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 (https://www.facebook.com/PDACARES) Twitter (https://twitter.com/PDACares).

We also have a page up on our website: https://pda.pcusa.org/situation/december-tornadoes/

The link for the donation page for DR000015 is www.bit.ly/DR000015.

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.

Peace,
Wendy

 

Thanks for Us

Thanks for Us

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.

Philippians 1:3-5

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, and that it was easy for you to think of many things for which you are grateful.

For myself, I often remember the work that God has given me when I give thanks. I am thankful for my calling, and for the partners God has given me—those with whom I get to share in the gospel. I think about partners near and far, past and present. In short, I am thankful for the Presbytery of San Gabriel, and the Presbyterian Church (USA).

In our September Presbytery meeting, we talked about how to be a more inclusive Presbytery, and one recommendation is for us to know our own identity better, which helps us appreciate the identity of others. The identity we share is that of Presbyterian, so I thought I’d start naming aspects of Presbyterian culture for which I am grateful. (I suppose I can also point out aspects which I hope we can adjust or eradicate, but maybe later.)

So this column doesn’t get too long, I hope to name my “Top Ten” in two columns, and then in a third column, I’ll look at San Gabriel Presbytery. So let’s get started with the first five.

When I ask people why they come to the Presbyterian Church, the most common answer is the polity— and specifically, the equality of elders. I think you all know that “Presbyterian” refers to “elders” (“presbyopia” is the condition of farsightedness found in old age—basically, it means “old eyes”).

Whereas the Episcopal Church is named after bishops, we are named after elders, meaning ruling elders as much as teaching elders. Nearly all the work of the church is shared by all, and in ecclesiastical matters a ruling elder has the same authority as a pastor. Because of this, the PC(USA) enjoys the leadership of many exceptional ruling elders—and pastors are taught (and in some cases reminded) to respect the leadership of the session. The saying we used to share with people interested in ministry in the PC(USA) is that the only thing Presbyterian pastors may do on their own is to pick the hymns—and I now add “and often they don’t get to do that either.” For the most part, none of us make decisions on our own, which is rooted in our deep belief that we hear better the voice of God through the gathered body, which is the theological reason we are always in meetings!

It seems another priority of the Presbyterian Church that is mentioned often is social justice. This is complicated for me, because we talk about it a lot, and sometimes we take a stance that gets attention, but I don’t know if we do as much as we are called to do. I’m also aware that this has been raised as a critique of the PC(USA), especially from people who think social justice distracts us from devotion to God. I have heard pastors who were trying to take their churches out of the denomination saying that the PC(USA) is very justice-oriented, but this takes us away from the Bible. However, Presbyterian pastors—conservative and liberal—have pointed out how the Bible repeatedly speaks to God’s call to economic justice, including in radical ways such as the jubilee (elimination of debts and restoration of rights) and communal sharing of possessions in the Acts church. We also see the call of those with privilege and power to care for those on the margins, whether they be foreigners, the poor, orphans and widows, women, the disabled, or social outcasts. There is understanding that the Presbyterian Church has privilege, so it is our responsibility to use it for those without. Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson has shared that other Black leaders have questioned why he is Presbyterian, a denomination that is 90% White. He answered that it is his family church, but also recalled an economic boycott against a company that was mistreating its workers. The people in the boycott wanted to speak with the CEO, but the CEO refused. Then the CEO heard that there was a Presbyterian pastor in the group, and the CEO was willing to speak to the Presbyterian—and so J. Herbert could speak truth to power when others could not. As a denomination with pretty sizeable financial assets, we also lead in using our resources to try to impact just change; perhaps the most celebrated example of this was our participation in the economic boycott of apartheid South Africa.

A traditional focus for the Presbyterian Church is our adherence to the Bible. Now internally we have questioned how well we know the Bible because our speech is not peppered with citations. Also, our seminaries teach biblical criticism that is more academic than devotional in its orientation—to the point that some seminarians experience a crisis of faith when the depth and complexity of Scripture are revealed. Personally, I do wish that our actions are more clearly guided by the Bible—all of the Bible, not just the verses that we use to rationalize our human desires of greed and control. Having heard a few sermons from various traditions, I do believe that the preaching in Presbyterian churches is more biblically based than many, and preaching is a product of research, prayer, and consideration, which for me reflects our respect for Scripture, the Holy Spirit, and our people.

