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,