Healthy New Year

Healthy New Year

If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.                                                                     Romans 14:8

As we are moving into the new year, I am painfully aware of the losses our presbytery family is facing: losses from deaths, pastoral transitions, and the constantly changing requirements of COVD. Thank God we have the assurance of eternal life, and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, and we are welcoming new members into the presbytery, but the losses are grievous.

In the past month, we have heard that death has come too close to several members of the San Gabriel Presbytery family. After a few short months in Pennsylvania near her inlaws, Becca Bateman lost her mother-in-law, who died suddenly at the age of 58. Incoming Presbytery member Amy Mendez moved here to be near family, including her sister who had been battling cancer; her sister died right before Christmas. David Pak’s sister also died from cancer on Christmas Day. Nancy Moore’s husband Stan died right after New Year’s. And this weekend we just learned that Bryce Little’s wife Phyllis and San Gabriel minister member Andy Jarvis passed away. As far as I know, none of these deaths were caused by COVID, though it makes things more complicated and it restricted the time that some people could spend with their loved ones in their last days.

We also have a number of churches saying good-bye to their pastors. In the last several months, several pastors have retired or announced plans to retire: Sam Kim (Divine Light), Martha and Twining Campbell (Westminster Pasadena), Mariko Yanagihara (New Hope) and Bruce Myers (West Covina). Erik Dailey (Eagle Rock and Occidental) took another call in San Fernando Presbytery. Several associate pastors have left their churches for new chapters in ministry: Becca Bateman (San Marino), Ally Lee (Knox), and Steve Wiebe and Hyosub Lee (Pasadena).

And COVID rages on. According to the LA Times data tracker, cases in LA County are 32.7% higher than two weeks ago, and deaths are almost triple the rate two weeks ago. So we are not yet on the other side of the Omicron surge. There is a new order requiring all employers to have free respirators (N95, KN95, KF94) available for employees. Omicron spreads so quickly, several of our churches have already moved back to online worship. Thank God we are able to be agile, but the changes are dizzying.

The County is constantly updating information and infographics, such as a list of Best Practices for Communities of Faith and a handout on upgraded mask options. In the Best Practices document, there’s a list of guidelines for performers or presenters—in other words, worship leaders, choirs, and preachers:

  • The presenter/performer should be fully vaccinated and boosted, if
  • The presenter/performer should have a negative COVID-19 test result within 2 days prior to the service (if PCR) or within 1 day (if antigen). [free antigen tests:]
  • The presenter/performer should be physically distanced at least 12 feet from all others while
  • The presenter/performer must wear a mask when not actively presenting/performing.
  • Only one presenter/performer may be unmasked at any given
  • The presenter/performer should use a microphone to amplify their voice during the service, if possible, and should be aware that the louder they project their voice, the greater the risk of producing respiratory aerosols.
  • Choirs and singers must be masked and physically distanced from each other and the audience as much as possible.

With all the stressors on us, the reasonable thing to do is to watch out for our spiritual, emotional, and mental health as well as our physical health, and to offer resources to our congregations and neighbors.

I am thankful that we will be able to offer some important information—and some practice—to help us get through this difficult time. I still believe that in 2022 we will see some relief from the pandemic, and good things are happening, but it is my hope we will be healthy enough to recognize God’s blessings as they come our way.

Like with our physical health, we can pray, and give thanks, and care for ourselves and each other—and we can also give thanks for mental health resources and expertise that God provides through therapists, academics, and mental health professionals. In our upcoming WinterFest, we will be able to learn about ways to be resilient and compassionate, for our sake and the sake of our churches. As we gain more understanding of our human vulnerabilities, we become even more able to live into the gospel, and offer Christ’s healing spirit to a hurting world.

I invite you to register for Winterfest, and block off the first week of February. WinterFest is a great way for us to connect as a Presbytery learning and caring community, and I look forward to seeing you on Zoom.

You can get more information and register through our website, or go to or the link in the Monday Update.