Speaking of preaching, this leads me to our priority for education. This focus on education includes a commitment to an educated clergy, but also our belief that education is empowering for all, and the best path out of poverty. So Presbyterians have established schools all over the world, most notably where education was not being offered. This includes schools and colleges for African-Americans in the South (the root for many Black Presbyterians in the Southeast), Indigenous girls in what is now Oklahoma, and for girls in Asia and all around the world.

I will close out this first five with mission. During our recent controversies, there were conservative Presbyterians who were being pressured to leave the PC(USA). Some who stayed expressed their appreciation for the PC(USA)’s mission tradition, and the resources dedicated to mission in the world. I confess that I smile whenever I hear about the big hospitals in New York City and Albuquerque, both still named Presbyterian. Most of our immigrant churches are established for Presbyterians coming from other nations, where Presbyterian missionaries taught and showed them the grace of God through their preaching, their care, their advocacy, and their expertise in medicine, education, and community organizing. Today, the PC(USA) continues to evolve in our mission orientation, now seeking to honor the authority of local church partners by sending mission coworkers only as requested. This has resulted in a smaller number of mission coworkers, and many of them are not preachers but lay people with the technical skills requested by our partner churches. This represents not a rejection of mission but a sign that the Word was planted by our mission forebears, and is productive today.

Thanks if you have read to the end. Do you recognize our Presbyterian identity in these priorities? Are you also thankful for them? Feel free to let me know if you agree, or more importantly what I have missed—and perhaps they will be mentioned in next week’s column!

In any case, I hope you have reason to be thankful for being part of this church. I am grateful that you are here.

Peace,
Wendy

 

Home

Home

They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

Isaiah 65:21-22

When COVID was raging, I would think about what happens when the crisis subsides. One thing I expected was some leadership transitions. This often happens after a crisis. Pastors will stay focused on the crisis at hand, but once things get a little calmer, the pastor realizes how burned out they are, and may decide to leave. Or a pastor who was planning to retire will delay their retirement, but then retire when it seems safe to do so. With COVID, a third phenomenon has been observed: between the time spent at home and the reality of mortality becoming so present in our minds, many people have started to rethink the way they are spending their lives, and they are making changes.

In some of our churches, we have said good-bye to members who have chosen to move out of state. And we will be entering a season of transitions, as at least five churches will see their pastors retire in the next few months, and a few of our younger pastors are moving forward in their ministries, taking added responsibilities in new contexts. I’m not going to name them right now, because so many pastors have told me of their plans that I’m not even sure which changes are public yet. But I do ask that you pray for the churches in transition, and if your church is experiencing this change, don’t hesitate to touch base with your session, and if they have questions, they can always reach COM Moderator Cyndie Crowell or myself.

On our Presbytery staff, we are experiencing change as well. Ally Lee has left Knox and officially started as Organizing Teaching Pastor with Interwoven. I have heard great things about the team that Harlan Redmond and Ally make together, and they are meeting with their launch team. On the other hand, our other Organizing Pastor, Sam Bang, has not seen the progress he had hoped for, so he will be scaling back his efforts with his new worshiping community. He still wants to nurture a community, but he will do it more slowly. He does not want to use additional Presbytery or Synod resources until he is farther along with a new community. Sam has been such a great help to the Presbytery that I’m hoping he may find another way to serve in our San Gabriel Presbytery family.

Lauren Evans is waiting for the green light to begin gaining the needed hours of counseling, so that she can become a licensed therapist. There is great demand for counselors right now, and Lauren will offer great insight as well as humor in her emerging practice. But COVID has caused delays in handling the paperwork so she can begin counseling again. Prayers for her as she gets ready for the next chapter in her ministry.

Kristi Van Nostran has finished her MDiv at Fuller, and completed her CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) internship. In a way, her work with asylum seekers at Adelanto Detention Center has been completed as well, because COVID caused Adelanto to greatly reduce the number of people held there; at present it looks like less than 100 people are still detained at Adelanto, and our hope is that no more will be sent there.

