their homes.

Now I will certainly be the first to say that we still must be careful of our health and the health of our neighbors. If we are sick, we should stay home. And we also need to find ways to undo the locks that we all have put up to keep ourselves safe and remember how to share in community.

Our November Presbytery meeting was a wonderful example of how the small and large gifts of everyone create beautiful, fun, and meaningful experiences.

In our churches and in our work together as a Presbytery, I invite you to find ways to share of your time, your talents, and your things, to work to build up the household of God. We each have at least a key that we can share.

Ally

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1 The story was told on the podcast Circle Round created by WBUR Boston on January 2, 2018, Episode 17.

 

Giving Thanks

Giving Thanks

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

This is Thanksgiving week, and while it’s good to give thanks—at all times and in all circumstances— it’s nice to be able to look back and see what we can be thankful for this past year. Actually, they say it’s good for our mental health to live with an attitude of gratitude, and while we should not discount hardship, we know that there is always reason to give thanks. And as I look back on the life of this presbytery, I can give thanks to God for an infinite number of blessings, but let me just share the first ten that come to mind.

Thanks be to God, and for the Bible who tells us about God, and how God would want us to live our lives. We know we would not be here at all, or in a state of despair and confusion, if not for the life and love God has given us in Jesus Christ. Our reason for being is to appreciate and live out of our understanding of what God has given us, including the invitation to participate in God’s mission in this world. May we continue to rely on and build from this foundation of faith and purpose.

Thanks for the churches, church leaders, and pastors who continue to serve faithfully through all circumstances. We spend energy and time bringing up new leaders and new worshiping communities, but of course the energy, leadership, and mutual support of our presbytery come from our established churches, and I should never take that for granted. Every member, and every congregation, has gifts and a piece of God’s wisdom, and we are far better positioned to discern and do God’s will if we have more people involved in the leadership of the presbytery. We seem to hover right under 100 leaders every year, though we can certainly welcome more!

Thanks for the fellowship of support and generosity lived out in the life of the presbytery. I was texting with one of the presbytery leaders this last week, who mentioned being “really grateful for our Presbytery because it feels as if we genuinely like each other and want to include everyone.” So thanks again to the leaders who have been around for a while, who not only serve their own ministries but expand their welcome to folks who bring new perspectives of God and the church to our presbytery. I experienced this directly at our last presbytery meeting (the first in-person meeting in almost three years), as the host pastor spoke of the partnership of Christian bodies serving together at West Covina; a new pastor became instant sound board technician; another pastor shared persimmons from his tree; we shopped for gifts from a sister church and a recipient of our Self-Development of People grant; we gave gift cards to a family finding peace in our community after fleeing war in Ukraine; and most of all, we enjoyed sitting together at tables but also connecting with friends in San Diego and Oakhurst by Zoom.

Thanks for the polity that facilitates the way we do mission together. While many cringe at the demands of our polity, I know that many people are Presbyterian specifically because of it. For myself, I believe the polity is the codification of what we believe as Christians. And it has become a combination of guardrails to keep us from getting into trouble, practices that facilitate our work as we don’t have to recreate everything on our own, and flexibility and even challenge to develop policies and practices that work best for our context.

Thanks for the larger church that provides counsel, vision, and resources so that we can look ahead to our future work, with the knowledge that we need not go it alone. Many folks are aware that our national church has offered the vision of Matthew 25, which includes the commitment to confront racism, and the Synod provided $150,000 to help our churches get through COVID and matches funds for new worshiping communities, and Synod executive/Stated Clerk Rev. Mark Hong provides constant support, including participating in our presbytery meetings and serving in every way he can, including consulting with churches and even providing pulpit supply in a pinch. What you may not be aware of is the constant interaction of church leaders across the denomination providing mutual advice and support, and the training for moderators, clerks, executives, permanent judicial commissions, and all things General Assembly, including guidelines for considering the many recommendations we will be considering in the next several months. The network of mutual support is not always obvious, but our life together would be much more difficult without it.

