Reflection: Advent

Reflection: Advent

As we work together with God, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For God says,
“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

2 Corinthians 6:1-2

I hope you had a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving, and that you have entered the season of Advent with eyes open to the wonders that God has in store for us.

I had the opportunity to mark the beginning of Advent by preaching twice yesterday, including for the 4 pm vespers service at Monte Vista Grove Homes’ Health Center.  This is an opportunity to reach out to folks who cannot go to church, and because the Health Center (the skilled nursing arm of Monte Vista Grove) usually has people from the outside community as well as Grove residents, it helps to offer hope to folks from within and outside our Presbyterian family.  Bill Van Loan, who coordinates the vespers service along with the Chaplaincy Committee, told me that they would appreciate volunteers who would like to offer God’s Word to this community, so please let him or me know if you are interested.  It’s a 30-minute service with music and support offered by resident volunteers like Roberta Woodberry and Mark Duntley, and I was encouraged to see several family members who attended along with their loved ones.

My morning sermon was at a church where I was asked to focus on some of the “back story” that is the Old Testament narrative.  We Presbyterians honor the Old Testament not only as the story of God’s care for God’s chosen people, and so now God’s care for us, but also it is the Bible that Jesus grew up with. 

Focusing on the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible, is especially relevant during Advent, because the prophecies of the Old Testament informed the Jews as they yearned for God’s salvation, especially through the years from the heydays of King David to the centuries of destruction, occupation, exile, oppression, and political betrayal leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ.  The prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others promised that God would bring forth a new king from the house of David who would restore Israel in a state of justice and righteousness.  How the people imagined this new king would look, and how he would accomplish this restoration, guided those centuries of hope and expectation.  For us, this hope culminates in the birth of the humble, displaced baby Jesus.  For others, they couldn’t believe this rebel carpenter’s son was the Messiah, the Anointed One.

If we really try to enter into the yearnings of the people of Judah, we gain a sense of the hunger, the faithfulness, the frustration, the persistent hope, and the ease with which people will follow the wrong path in order to survive—all that and more I cannot even imagine must have been mixed into the spiritual psyche of the Jewish people during that time so many years ago, when the emperor Augustus called for the census that caused the young pregnant woman Mary to go with her fiancé Joseph to Bethlehem.

As we enter into this season of Advent, let us not rush ahead to the happy ending, but dwell a little on the feelings we have in common with those Judeans of 2,000 years ago—feelings of need for God’s care, a yearning for justice, and a determined hope for a better life of righteousness and peace for all.  We live in the faith that God does hear us when we cry out to God, just as God has heard God’s people over the millenia.  As we open our hearts to our need for salvation, let us appreciate anew the gift of God coming to us in Jesus the Christ.

Poet-scholar David Rosenberg restated portions of the Hebrew Bible in his book A Poet’s Bible.  His version of Psalm 90, captures for me the hope that is Advent:

 

and for every day lost

we find a new day

revealing where we are

in the future and in the past

together again

this moment with you

made human for us

to see your work

in the open-eyed grace of children

the whole vision unlocked

from darkness

to the thrill of light

where our hands reach for another’s

opening to life

in our heart’s flow

the work of this hand

flowing open

to you and from you.

 

As we confess our need for God’s love, may we appreciate all the more God’s willingness to come and be with us, to be one of us, to reach out his grace-filled hands to love and heal us and even partner with us—and then we will see that thrill of light, and welcome the day of salvation that is here, and now.

 

Peace,

Wendy

 

 

Reflection: Thanksgiving

Reflection: Thanksgiving

I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love

Ephesians 3:16-17

It seems a long time ago since our Presbytery met but it was only last Tuesday!  The meeting was the last meeting of the year, so the Presbytery reviewed this past year in several ways, and looked ahead to 2020.  The meeting was full and the energy was good.  Thanks to Trinity Presbyterian Church for their hospitality, and to Rev. Ally Lee for acting as substitute minutes clerk while Twila French continues to recover from her knee replacement.

As we looked back on 2019, we honored pastors and leaders who went home to glory this year, including Revs. Zac Bright, Robert Jacoby, Harriet Johnson, and Tom Duggan.  We received the financial review from 2018, confirmed the roll of minister members, and thanked Presbytery leaders who have completed their terms.  And we learned and acknowledged the indigenous peoples among us, including those who have lived in this Valley for 10,000 years.  As San Gabriel Presbytery, we have connections with indigenous Taiwanese and Hawaiians, and specifically the Tongva people, who have been living throughout Southern California for the past 3,000-5,000 years. 