Blessings, and may you feel the peace and persistent mercy of Jesus Christ,




I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. For you say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.” You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

Revelation 3:15, 17

Today we remember and honor the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you have the opportunity to read any of Dr. King’s speeches or books, I think you will agree with me that the breadth and prescience of his thought is amazing. Many of his works speak to today’s world as much as it did in the 1960s.

One short piece, Letter from Birmingham Jail, was suggested as a potential addition to our Book of Confessions, but apparently the effort was shelved because of copyright concerns. This is ironic, since one can find the text of the letter in multiple places on the internet. But, with respect to the copyright holder, The Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., I would like to share some excerpts which seem especially relevant to our situation, as a church that has tried for decades to become more racially diverse, yet even now is still 90% white.  Consider what the Holy Spirit may be saying to us in 2022.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

. . . We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.

. . . I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership…….. [S]ome

have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

. . . There was a time when the church was very powerful—in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society……. Christians pressed on, in the conviction

that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. . . .

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent—and often even vocal—sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.1

As disappointed as Dr. King was in 1963, it seems that we are much more captive to fear, or self-interest, or apathy which keeps us silent or unwilling to be bold and even sacrificial in our obedience to God’s will. My hope is that all of us—myself included—find ways to discern, and live out, what God wants for us, and how God wants to work through us, for the sake of God’s justice and peace.

May we be willing and trusting co-workers with God. And then, as Dr. King would describe that time of restoration in a paraphrase of Job 38:7, “the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy.”

In Christ’s hope,



Honoring Life

Honoring Life

But now thus says the LORD, the One who created you, O Jacob, the One who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

Isaiah 43:1

During the holiday season, it seems that the cycle of life in God’s household has been laid bare.

Several members of our presbytery family lost loved ones to eternal life. The week before Christmas, Becca Bateman’s 58-year-old mother-in-law died suddenly, Amy Mendez’s sister died from the cancer she had been battling, as did David Pak’s sister, who died on Christmas Day. Last week, Nancy Moore’s husband Stan and Bong Bringas’ father-in-law passed away.

We are also seeing life and ministry transitions, including one pastor who just found out that two children will be expecting their first children this year. Yesterday, Westminster Presbyterian in Pasadena said farewell to Martha and Twining Campbell, who are retiring after 22 years as co- pastors; Mariko Yanagihara’s last Sunday at New Hope was December 26. At the beginning of ministry, Harlan Redmond was interviewed by CPM and will be recommended for candidacy at our February 5th Presbytery meeting.

Overarching all of this is Casper Glenn, who celebrated his 100th birthday yesterday. (On Saturday, he celebrated the 75th anniversary of his ordination!) He was set to have a celebration in his hometown in South Carolina, but due to COVID, the plans were changed to Southern California—and even then, many people joined via Zoom out of caution for Casper and the attendees. Casper’s doctor son tried to shield Casper by requesting that everyone get a negative PCR test before attending, and enforcing strict distancing guidelines. But Casper, who is still in top form mentally, emotionally, and physically, loved seeing his friends and family, and even joined in the Electric Slide dance break.

One personal surprise for me was seeing Rev. Allison Harrington, the current pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church, a church with a rich history in Tucson, Arizona. Allison is the daughter of Nancy and Steve Harrington; Steve was my main mentor as I was going through seminary and the CPM process. Many of the bones of my ministry were formed with Steve’s guidance. I’ve known Allison since she was a rebellious teenager, but now she is an exceptionally strong leader in the church and nation, especially in the area of social justice. She has in past years worked with Kristi Van Nostran in advocacy for immigrants.

Over the course of the evening, several phases of Casper’s ministry were highlighted. I think just about everything Casper did, he was the first. I now realize that in some cases, he wasn’t just the first, he actually founded it, including his first ministry, founding Cherry Hill Community Presbyterian Church in Baltimore. He said it was part of the Presbyterian Church’s “Colored Ministry in the North” evangelism effort, and that he “saved souls by wearing out soles” as he went door to door to meet his new neighbors.