Thanks for resources that enable our little presbytery to try new things, support those in need, and provide staff to facilitate our life and mission together. We do have financial and property resources that enable us to support our member congregations and the larger mission of the presbytery in many ways. Several churches and ministry partners do their work at properties managed by the presbytery, we have funds to help churches and individuals in financial crisis, we have designated funds to support new worshiping communities, and we are able to provide staff to support the work of the presbytery.

Thanks for the staff who are dedicated to God’s will for our churches and for San Gabriel Valley. Thanks to Stated Clerks Ally Lee and Steve Salyards; Associate Executive Presbyter Sam Bang; Chaplains for Retired Presbyterian Church Workers Diane Frasher, Harlan Redmond, and Rob Crowell; and Mission Advocate Wendy Gist. They are all faithful, gifted, creative, caring, trustworthy, and dedicated to the ministry of the presbytery. I am most grateful for these wonderful colleagues, and I expect that any of you who have come in contact with them can attest to the blessing they are.

Thanks for the “Trust Clause” of the PC(USA), and for our presbytery’s understanding of it. I may be the only person who lifts this, but as I look at our presbytery and the ways we are better positioned to serve our community than most presbyteries in the denomination, I think the fact that our church leaders understand the trust clause is a big part of it. In essence, the trust clause means that the property of our churches is not the personal property of the congregation, but entrusted to each congregation in order to do God’s work in that community. If a congregation is not able to serve effectively to that neighborhood, the church leaders are expected to raise the concern to the presbytery, and they do. The presbytery works with the church to support the current mission, but also to consider ways to partner with others to meet the changing needs of their neighbors. This is an act of faithfulness and joint ministry that is highly unusual, and a remarkable sign of Christian community that keeps our ministry relevant.

Thanks for new worshiping communities in our midst, bringing new voices and new awareness to us. Sometimes new worshiping communities are seen as a form of institutional survival, but what I have gained from our new groups is a new awareness of neighbors who had not been reached in our past. This is not a failing of our current churches, but a reflection of the ways San Gabriel Valley continues to evolve, sometimes differently from the trajectory of the Presbyterian Church. So as we become aware of more of God’s children seeking to grow their faith and connect with other, more mature disciples, I thank God that we have new spaces and new fellowships to welcome them into the family.

Thanks for new friends and leaders who have come into the life of our presbytery, bringing amazing gifts and experience and expertise, and a willingness to contribute. At our last meeting, I listed the folks who we officially received as pastors and minister members just this last year: John Scholte, Amy Mendez, Tom Eggebeen, Daniel Lee, Chris Choi, Erik Wiebe, Kyung Mo Koo, Andrew Ritiau, Sam Bang, Kate Wiebe, and Harlan Redmond. And that doesn’t include folks under care of CPM, and of course members of our churches and fellowships! Surely God has blessed us richly with these wonderful friends and ministry partners.

As you can see from this long column, there is so much we can be grateful for as a presbytery. And I know that we can focus on any one area and see the many blessings showered on every community, every congregation, and every individual life. How can we do other but give thanks continually, and in every circumstance? Truly God has given us everything we need, and more, and has entrusted us to receive and share what we are offered.

Thanks be to God!

 

Wendy

Family Weekend

Family Weekend

[E]ndurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Romans 5:4-5

Yesterday, an elder who had just finished leading in worship told me that she woke up that morning with joy in her heart! While I’m not a morning person, as the weekend wound down, I realized that the whole weekend was a time of joy.

It didn’t necessarily start out that way. As we were finalizing details for Saturday, our first almost-fully in-person Presbytery meeting since January 2020, Ally texted me to let me know COVID had hit her house. We made some last-minute adjustments, but we were able to hold the meeting, which was planned to have very few viewers on Zoom, with no Zoom-based presenters, to a meeting with three presenters via Zoom, and with new and borrowed audio equipment! This was possible due especially

to Ally and Amy Mendez being well-organized, a very helpful and resourceful staff, and Andrew Ritiau coming to his first in-person Presbytery meeting early enough to help us with the audio (among many skills, Andrew knows sound systems, and actually had worked on the same board at Arcadia). And thanks for everyone’s patience, as we set up the system. God does provide, and this weekend I was especially appreciative of how God provides though God’s people!