We looked ahead to 2020 by electing new leaders and approving a new budget, and hearing a preview of WinterFest, which will be held at Arcadia Community Church February 8th.  We got an update on the next anticipated installation for Living Waters for the World, at Asociacion de las Bienaventuranzas (Association of the Beatitudes, https://asociacionbienaventuranzas.org.pe), a community for children and adults with mental and physical disabilities in Lima, Peru.  And for General Assembly next June in Baltimore, we elected TE Commissioner Jennifer Ackerman, TE Commissioner Alternate N’Yisrela Watts-Afriyie, and RE Commissioner Maria Cacarnakis, and voted to concur on an overture that confirms a presbytery’s role in approving severance for departing pastors (along with the already-stated responsibility for approving terms of call).

Best of all, we welcomed new and old friends, including new Board of Pensions regional representative Rev. Kristin Leucht (kleucht@pensions.org), Rev. Tom Erickson and CRE Mickey Fenn of New Theological Seminary of the West, and the pastors and several elders from our two Indonesian fellowships, including Pastor Nova Winerungan of GPIB Claremont and Pastor Pipi Dhali of GKI-LA in Covina.  We elected our 2020 vice moderator, RE Deborah Owens of Westminster Pasadena (TE Roberto Ramirez will become Chair of the Executive Commission and TE Karen Sapio becomes Moderator), and commissioned RE Sam Knottnerus to pastoral work as Family Ministries associate with Arcadia Community Church. 

On the staffing front, RE Carl von Bibra reported that we are very close to announcing the new presbytery administrator, and he gave an update on the chaplaincy for retired Presbyterian church workers:  Rev. Lauren Evans is cutting back her hours, so Rev. Diane Frasher is stepping in temporarily as chaplain for Monte Vista Grove Homes.  In December we will meet with the House of Rest Board, and if they agree we will look to hire a half-time chaplain for Monte Vista Grove, and Lauren will continue quarter-time at Westminster Gardens and working on program development.

We also looked at a few specific situations, including reporting that the possible dismissal of Alhambra True Light Presbyterian Church will be considered at the Presbytery meeting on January 14, 2020, and getting feedback on a more comprehensive policy on pastoral compensation and paid leave that is being developed by COM.  We heard from Joshua Marmol of Knox Presbyterian about their immigration ministry, including the church’s support of Irma, who had to flee Honduras after experiencing persecution related to her work advocating for land rights and women’s rights.  Knox’ personal, physical, and spiritual support of Irma was facilitated by Kristi Van Nostran, our immigrant accompaniment organizer (presbywelcome@gmail.com), who is also organizing the visitation ministry at Adelanto detention center.

Finally, we voted to move the three functions of the Vision and Strategy Team to:

  • long-term strategy and vision for the Presbytery as a whole going to the Executive Commission,
  • New Worshiping Communities leadership and partner congregations (who would work with COM as needed), and
  • an expanded Education Committee, called EEE—Education, Equipping, and Empowerment (training, youth and leadership development, and resourcing to current congregations). 

This new format will be piloted in 2020 and may come back as a bylaws amendment at the end of the year.

Prior to the meeting, I was feeling somewhat anxious; I don’t know exactly why.  So I was very pleasantly surprised at the spirit and participation of the meeting.  It reminded me how gracious God is, and how there is so much to be thankful for—including God’s mercies that we don’t always see.  I am very thankful that there is a spirit of love, and welcome, not only for new friends and ministries, but also when we anticipate the departure of a sister church.  As the Alhambra elders at the meeting later affirmed, we are all still part of the larger Reformed church, and all of us are united—as CRE Sam Knottnerus says, “because Jesus made us family.”

So as we connect with friends old and new, as we learn and work and serve and reach out to those we don’t know, as we discern and decide and lead, as we live and die, let us continue to do so in love, giving thanks in all things for Jesus Christ, who first loved us.

Happy Thanksgiving and as we begin Advent this Sunday, may our hearts be filled with wonder and gratitude for Immanuel, God with us.

Peace,

Wendy

 

 

Reflection: Liminal Space

Reflection: Liminal Space

God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of God’s beloved Christ Jesus, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Colossians 1:13-14

Tomorrow evening is the last Presbytery meeting of 2019, and so there are several items that mark the end of this fading year and plans for 2020.  It is a scheduled time of liminality, as we report on and preserve what was and consider what God has in store for us in the coming year.  I’m glad that we have a fairly comprehensive slate of candidates for new Presbytery leadership, and a budget that begins to reflect some decisions you have made recently that impact use of property and grants for innovative new missions.  We will also note some endings, while we also look ahead to new friends and initiatives, such as meeting our new regional representative with the Board of Pensions, Rev. Kristin Leucht, and we hear from Rev. Tom Erickson about New Theological Seminary of the West.