As Kristi has considered the changing and uncertain environment in the area of immigration, and as the crisis of the 100 people she helped to transition out of Adelanto has subsided, Kristi has discerned that this is a good time for her to shift gears. She wrote to the Justice, Peacemaking and Mission Committee:

With deep gratitude for all that we have accomplished together and the accompaniment we have provided with immigrant siblings in our communities, I write to share that I will be transitioning out of the role of Immigrant Accompaniment Organizer at the end of October. . . .

In November, I will begin a new role with Movement Mortgage as a Community Outreach Officer with their La Comunidad initiative to support Hispanic homebuyers. I am excited to step into this new chapter of my professional career after nearly 20 years working in non-profit and ecclesial settings. I very much view this as a new and different ministry opportunity serving the Hispanic/Latinx community in Southern California and look forward to the many blessings this new role has to offer.

While I will miss Kristi’s phenomenal work and her passion for bringing the love and justice of Christ to people leaving the danger of their home countries, I look forward to seeing what she will do in this different type of ministry. There has been much discussion recently about the way that home ownership is a major factor in building generational wealth; it seems that along with education, the opportunity to own property can provide stability for generations in a family. I know that my father was always grateful for a certain realtor, Willie C. Carr, for maintaining relationships with Japanese-Americans who were away from home during World War II due to incarceration or military service. After the war, Mr. Carr welcomed the Japanese back home to Pasadena, and he also broke down barriers of discrimination to help people of color buy houses in neighborhoods that had excluded them. He and Kristi demonstrate how God’s will for just wages and housing can be better implemented through people in the business world, who bring the light of their faith into their work.

Not only do I have high hopes for the ways Kristi will be impacting families through La Comunidad, she isn’t through with us in any case! She is still under care of our CPM and a member of Claremont Presbyterian Church, and the work she has done and the guidance she is giving us as we re-vision the Immigrant Accompaniment Ministry in these very changed times has made a permanent mark on many of us. We are much more knowledgeable and experienced in walking with our migrant neighbors, thanks to Kristi.

Kristi will meet with some of us as we discern the best use of funds from our churches and friends, the Synod, and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. We continue to be committed to this work, however it evolves, and we already have some ideas on how to build on what we’ve done, and to address the greatest need, as God guides us.

In the meantime, please join me in thanking Kristi, and giving praise to God for her, and please ask for God’s blessing on her and her future clients. As we enter into this season of transition, we are thankful for the ways we’ve been able to walk with so many gifted and faithful leaders, as we come alongside churches and ministries as they seek new leadership.

 

With thanksgiving and peace,

Wendy

 

Self-Portrait

Self-Portrait

For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us . . .

Romans 12:4-6a

Last Saturday we held our first “hybrid” Presbytery meeting. Rev. Elizabeth Gibbs Zehnder, our chaplain at LAC+USC Medical Center, was extremely encouraging as she gave us props for the design of the meeting. Of course, she gave us a compelling glimpse into her ministry, which has been so painful and totally critical during these COVID-ravaged times. Since she kindly shortened her presentation (since we did go long), you might want to contact her if you are interested in helping with the chaplaincy, or ask her to preach or do adult education at your church. Click here for a written update, and opportunities to get involved for the fall and winter seasons.

As I mentioned, our meeting ran long before Elizabeth spoke, but we had the opportunity to hear from each other, and to reflect on a report on our intercultural awareness.

There were several milestones in ministry we celebrated:

  • Lisa Hansen will be installed as pastor of Pasadena Presbyterian Church this coming Sunday, September 26, at 3 pm. Everyone is encouraged to come to this service of the Presbytery.
  • Sam Kim is retiring at the end of October as pastor of Divine Light Presbyterian Church in El Monte. We lift up prayers of thanksgiving for Sam’s faithful service, and for Divine Light as they enter a period of transition after two decades of loving ministry with Rev. Kim.
  • Terry McGonigal transferred his membership into San Gabriel Presbytery, having retired from Whitworth University and having moved to Monte Vista Grove. Rev. McGonigal is a highly respected leader in the larger church, and continues to work as a consultant with Whitworth’s Office of Church Engagement. He is currently working with select churches as he looks ahead to the church’s future in this very changed world. We look forward to getting to know and learn from Terry.
  • We followed up on the Presbytery’s decision in June to make GKI-LA a fellowship of San Gabriel. COM has appointed a team to work with GKI-LA as they seek to be chartered as a member We heard from GKI’s pastor, Rev. Pipi Dhali, and elder Melvin Rebiono about their church, and their background and the gifts they bring from the church in Indonesia. Rev. Karen Kiser was impressed enough with Pipi’s presentation that she asked for a written copy of his notes. Pipi’s notes, which can be accessed here, is more complete than we had time for at the meeting and includes a bonus question about the large number of woman pastors in the Indonesian church.
  • We gave our blessings to Jennifer Ackerman and Becca Bateman as they move to their new homes in the Presbytery of Cascades and Jennifer has purchased a house and settled in Portland as she continues to work for Fuller Seminary, and Becca has been called as associate pastor at Doylestown Presbyterian Church. We also approved Ally Lee’s departure from Knox Presbyterian, as she begins her work with Interwoven New Worshiping Community.

We were inspired and challenged by elder Joshua Marmol’s sharing about Shower of Hope, which is a ministry with people experiencing homelessness at Knox Presbyterian Church. Joshua reminded us that people who are currently homeless are just as deserving of love and respect as anyone else. We received the Presbytery offering for Shower of Hope; you can give by going to https://sangabpres.org/donate/ and clicking the dropdown menu to “Presbytery Offering,” or by sending a check to Presbytery of San Gabriel, 9723 Garibaldi Avenue, Temple City, CA 91780 and write “Shower of Hope” in the memo line.

Several important events in 2022 were announced:

  • WinterFest 2022 will happen, probably in late January 2022. The plan will be to hold multiple sessions on Zoom for three weeknights, then we will have a plenary session and lunch to close the event on Saturday. We will livestream the plenary session for those who cannot come to the event. This WinterFest will help us prepare and live into a much-changed future, as we seek to continue to offer our churches as places of compassion, for each person and for the congregation as a
  • General Assembly will be held in a hybrid format between June 18 and July 9, 2022. Click here for the nominations form if you are interested in being Ruling Elder or Teaching Elder Commissioner, or Young Adult Advisory Delegate. Please return the completed form to Ally Lee at ally@sangabpres.org by October 12, 2021.
  • Presbyterian Youth Triennium will be held July 24-27, 2022 in Indianapolis. Brian Gaeta- Symonds (brian@claremontpres.org) will be San Gabriel’s Registrar and will be sending information to all the churches as it becomes available.

As promised, we reviewed the initial group report for San Gabriel Presbytery from the Intercultural Development Inventory. I say “initial” report because we are making it available for more people who may have missed taking the inventory during the summer. We can also create reports for churches if we get enough people (at least 10 or more) from a single church to take the inventory, which the Presbytery Executive Commission has committed to funding. You can review the slides from the presentation here, and contact Sam Bang (sbang@fuller.edu), Sophia Eurich-Rascoe (sophiaeurich@gmail.com), or Wendy Tajima (wendytajima@sangabpres.org) if you have questions about the IDI or if you already took the inventory and want to go over your individual report.

We began and ended the meeting with prayer. Early in the meeting we remembered Rev. Bill Van Loan, who was a very active and diligent Presbytery leader, most recently as Corporate Secretary. Bill died on July 25, 2021.  We pray for Bill’s family, especially his wife Judy Post.

We tried out some recommendations from the “Reforming Presbytery Practices” group, with the approval of the Executive Commission. One key item was an expanded consent agenda, which freed up time in the Presbytery meeting by combining all non-controversial motions while still giving any commissioner the ability to pull any item that they want to discuss. A second was holding facilitated breakout groups, with the same people in each group, so that we could get to know each other more.  In breakout groups we were able to share our memories, thoughts on IDI, and prayers. One prayer is for Rev. Doug Edwards, who is recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumor. The family is struggling to pay for the large caregiving expenses; if you would like to read an update and a way to help, you can read this letter from his family.