Among other things, Casper was the first African-American pastor of Southside Presbyterian, which itself was so unique as a multiracial church that Martin Luther King, Jr., heard about them and went to visit. He was the first executive presbyter for San Diego Presbytery, and the first African-American synod executive, for Alaska-Northwest. I remember him telling me how his beloved wife Vernilla did not like being left in Seattle while he was flying bush planes to visit native churches in Alaska, so they picked up and went to Kenya, being the first African- American Presbyterian missionary to serve in Africa. As a member of our presbytery and living at Westminster Gardens, Casper and Vernilla were closely connected with South Hills, Baldwin Park, and Pasadena Presbyterian Church, and friends representing these churches spoke.

In celebration of his 100th birthday, the Presbyterian Historical Society wrote an article on him.

After so much was said about Casper, he ended the evening by talking about the Presbyterian Church. Born on a farm in South Carolina, his family had to patch together an education for him, including sending him to one of four high schools that the women of the Presbyterian Church founded for black children in South Carolina. As he put it, “the Presbyterian Church provided what the state did not.” He then attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Lincoln was founded by a Presbyterian pastor and was the first degree-granting HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) in the United States and the alma mater of Thurgood Marshall, Langston Hughes, the first president of Nigeria, the first president of Ghana, and so many other leaders in all fields.

This Presbyterian Church, for all our worries and faults, can look back and give thanks for the ways God worked through generations of leaders, we can look forward to the ministries to come from some amazing young pastors, and we can look around and see greatness in our midst now, in churches small and large. With all the struggle in our world, may we remember the ancestors, the role models, and the future leaders in our San Gabriel Presbytery family, and show our appreciation by being bold bearers of the light of Christ in this world. Let us be people of hope, and bringers of hope, to neighbors and friends old and new. Thanks be to God!






Christ is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell . . .

Colossians 1:18b-19


Happy New Year!!

We begin 2022 knowing that this will be a year filled with hope and challenge. As we enter into this new year, I’d like to share a poem that has been a helpful comfort for me, whenever I embark on a new year or venture.

I share it with you, and ask that we can see God’s many blessings on you and your church, this year and every year.




Beloved Is Where We Begin
A Litany

By Jan Richardson


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

Do not leave without hearing who you are:

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 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



New Life

New Life

And Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

Luke 2:19

As we near Christmas, it may be hard to believe in the promise that the Christ child brings. Amidst the heart-numbing persistence of that shape-shifting COVID virus, when political hostility seems to turn our ideals of democracy into fantasy, as we look helplessly at pictures of tornado-crushed towns, the happy Christmas carols seem muted, the star in the sky peeks from behind clouds, and a baby’s cry can barely be heard.

But the music does live on, even if behind masks. We can find beauty, even while we’re staying safe. We’re reminded that “outdoors is safer,” and we enjoy the natural beauty of our national parks and California coast that we often take for granted. We benefit from technology that allows us to access resources and the arts, through virtual choirs, innovative museum tours, and rediscovered personal expressions such as gardening and crafts. May the songs of the angels fill our ears and our hearts this Christmas season.

And the star yet shines, even if we can’t see it so clearly through the clouds of fatigue. We now see the importance of caring for each other, of acknowledging mental and emotional health as well as physical health, of appreciating the people who care for us when we’re sick, deliver goods to our homes, and reinvent themselves and their professions in order to teach, preach, counsel, and diagnose on a remote basis. We no longer take family get-togethers for granted. And as we dare to peer into the darkness, we see more clearly the inequalities that were always in our world, yet not recognized. Our inability to dictate our future brings us new humility, which is a precursor to community and true faith. May we have eyes to see what has gone unseen, both the sin of broken systems but also the greater saving power of God.