Lately the concept of “liminal space” has become popular in certain circles, especially among those who reflect on the transitional nature of society and the church, and the dismantling of old rules that makes room for new ways of being. 

Wikipedia defines liminality this way:

In anthropology, liminality is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete.

In addition to the manageable rites of transition such as electing new leaders, this weekend I’ve become aware of much more profound transitions in the lives of people in our community.  On Friday, a group of us including Steve Wiebe of PPC and I went to Adelanto Detention Center, led by our Immigrant Accompaniment Organizer Kristi Van Nostran.  Steve and I were moved by our meeting with a young man named Bertrand, who had been a youth organizer in Cameroon before the government decided his work empowering young people was threatening to the status quo.  He fled Cameroon at the end of February, and spent the last six months on an often perilous journey through Panama, Chiapas, and Tijuana before being put in the ICE detention center an hour and a half away from us.  What was remarkable was the faith-filled spirit Bertrand displayed, especially as he spoke of his desire to serve God and people.  Even in the detention center, he helps other inmates to acclimate people new to the system, and though he has no idea what will happen (his only connection in the United States is a relative with no financial resources, living in the Midwest), he is grateful that at least he feels safe at Adelanto.  Steve and I were amazed at the perseverance, intelligence, and spirit of this young man, convinced of the gift he would be if he is allowed to stay in the United States.  [Kristi will resume Adelanto visits in January, perhaps scheduling a trip the last Friday of each month; keep your eyes open for the new schedule, or contact Kristi at presbywelcome@gmail.com.] 

Yesterday, several representatives of San Gabriel Presbytery met with Alhambra True Light Presbyterian Church, who have been trying to figure out how to respond to the changes taken by the PC(USA).  While some will point to the decisions made about sexuality as a breaking point, there have been significant transitions made over the decades that have caused some Christians to feel we are abandoning God’s will, transitions that may seem settled for some such as reconciling the theory of evolution with God’s design for Creation, or the Presbyterian Church’s modifications of the most condemning statements in the Westminster Confession of Faith.  The permanent condition of Christians is change, as we discern whether and how to reconsider tenets of the faith in light of scientific and social changes in every generation—we call this “Reformed, and always reforming.”

In our worship tomorrow, we will focus on our relationships with indigenous peoples in our lands.  To be honest, the concept of “First Peoples” can be elusive, due to the constant migration of humans through the millenia.  For instance, we consider the native people of the Los Angeles area to be the Tongva.  Though they covered much of Southern California, they have a special connection with San Gabriel Valley, as the San Gabriel Mission became the detention center of the day for the Tongva, who are also called Gabrieliños.  What’s interesting is that the Tongva arrived here about 3,000-5,000 years ago, but ancient human-made tools from 8,000 years ago were found near Azusa, so there were people here before the Tongva.  But by the time the Spanish and later the Euro-Americans came to this area, the land was certainly controlled and inhabited by the Tongva, and they have weathered many calamities and persecution to survive today.  Consider all the peoples who have called San Gabriel Valley home over the centuries!

In the Christian liturgical calendar, this Sunday is the last Sunday of the year, and as such it marks the triumph of Christ’s reign.  The following Sunday, December 1, is the start of Advent, when we start the new liturgical year by anticipating the coming of Christ.  What is so intriguing about Christ as King is his depiction in Revelation as the lamb who was slaughtered for the salvation of the world.  So even as we foresee the ultimate triumph of Christ, the marks of his transition from humiliation to glory have not been totally erased. 

So in this time of every kind of change, may we accept the liminality of life, knowing that our transformation does not erase all of who we are, but fulfills God’s will for our new and fulfilling life in Christ.  May we pray for—and be gentle with—all who struggle through the birth passage to this new life, and all who take the initiative to seek out the promise of freedom, safety, faith, and service.

See you tomorrow evening at Trinity church,

Wendy

 

 

Reflection: United in Life and Death

Reflection: United in Life and Death

As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Lord has compassion
for those who fear him.
For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust.