We continue to grow—and grow together—as a Presbytery. We are committed to building relationships of love and shared ministry that help us to appreciate and honor the divinely-created variety of gifts and perspectives that we all bring from our varied backgrounds and cultural identities. It is a great blessing to walk with San Gabriel Presbytery on this leg of our journey.

Together with you in Christ,

Wendy

 

Doing the Impossible

Doing the Impossible

“If the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”

2 Kings 5:13

These are indeed strange and trying times. I could quote the most famous of opening lines, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .,” except I can’t tell right now how these are the best of times.

Methodist pastor Jenny Smith has a blog, and a recent post which she titled “The Second Marathon: A Word for Pastors on Walking the New Normal,” rings true for many of us. I confess that I’ve been hit with exhaustion myself, coupled with headaches and body aches, and I can only imagine the burden that our pastors—and all who feel responsible for the care of others—have been feeling for 18 months now. In a Zoom meeting with one of our churches, an elder mentioned that he was recovering from COVID. He said he had “the usual symptoms for the Delta variant”—including headaches and exhaustion. So my fear of COVID started to simmer, but thank God I was able to get a test appointment on short notice (let’s hear it for LA County and the San Gabriel Valley Airport), and in just a day they told me the test was negative. So I was happy to know that my issue isn’t directly COVID, it’s just the burnout and exhaustion related to dealing with COVID.

The mind-numbing persistence of COVID has been hard enough to deal with, but then last weekend happened. Haiti was hit with another devastating earthquake, just a month after their president was assassinated. The withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan led to an almost instantaneous collapse of the country, and a mad scramble of thousands of evacuees, as the West’s noble attempt at nation-building, partnered with corrupt officials, was exposed for the mirage it was. Our hearts were flooded with the desperation of people whose dreams of liberation were shattered in an instant.

I think the depth of Haiti’s pain was expressed with almost mundane acceptance. After so many calamities, the tragedy of the earthquake was not viewed on its own, but with the hope that it wouldn’t reach the level of destruction of the 2010 earthquake that claimed over 200,000 lives, and the sad praise that Haitians are among the most resilient of peoples. But aid is coming in, and you may help with prayer and donations through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance—go to https://pda.pcusa.org/situation/haiti/ for more information, and to give.

In the midst of all of this, life goes on. In June, we invited Presbytery folks to meet on different topics as we seek to be more active in combating racism. The “Dialogue on Racism” group begins this week. The groups on “Reforming Presbytery Practices” and “Reparations for African-Americans” have been meeting, and we have had some great discussions. One challenge that comes up regarding reparations is the enormity of the problem. Not only are we talking about millions of people and 400 years of slavery and its aftereffects, there is a dizzying variety of perspectives and situations. For some of us, slavery was woven into the very fabric of the nation of the USA, so full reparation would require a dismantling of what we understand as America. For others, the impact of slavery is seemingly over, and over 60% of the nation do not support the idea of reparations at all.

Rev. Dr. Mark Lomax, a PC(USA) pastor and professor at Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, spoke with the GA Special Committee on Racism, Truth & Reconciliation on the issue of reparations in a Zoom meeting, which was recorded and can be seen here. In the meeting, Dr. Lomax addresses the enormity of the problem—as well as the despair he has felt when trying to get the PC(USA) to move from studies and presentations to a change of heart. Even as he names the anger he and others feel about the stubborn pervasiveness of anti-Black racism, and when it seems there is really nothing that can be done to turn this brokenness around, he reaches into his Christian learning and points to the only solution he believes will heal us:  relationships, and forgiveness.

With relationships, we learn to care about each other, and hear our stories, which lead to not just an intellectual exercise, but a change of heart—essentially, the gateway to the Gospel, confession and repentance. How can we connect on a level so that our personal experiences repel the lies that we are told about people of different races? How can we come to love each other enough so that when they are hurt, we hurt, and we step forward to defend them? I have been struck with the passion of US military veterans who have expressed love for the people of Afghanistan, and who have been their most outspoken defenders, especially of their Afghan colleagues who are now in danger.