That was the highlight of the Presbytery meeting, in my mind. We received Rev. Dr. Kate Wiebe from Santa Barbara Presbytery, and approved the ordination of Harlan Redmond. We approved two celebrations of ministry coming up soon:

  • Dr. Erik Wiebe (who happens to be Kate’s husband) will be installed as Associate Pastor for Adult Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Care at San Marino Community Church on November 20, 2022, at 10 am.
  • Harlan Redmond will be ordained as Organizing Pastor of Interwoven on December 18, 2022, at 4 pm. We announced that the service would be at La Cañada Presbyterian Church, where Interwoven usually worships, but it’s quite possible that the service will be at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Pasadena. We’ll send out an invitation once this is confirmed.

Bong Bringas reported on behalf of the Committee on Representation and Nominations. He pointed out that while we enjoy the diversity of our leadership, including our COM that speaks 6 languages (he corrected the report to state that COM spoke 7!), we have not done as well in receiving younger members into leadership. For myself, I’ve become more aware of the limits of my perspective in seeing young people in our churches. More on that later. But he also presented an excellent slate of leaders elected for 2023, and we gave thanks to those who have completed their terms. We are blessed with almost 100 volunteers who are elected to leadership in the Presbytery.

We were also blessed with the partnership of the larger church. We were greatly inspired by the sharing of Bridget Meckley, Director of Formation & Mission at Fletcher Hills Presbyterian Church in San Diego Presbytery. With great humility, she recounted their decision to convert two of their rooms to provide shelter for Haitian refugee families. This was especially helpful for us, because as we re- visioned our Immigrant Accompaniment Ministry, we have thought about focusing some of our attention to asylum seekers awaiting entry into the US in Tijuana, possibly with extra care for Haitians.

In my annual report, I was able to recognize our most excellent staff, and also mentioned that we are receiving applications for the Immigrant Accompaniment Organizer position now, thanks to the grant from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. If you are interested in applying, you can send a resume to me by December 1 at wendytajima@sangabpres.org.

Rev. Amy Mendez, as host pastor, shared the good news by speaking about the partnership of the Community Presbyterian Fellowship at West Covina, the Presbytery, International Theological Seminary (ITS) as it celebrates their 40th anniversary, Shining Light Ministries (who lent us their sound equipment and internet connection), and Iglesia de Jesucristo La Nueva Senda. She also mentioned the national meeting of Hispanic/Latina Presbyterian Women in Orlando, Florida; 14 women from San Gabriel Presbytery attended this joyous reunion, thanks to the grants from San Gabriel Presbytery and the Synod of Southern California and Hawai‘i. Amy and Rev. Dr. James Lee, a member of our Presbytery and the President of ITS, served communion for the Presbytery. And many thanks go to the dedicated members of Community Presbyterian Fellowship for being our most hospitable hosts.

The Presbytery did even more on Saturday morning, including:

  • Approved the 2023 budget, and set the 2023 apportionment at $70/member, returning to the 2020 level
  • Affirmed 9 of 33 proposed amendments to the Book of Order
  • Announced the next WinterFest for February 1-4, 2023, with the theme The Past is Prologue for a Reimagined Church
  • Remembered the Christmas Joy Special Offering, 27-Dec. 18. This offering is shared equally by the Assistance Program of the Board of Pensions, and Presbyterian-related schools and colleges equipping communities of color
  • Heard about our new Benefits Policy and updated documents for CPM
  • Shopped with plants and crafts from our recent SDOP recipient, Planta Colectivo, as well as our own Puente de Esperanza and others from Refugee Children’s Center.