Psalm 103:13-14

One hundred years ago today, President Woodrow Wilson issued a message on the one-year anniversary of the end of World War I.  At that time the day was called Armistice Day, and he said:

The war showed us the strength of great nations acting together for high purposes, and the victory of arms foretells the enduring conquests which can be made in peace when nations act justly and in furtherance of the common interests of men.

We now call it Veterans Day, and I hope that each of us takes a moment to give thanks for those who have served our country and the highest goals of international compassion and cooperation and service, and to pray for God’s protection on all those who are in places of danger and instability, including those in active duty and those struggling to find safe, hopeful and productive lives when they return stateside.

At times I think about calls for a return to mandatory national service.  I feel guilty about considering it since I am far from the age group that would be impacted by this.  But I have grown to appreciate the benefits of this that go beyond swelling the ranks of military forces.

That said, I do have great respect for the military in the United States.  When I served in Hawai`i, I met several people in the services who attended community churches while they were stationed there.  They told me about the well-developed programs for leadership and skills training, the great diversity of the troops (including a high number of immigrants), the humor and camaraderie, the discipline that some of them confessed they needed to grow, and the integrity that they demonstrated in their work and in their church.  Veterans also speak about the impact of war in a way that none of the rest of us can imagine.  One current concern is now that active military are “voluntary” and have fallen to 0.4% of the population, it is easier for politicians to send our armed forces into dangerous places, as so few now have direct connection to the people being sent.  (In World War II, 9% served, and over half the economy was involved in the war effort, so most if not all Americans had some direct connection to the impacts of war.)

There are stories from every generation of people who learned to be more open to diversity while in the military.  The first time I attended a church conversation on sexuality over 25 years ago, I was struck that several of the people who expressed sympathy for gays and lesbians (back then we didn’t say LGBTQ+) were seniors.  They shared that they had gay buddies when they served in World War II or the Korean War, and when you live together, eat together, and face death together, you learn that we have more in common than one’s sexual orientation.  More recently, a friend who is an Army chaplain in Korea shared how he changed his views on sexuality when the Army repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  As the soldiers he counseled were able to reveal the gender of their loved ones back home, he learned that they spoke the same about love, and loneliness, and hope, whether they were gay or straight.

Several of our national leaders have shared how their military service gave them their first connections with people from different cultural or socioeconomic backgrounds.  Wealthy kids learned to respect their working-class commanders.  The young first-term representative George H. W. Bush took the politically unpopular political stance in favor of the Fair Housing Act back in 1968, which opened housing to people regardless of color, reportedly saying “I served with these men in the Pacific and they should be able to live wherever they want to.”

The military is one of the few institutions besides the church where people from diverse backgrounds are to be welcomed into very close community, bound by a shared code of conduct and ideals that are bigger than any individual.  I’ve considered how the military’s approach to creating a cohesive group from disparate individuals may have something to teach the church.  While I would not adopt the hierarchy of the military, I do believe that we church types do need to be more alert to expressing and teaching shared values and practices (and not assume that we all “just know” because we are Christian) and how to demonstrate that there are things more important than getting your way in any particular argument, or any social construct that divides us.

The restatement of mandatory military service is mandatory national service, which might include work for the public good within the US in contexts outside the armed forces.  In my narrow frame of reference, the corollary would be our required internships as part of our preparation for ministry process.  Two goals that guide the internship requirement are the importance of practical applied learning, and exposure to churches that are different from those of any individual’s background.  Our CPM takes seriously that when they help to form and certify someone ready for ordination, they do so once for the entire denomination, so it’s important that the candidates learn that there is no one standard Presbyterian church.  

Yesterday I had the great joy of preaching for the 38th anniversary of Filipino Community United Presbyterian Church.  One of the things I noted is the number of traditions they have to encourage everyone to participate in the ministry of the church, from an early age.  One is the special anniversary offering, when they call people up by the month of their own birth to bring their gifts for the church.  As each month is called, I saw every member and little child of the church coming forward with joy, showing their love for this family of faith.  This is just one of the many ways FCUPC encourages members of all generations to practice their faith as a group, which deepens their church commitment to unity.  As FCUPC looks ahead to expanding their ministry to welcome people of all backgrounds in the Azusa community, I am excited to see how their creativity and infectious energy will grow and diversify their already vibrant church life.

As we look ahead to the holidays, and as we take this holiday to pray for and honor those who gave years of their lives to the service of this country, may we seek to serve our Lord through our churches, without guns but with passion and integrity for the cause of Christ.

Peace and blessings,

Wendy

 

Reflection: Sing to the Lord

Reflection: Sing to the Lord

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.