And that little baby, crying in the cold night, yet lives. Even with the knowledge of 800,000 lives lost to COVID in this nation, we also know of the resilience that will bring us back, but with greater compassion and concern for all lives—young and old, black brown and all races, women and men, and those with health vulnerabilities. Let us remember that God chose the small, insignificant, occupied nation of Israel to bless with Jesus’ presence, a loving presence too great to be contained by any one people. And that presence came into the world as a helpless child, born far from home, destined to flee to find asylum in a foreign land. May we know the enormous potential contained in every life, even in the littlest of babies. And may we come alongside all mothers, fathers, and all who care for those who cannot care for themselves.

This Christmas week, I have been thinking how every problem does not evaporate at Jesus’ birth. In fact, I’ve been told that many a young mother is overtaken by fear when confronted with the awesome responsibility of raising her young miracle into adulthood. Is that what Mary pondered? Or did she remember the bold obedience she had when she sang the Magnificat? Did she rejoice that these strange shepherds came to confirm what the angel Gabriel told her? Did she have any idea what stresses and miracles and pain she would experience due to her divine and human child?

As we approach Christmas, and the end of the year, and as we continue to pray for an end to this pandemic, may we look beyond our desire for closure and find the new life that lays ahead.

Christmas is, of course, not the end, but just the beginning. But what a glorious beginning! I pray that the light of Christ’s star comes into your heart this Christmas, filling you with the sure knowledge that God keeps promises—promises of new life, of saving grace, of everlasting peace. Perhaps not today, but God’s will be done, soon and forevermore.

Walter Burghardt wrote:

You must be men and women of ceaseless hope, because only tomorrow can today’s human and Christian promise be realized . . . Every human act, every Christian act, is an act of hope. But that means you must be men and women of the present, you must live this moment— really live it, not just endure it—because this very moment, for all its imperfection and frustration, because of its imperfection and frustration, is pregnant with all sorts of possibilities, is pregnant with future, is pregnant with love, is pregnant with Christ.

May your Christmas be filled with the hope that only Christ can bring—and that no human can take away. And may we fill 2022 with acts of hope, and love, and obedience to our Lord. I give thanks to God for being able to act along with you.

In Christ’s love,



Closer to Home

Closer to Home

[T]hrough the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the
one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 3:10, 4:4-6

Two weeks ago I said I would write on key characteristics of Presbyterian culture in two columns, then one on San Gabriel Presbytery. I am rarely disciplined enough to make a commitment for three weeks, but it has helped me as I don’t need to wonder what I will write on this week. However, it is also somewhat restricting as I am choosing to focus on this exercise about San Gabriel Presbytery over whatever matter might be more pressing at this moment.

The most pressing concern I have at this moment is the massive destruction of homes and other buildings caused by the tornadoes hitting Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, and Illinois. Laurie Kraus, director of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), wrote:

We have reached out to all the presbyteries within the field of the event, and have responses from some. We are working with Kenneth Dick and Western KY Presbytery, which was the worst hit and where the Mayfield PC was destroyed. Here is the up to date PDA info relative to this heartbreaking devastation.

PDA facebook ( Twitter (

We also have a page up on our website:

The link for the donation page for DR000015 is

Please pray for the communities who must make sense out of the utter destruction of their neighborhoods, and give through PDA or whatever legitimate non-profit you know is helping.

Now, for a handful of key characteristics of San Gabriel Presbytery.

The word that most people use to describe our presbytery is diversity. I have claimed that our presbytery is the most diverse, or certainly one of the most diverse, in the denomination. Perhaps a more precise descriptor is that we have many immigrant churches. More than half of our churches are immigrant churches or have immigrant ministries as a key focus for the church. We worship in nine languages, and about half of our membership are people of color, though currently we do not have significant African-American-centric or Indigenous ministries. Our leadership is almost 40% people of color, which does not quite match the membership but we’re working on it.