Immediately after the Presbytery meeting, many of us went to give thanks for the life of Rev. Doug Edwards, long-time member of San Gabriel Presbytery. Several hundred people attended the memorial service at PPC and/or the reception at Westminster Gardens, sharing many memories of Doug’s friendship and faith, even in the last year as he dealt with brain cancer. The event was also a family reunion of sorts, bringing together friends from Westminster Presbyterian, Temple City, Trinity Presbyterian, PPC, Westminster Gardens, and the larger community. I was able to catch up with one of my first mentors in ministry, the newly-retired Rev. Dr. Frank Alton, who was a good friend of Doug’s.

On Saturday, I got to touch base with Northminster Presbyterian Church, Filipino Community United in Azusa, and Interwoven, and I saw three churches who are looking forward with eager anticipation for God’s good plans for their future. And I saw people of every generation, from beloved seniors who have labored long and very well, to young adult elders in their 30s and 40s, to young adults new to the Presbyterian Church through Interwoven, where I sat behind one baby not yet one year old, and down the row from another not yet 4 months old. We are in ministry with all generations, if we have eyes to see and paths to enter into leadership.

As Amy shared, we can move from hope to hope, especially with companions on the journey. And as Elder Yvonne Harmon shared, we can wake up with joy in our hearts, thanks to the goodness of God.

 

With gratitude for our shared ministry,

Wendy

Entertaining Angels

Entertaining Angels

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Hebrews 13:1-2

This Saturday, we are trying to move into post-pandemic life as a presbytery. We will hold our first meeting that is designed to be in-person, this time at the West Covina Ministry Center. If needed, people can meet by Zoom, but we are hoping to have nearly everyone join us at 9 am in person. If you must meet by Zoom or have questions, please contact Ally Lee at ally@sangabpres.org. And however you join us, we are asking that you pre-register for the meeting by clicking HERE.

We expect the meeting to end by 11:30, so if you are going to the memorial service for Doug Edwards (at 1:30 pm at Pasadena Presbyterian Church), you would have time to grab a quick lunch and get to Pasadena—it takes at least 30 minutes to drive there from West Covina.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of preaching at our Occidental and Eagle Rock churches, and mentioned Doug Edwards. At Occidental, the clerk of session shared how Doug became their moderator of session 30 years ago after a crisis in the church. Not only did Doug stabilize them and gave them hope for the future, he also instituted systems for keeping records and managing finances that the church follows to this day. The clerk shared that the church would not have survived if not for Doug. At Eagle Rock, Doug was remembered as a former Associate Pastor, which I had never heard before—but I’m learning that many respected pastors began their ministries at Eagle Rock. I continue to be grateful for the many ways Presbytery members serve over the years. For example, without doing thorough research, I know that Doug served in multiple churches, with the Synod and at Westminster Gardens, and he helped to develop New Theological Seminary’s Certificate for Spirituality and Aging and our Presbytery’s Chaplaincy for Retired Presbyterian Church Workers.

Even though we mourn the loss of long-time friends and colleagues, we are also blessed to be able to welcome new friends coming into our presbytery. This Saturday, we will receive Rev. Dr. Kate Wiebe, a psychologist who has done outstanding work with churches and other organizations that have experienced trauma. She shared with COM how she was PDA’s lead responder to the horrible mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School at Newtown, Connecticut, and she helped to hold her presbytery accountable in their financial management. We will also examine Harlan Redmond for ordination. Harlan has already made a significant impact on the Presbytery in his ministry of reconciliation as he leads Interwoven New Worshiping Community, participates in our working group on reparations, and was recently called to be Outreach Chaplain for Retired Presbyterian Church Workers.

We also anticipate new ministries to come. We are grateful that PDA has approved a new grant for our Immigrant Accompaniment Organizer. We hope to receive applications this month, in anticipation of filling the position in early 2023. In the meantime, the ministry has not stopped; we hope everyone brings to Presbytery gift cards for the Shpak family, who recently fled the war in Ukraine and are being surrounded with love and support from Knox Presbyterian Church and Monte Vista Grove Homes.

Truly, God blesses us by sending us angels in colleagues and neighbors. This Saturday we will remember those who have gone home to God this past year, and we will consider new leaders in our midst, new friends from other countries, and we will elect new leaders for the Presbytery in 2023.