Psalm 98:4-5

It feels like we are experiencing the change in seasons (yes, we do have seasons in Southern California), and we are making the turn towards the holidays.  A week before Thanksgiving, we will have the last Presbytery meeting of 2019, when we consider plans for next year, including the budget and elections of Presbytery leaders for 2020, as well as remembering our loved ones who have passed on to the Lord this last year.  We will also elect our commissioners and Young Adult Advisory Delegate for next summer’s General Assembly in Baltimore.  We have only one ruling elder with a submitted nomination, so if anyone wants to be an alternate, that would be nice to have just in case.  And we have heard that a young person is interested in being a YAAD, but we haven’t seen the paperwork yet, so there might be a possibility of going to Baltimore if you’re 17-23 years of age on the first day of GA, June 20, 2020.

This fall I have been preaching more than usual.  I often preach during the summer (a few churches take me up on the offer to preach for free pulpit supply, or just to hear the latest from the presbytery), but I am finding myself preaching more weeks than not, at least through November.  I’ve had the opportunity to try some different ways to proclaim the word.  I believe that we should use whatever approach helps get the word across most effectively to a particular community of faith.  At one church, I was asked to preach on 1 Kings 12, the events that led to the division of the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel, which is a major challenge if the church isn’t well-versed in the Bible.  I ended up doing a history/geography lesson, with the help of maps and artwork to attempt to draw the narrative thread from Jacob and the 12 Tribes of Israel, to David, to Rehoboam and Jeroboam, to Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.  Thank God for technology!

Yesterday I preached at the Korean-language worship service at PPC.  I was happy to do this because I had always wanted to express in worship my shame and regret that the people of Korea suffered so greatly from Japanese imperialism.  After worship, I was able to hear from some of the elders how the current state of politics in Korea and Japan have revived some of these old conflicts, but we are thankful that political rhetoric does not impact personal relationships, especially among Christians, and in the United States we share a similar minority status that softens any remaining differences in our heritage.  (I also shared how some Japanese have taken DNA tests that reveal how many of us have some Korean blood, so we’re not so different after all!)

I am grateful for the music ministry of PPC’s Korean Language Ministry.  They have a great praise combo (with keyboard, guitars, trumpet, and a nifty electronic drum set that is very versatile and not as overpowering as some traditional drum sets).  We also got to hear from the children, which is always a joy.  And their Trinity Choir is excellent, having made a splash recently at the Korean Presbyterian Conference music festival.  One of the growing connections between the English and Korean ministries at PPC is when the two chancel choirs join voices. 

I appreciated the Trinity Choir especially as they sang after the prayer of confession.  The melody and their voices expressed the gracious mercy of God in a lovely way.  But I was especially happy to hear an offertory solo by the choir director, Kayla Kim, who has a transcendent voice.  I confess that there have been times when I am thankful for beautiful music to follow the sermon, so that if the gospel isn’t heard through my faulty preaching, at least the folks will experience the awe of the glory of the Lord through the music! 

The days of the “worship wars” seems to have passed away some, for which I am very glad.  I do believe that the best explanation for the conflicts over worship music is the great power of music to touch our souls in ways that words cannot.  In our rather word-heavy Reformed worship style, music is often the only times our worship reaches beyond the intellect.  For myself, I would hate to limit our worship life to any single approach to music.  Instead, as with different approaches to preaching, the music we sing must serve to support and communicate the gospel for each particular context.  Just as language helps or hinders the understanding of the gospel message, so can music take us more deeply into worship, or confound or distract us from our focus on the Lord.

As we look ahead to the holidays, I expect that many of our churches will express our thanksgiving, Advent expectations, and Christmas joy through music.  Thank God for the blessed opportunity to join our voices with all the earth, the lyre and the horn, the sea and the hills, as we sing praises to our God!

And please continue to pray for Twila French, who is working from home during her recovery from knee replacement surgery that is more painful than was anticipated.  (Karen Berns is also having this surgery, so I pray that her recovery is not too painful.)  And prayers for Mark Carlson, who lost his mother this last week.  Mark and Catharine have been visiting her in New York state, and I am thankful that he has been able to see her several times in her last years.

Blessings,

Wendy

 

Reflection: Pentecost, San Gabriel Style

Reflection: Pentecost, San Gabriel Style

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.   