What’s interesting about San Gabriel Presbytery is that we have been diverse, in different ways, for generations. We have the oldest active Latino Protestant church, we think in California, in Puente de Esperanza. We have had diverse leadership over the years, including pastors like:

  • César Lizárraga, who co-founded La Casa de San Gabriel with his wife Angelita;
  • Ivan Walks, the Afro-Caribbean pastor of South Hills Presbyterian Church;
  • Eugene Carson Blake, who went on to help organize the March on Washington with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.;
  • Jack Makonda, who first translated the Book of Order into Indonesian, and even my uncle Don Toriumi, who was active in the Civil Rights Movement and was Moderator of Los Angeles Presbytery (our predecessor presbytery) 60 years

We also have had women leaders for several decades, especially in early years with women ruling elders. I’m trying to identify the first woman ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament by San Gabriel Presbytery; while Jan Willette was ordained by Redwoods Presbytery in 1971, the earliest ordination by San Gabriel that I have found is Barbara Stout in 1977, closely followed by Karen Kiser in 1978 (Bear Ride was also ordained in 1978 but by Pacific). Marguerite Shuster was ordained in 1980 and Sophie Eurich-Rascoe in 1981 and Dale Morgan in 1984. Though Mariko Yanagihara has served this presbytery for many years, she’s relatively new, just celebrating her 35th anniversary in 2021. When you called me to be Executive Presbyter after Ruth Santana-Grace, we think it was the first time that a presbytery called two women of color as executives, and there were white women before us. And when you consider the women I just named, you can note theological diversity in the presbytery as well.

Leaders from other presbyteries comment on our diversity, and I do believe we have done a better job than most at keeping up with the changes in our communities. From asking about the history of this presbytery, I’ve learned that some key leaders, including pastors and executives like Bryce Little, taught well the meaning of the Presbyterian “trust clause.” This clause states that regardless of whose name is on the property title or who paid for the church buildings, all church property is held in trust for the PC(USA), and the PC(USA) gives the presbytery responsibility for managing the properties in its geographic bounds. The church facility is not the personal property of church members; it is to be used for ministry for the community, and if the current owners of the property are not meeting the needs of the community, they should find someone who can. I have been impressed how our church leaders understand this, and actively seek out partners who can better connect with the changing landscape in different communities. This is a much more proactive approach than I’ve seen elsewhere.

The presence of immigrant churches gives our Presbytery a healthier perspective on world mission. Many of our mission initiatives have grown out of the personal experiences of our members.

Immigrant Accompaniment is supported partly because so many remember what it’s like to be new to this country. We have raised funds for churches who have connected with their home churches or friends in the Philippines, or Mexico, or northern Iraq. With these relationships, mission isn’t just charity, it’s family.

Speaking of relationships, this continues to be a request of presbytery members over the years. I remember one person writing “We already do enough mission; what we need is to build relationships with each other.” This has been a challenge for us, though, and I’m not sure why. But we keep trying to find ways to facilitate and deepen relationships, with each other and between the Presbytery and individual churches. Interestingly, some of the best conversations I’ve had in our presbytery have come out of the anti-racism groups, because folks have been willing to share their life experiences, and not just related to race. And, because we believe relationships are crucial to our work to push back racism, we continue to seek to learn from each other, and support each other.

Lastly, I would suggest that we are orthodox. Even when we try new things, we are guided by the Book of Order and our own traditions as a presbytery. For instance, I see a deep understanding of the Presbyterian trust clause. We reinstated the Education Committee and the Winterfest training event, which were traditions of San Gabriel Presbytery. One goal of the “Reforming Presbytery Practices”

group is to improve our representation in presbytery leadership, which is an oft-mentioned priority in the Book of Order. And we are trying to figure out how to reinstate something like the old triennial visits in an effort to foster better relationships between church and presbytery. All of our new initiatives as a presbytery are in line with San Gabriel Presbytery tradition and/or denominational priorities such as Matthew 25, and we utilize our polity to help us plan our mission priorities.

As I reflect on the gifts of San Gabriel Presbytery, I am reminded what a gift you are to me, and to this denomination. Thank you, and may we continue to appreciate God’s blessings, throughout this holiday season and beyond.