But even if we love others, we dare not confess if we fear vengeance. We can confess to God, because we know that God forgives. In the order of worship in John Calvin’s Geneva, the confession came after the sermon, because the sermon should give the assurance that broken as we are, God has grace enough to forgive. Dr. Lomax pointed to the call to forgive, even as oppressed peoples—and the African-American community, especially the Black Church, have demonstrated time and again that ability to forgive.

Can it be that easy, when faced with what seems like impossible problems, to open our hearts to each other, and to trust in God’s grace, and the grace of our siblings in Christ? Of course what sounds simple is very, very hard, if we want to hold on to our illusion of control. But that control really is an illusion—the pandemic, the spikes of violence against self and others, the very weather and movement of the earth show us that we are not in charge. Maybe letting go, and letting God work through us, is the answer. What a true test of our faith, to open our hands and our hearts to care for others, to forgive, and to accept forgiveness.

I have been thinking myself about ways I have put myself and my efforts ahead of God’s will. I ask that you pray for me as I take a break for a couple of weeks, and generally step back, so that I may listen better for God and lean more on God’s grace.

See you after Labor Day. As always, be gentle with yourselves, and with each other.

Peace,

Wendy

 

Love and Knowledge

Love and Knowledge

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11

I hope that you have already heard that LA County has now mandated the use of masking indoors for all again, effective yesterday, July 18. You can read the revised health order here.

Last week, LA County recommended this, but this weekend they moved the recommendation to a new mandate. This is a response to the rapid increase of COVID cases, especially with the Delta variant, which is many times more easily spread. While the case rate has tripled over the last two weeks, and the death rate has doubled, the vaccination rate has stayed essentially the same: 60.1% of residents are partially vaccinated, and 52.6% have been fully vaccinated. The positivity rate has moved to 3.17%, almost 2.5 times the positivity rate from two weeks ago—and 7 times the positivity rate a month ago.

Personally, I think this is more easily administered than the prior order, which allowed vaccinated people to go unmasked. It was highly confusing to have some businesses still requiring full masking, and even when they didn’t, there was no easy way to enforce masking of the unvaccinated. You may know that we had suggested asking all worship attendees to continue wearing masks anyway, so you don’t cause divisions between the masked and the unmasked (and you wouldn’t have to question people about their vaccination status).

While the percentage increases are huge and the growth rapid, the actual numbers are still somewhat low. The confusing thing for me is the fact that the vaccinations seem to protect people extremely well, yet the demand for vaccinations continue to be stalled. It would be sad if the lower vaccination rate enables new variants to appear.

One other new requirement from the County: if you have an unvaccinated employee, you are required to provide a free N95 respirator if asked. There is an organization providing free or low-cost masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE); see the attached flyer.

I’m sure this is confusing and frustrating. But my hope is that we Christians can approach the challenges of life with both love and knowledge, as Paul wrote to the Philippian church, from his prison cell. There are frustrations and setbacks, even injustices and harm done to us. We must not shy away from the knowledge of these challenges, yet we can respond with love and insight and the hope for a “harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” Paul himself modeled it in this letter, as he acknowledges his imprisonment, yet finds reason to give thanks to God, and is encouraged by the knowledge of the faithful prayers of the churches.

It’s interesting how often government officials are asking faith leaders to encourage and facilitate vaccinations. They are counting on the cooperation of church leaders based on your compassion, combined with an education level that leads you to see the logical advantages of vaccinations, and the faith in seeing God’s gift in providing the vaccinations.

In the coming weeks, I join Paul in praying for love and knowledge and insight, always seeking to reflect and share the glory of God trough the grace—and patience—of Jesus Christ. I also ask that you live out your prayers with actions to protect your communities with wise safety protocols.

And, on another note, let us expand and build our knowledge and insight with our summer activities, including taking the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), and joining our “Processing the Pandemic” and anti-racism groups. Let me or Ally Lee know if you have questions or are interested.

In closing, let me again reference Paul, who continued in Philippians 3:12-14:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

May you find strength to press on, knowing that Christ Jesus has made you his own.

Peace,
Wendy