Acts 2:4

First, let me share some news of the community:

  • We heard that Rev. Tom Duggan passed away last Monday night.  The celebration of his life is tentatively scheduled for December 6th at Pilgrim Place in Claremont.  Our hearts are saddened, and our prayers for comfort and peace are raised for Gail and Tom’s family and many friends.  I happened to see Gail at Claremont a few weeks ago, and she shared that Tom was aware that his time on earth was coming to a close, but it’s not easy for the family who are left behind.
  • Yesterday Pasadena Presbyterian showed their appreciation for the ministry of Rev. Dongwoo Lee, who is leaving his position as pastor of the Korean Language Ministry.  In his ministry at PPC, he introduced great new ideas for outreach, welcomed several new young families to KLM, hired some wonderful staff, and demonstrated how PPC’s leadership can work together across the language ministries.  This was poignantly demonstrated as most of the Korean members left, and several Latino members came to say good-bye, and circled him with prayer.  Dongwoo will now be able to return to his PhD studies, which he could not maintain in the midst of a busy pastor’s duties.
  • Last Wednesday Twila got a shiny new knee, and has been resting at home.  If you are reading this, it means that she is back at work.  However she will be working from home for the next two weeks, so if you want to reach her, best to do so by email.  She plans to be back in the Temple City office November 12th.

The last news item is to report the installation of Rev. KokThai “KT” Lim at Grace Taiwanese Presbyterian Church.  It was a joyous time for the church and for KT, and as I’ve been saying for a few months now, it is nothing short of a miracle that we have faithful, qualified, young pastors in all of our Taiwanese churches.  Thanks to God and our churches and Rev. Mei-Hui Lai, who until this year was the national staff person for Asian congregations in the PC(USA).  Mei-Hui did a huge amount of work for us, most notably helping to recruit pastors for our churches, introducing us to Pipi Dhali of GKI-LA, and even acting as moderator of session for Grace Taiwanese.  Now that Mei-Hui has retired, her successor is our own Rev. Ralph Su.  I was saddened to hear that Ralph was asked to work out of the Louisville office, though half of the churches he supports are on the West Coast—but since his family are still here, we still get to see him once in a while.

As you know, ordinations and installations are the responsibility of Presbytery, so the services are led by members elected by Presbytery.  For KT’s installation, the Presbytery elected Moderator Rev. Roberto Ramirez, Elders Ihab Beblawi and Lilian Chuang, and Revs. Ralph Su and myself.  I was asked to give the charge to the pastor, and I started by apologizing for my linguistic shortcoming.  I was grateful that KT speaks perfect English, and he was the audience for my words.

I then noted that if our commission spoke their mother tongues, our service would have been in Taiwanese, English, Arabic, and Spanish (perhaps with a little Filipino and Mandarin thrown in).  But we worshiped in the dominant language of the Presbytery, and the dominant language of the Congregation, settling on English and Taiwanese.

As always, the service was supported by many of our Taiwanese pastors from San Gabriel and neighboring presbyteries, including Grace’s founding pastor, Rev. Shui-Teng Chen.  Rev. Chen has had some health issues recently, so I was glad to see him looking well.  Knowing that he speaks Japanese, somehow one of the few Japanese words I know came to me, saying “Genki desu” (my garbled way of saying “you look healthy/fine”).  He then launched into conversation in Japanese, which led me to another phrase that I use quite often, “Wakarimasen” (I don’t understand).  He didn’t hear me, so one of the Grace members had to tell him in Taiwanese that I don’t really speak Japanese.  She then explained he was expressing how grateful he was that Grace has been able to find a new pastor.  Because Rev. Chen doesn’t speak much English, he then simply said to me “Thank you very much.”

I am grateful that in our network of churches we have leaders who speak many languages, so we can better relate to and support all of our churches.  I have bragged that our COM speaks seven languages.  Though we are missing Thai, Cantonese, and Indonesian, this means we can communicate with most of our churches in their main language.

So we in San Gabriel are a glimpse of today’s Pentecost church, because the ability to speak many languages has already been demonstrated.   But even with language ability, we know that there is more to becoming one body of Christ than linguistics—as one colleague put it, “it’s more than a vocabulary exam.”  Because of my work in the Presbytery, I have been blessed with hearing many inspiring stories of faith from countries around the world, and seeing many ways Presbyterians “do church.”  My hope is that we will find ways for our church members to connect with each other, so that our faith lives are enriched by learning more about God’s work in the lives of people of many different cultures.

Happy All Saints Day this Friday.  May we all take a moment to give thanks for our ancestors who helped bring us here—our ancestors of family and culture, and our ancestors in the faith.

Blessings,

Wendy