Thank God for sending us angels for the journey, every stage along the way.

See you Saturday,

Wendy

Missing

Missing

Thus says the Lord:
A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more. Jeremiah 31:15

Because today is Halloween—or, more importantly, tomorrow is All Saints Day—I was planning to write about our ancestors, and how we will be the ancestors for future generations. I am also looking ahead to our next Presbytery meeting, coming up in less than two weeks, on November 12. It is a November tradition to remember our loved ones who have gone home to the Lord in the past year, so if there is a pastor or church leader you want remembered by the Presbytery, please contact Ally Lee at ally@sangabpres.org. And as it happens, the memorial service for Rev. Doug Edwards will be held that same day, at 1:30 pm at Pasadena Presbyterian Church, followed by a reception at Westminster Gardens at 3:30. A full day of remembrances and plans for the future, as we also present a proposed budget and nominations slate for 2023.

As we give thanks for lives filled with many days of love and purpose, I am crushed by the news of the death of 154 young people at a Halloween street party in Seoul, Korea. It almost feels like the very exuberance in joining the celebration went out of control, and they were literally crushed by the crowd. So many lights of hope and promise lost, and so many families thrown into grief for something that makes no sense. I just pray that God receives every one of these young souls in mercy and eternal peace, and that somehow that peace may find its way into their families’ broken hearts. Whether on this mortal plane or in eternity, we stay connected in Spirit. But they will be missed.

Another November Presbytery tradition is to receive the representation report, gauging who is in Presbytery leadership this past year—and who is missing. As usual, we have just under 100 individuals volunteering for Presbytery office, commissions, committees, and administrative commissions. You may have heard that one of my goals for this presbytery has been to have the leadership more closely reflect the membership of our churches. The area of greatest progress has been racial; while about half of our members are people of color, our leadership is now 41% people of color—not quite equal, but pretty good. However, we are missing Native Americans in leadership.

Perhaps my biggest learning from the Ethnic Concerns Consultation a few weeks ago was hearing from former co-moderator Elona Street-Stewart that there has been great growth in community activities for Native people in our cities, including Los Angeles, but the churches know very little about them.

But the biggest gap we have in the Presbytery is younger leadership. I regularly hear that our churches are aging, so I don’t even know how many young people we have in our membership, but we definitely do not have people under 35 or 40 in our leadership. When talking about raising up Indigenous young people, Elona shared with sadness that her synod no longer has Youth/Young Adult Advisory Delegates.
I thought she meant for the GA, but her synod used to have a program for young people to come to their synod gatherings, because her synod has an extensive leadership training program. I had never even heard of this!

Perhaps because I do not have children, I confess that I have missed what we are missing, and I also lack knowledge of how to invite young people into leadership. I do believe in two initial steps: to become aware of who is missing and pray for their presence, and to show respect for who our young people are, and what they can contribute.

So I raise this concern, and ask that we collectively pray for eyes to see young people in our communities, and ears to hear their voices and the guidance of God, that we may be a church of welcome for all generations. We will continue to mourn the young people lost this last weekend—in Korea, as well as those lost to illness, violence, poverty, and displacement—but while we give thanks for the relative safety of our young ones, we ask for God’s protection on all. We know there are children in our own communities in need—of food and shelter, of good education, but also of a sense of purpose and hope for the future, and the stable presence of adults who care about them. When I was a pastor, I was very aware of the importance of the church for children from troubled families especially, and I believe the church has a sacred calling to be that safe, caring, forgiving, and empowering place for God’s children, regardless of their generation.

Let us pray for young people—with our voices, our hearts, but also with our eyes to see opportunities for us to connect, not only to teach but to learn. Let us pray and show care for our families, especially those who will be entering the holiday season with empty seats at the table. And as with all forms of diversity, may we be able to broaden our knowledge and worship of God, who is great enough to create and love and live through all of us.

 

With tears of grief and thanksgiving,

Wendy