Love God, Love One Another

Love God, Love One Another

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 1 John 4:7

I am writing from Macon, Georgia. I am spending a long weekend here, mostly to re-connect with my cohort of fellow presbytery leaders. Starting in 2015, we began a 3-year training course for new presbytery executives. We bonded very well—so well that we continued to meet every year after the course ended. We were also very clear to the faculty that their training was designed for an audience
that no longer existed; to this day we are considered the “rebels”—and in true Presbyterian fashion, several of us are now faculty in that same program, and have made a full-scale redesign of it.

We intended to meet every May, and did until COVID hit. Like so many other activities, even activities we dearly love like attending worship, we didn’t get around to planning a post-COVID reunion—until two of our colleagues gave us an excellent reason to reconnect: they got married!

So we came from Wilmington, Delaware and Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Orange County and Pasadena to join with our Georgia friends (from Kathleen and Macon). I came on Thursday so I could see Ally Lee; she is looking very pregnant and rested, but she’s connecting with folks in the Greater Atlanta area for possible calls after her baby is born. We ate a lot, caught up with each other, went to a pre- wedding gala in a historic home, attended the wedding, ate more, went to see the movie “Barbie,” ate more, and caught up more. We enjoyed local specialties like H&H Soul Food, Chico and Chang’s Korean-Mexican-Taiwanese fusion cuisine (yes, in Macon, and they’re popular), and delicacies from the couple’s roots: red beans and rice from New Orleans and shoo-fly pie from Pennsylvania.

The wedding day was unusually Presbyterian. There was a Presbytery meeting in the morning, at the home church of the groom, and the wedding followed, with all the pastors of the presbytery seated in the chancel. This church, Northminster in Macon, was in the news last year because a violent windstorm toppled the steeple from the church building. They had hoped to get the steeple back in place by the wedding, but as the groom said, they decided to embrace the fact that it didn’t happen for the PCT.

Even when the steeple fell, the sanctuary interior was totally intact, so the setting for the meeting and the wedding was perfect. The Presbyterian Church is much bigger and more rooted in the Southeast especially, so the sanctuary is very traditional, the congregation was full, and the sound of the singing was glorious. It was a vision of the PC(USA) as it has historically been—large, faithful, self-assured, well-mannered, and over 90% White. While this is not the vision we aspire to in San Gabriel, the vision gave a calming sense of a church that is strong, happy, and healthy.

But of all the feelings I got during this day’s activities, by far the strongest feeling in the sanctuary was love. The couple showed love for each other, of course, and overflowing love for their young adult children (both husband and wife had experienced very difficult divorces, but loved their children through it all). And there was love for the networks of people who came to the wedding out of love for the couple, and the love shared in the presbytery.

In the wedding program were two photos. One was a photo of the new blended family. On the back was a photo of our cohort! We were given this special attention because the couple met through the cohort; we were witnesses to the beginning of their love. Some people even commented when they met us that they had “heard all about” us, and were happy to see us in person!

Because I’m a more traditional family type, I was a bit embarrassed to have been given so much attention in this very important event in the life of this family and Flint River Presbytery. It reminded me of another cohort member, Cindy Kohlmann, who was Co-Moderator of the General Assembly 2018-2020. When she was elected, she could bring a few people on stage, and she invited her husband, a couple of close friends, and the cohort. I remember then another member asking, “Why were we invited up here?,” because we didn’t do much at all to bring about her election. She thought otherwise, apparently—she said that we were the first group she fielded the idea with, and we helped her discern the call to stand for co-moderator.

This group of seven individuals are not at all alike; though we initially came together as nine new presbytery executives, only three of us remain in the positions we were in eight years ago.
Occasionally little hints of friction come up between individuals, and we span at least two generations and the full continent. One of the members is a ruling elder, and another was on the board of the Fellowship Community of Presbyterians, which is the group of conservative leaders in the PC(USA). But we have loved each other through difficult family crises, ministry discernment, and we’ve been the seedbed for significant new life ventures.

All this was made possible because of God’s providence. God called us into the PC(USA), God gifted us with a call to midcouncil leadership, and God put us in this cohort together. We could not ask to be put together; we were brought together simply because we were the ones who showed up in that training in 2015. And yet, out of this God-created, seemingly random, small group has come a GA Co- Moderator, a loving couple getting a new lease on life, and faithful support for multiple presbyteries and hundreds of congregations. And in God’s grand design, more is to come.

Occasionally people question the PC(USA)’s structure which is based on geographic presbyteries.
For some of us, this model has direct links to our understanding of the sovereignty of God. God put us together in a particular place for a particular time, and it is our job to learn how to work together to
serve God’s mission for the particular community that has been formed here at this moment. God has a plan to care for this community, and has brought us together, with our varied gifts and backgrounds and perspectives, to connect with our neighbors. In the case of my cohort, God put us together to love each other, so that we can love and serve our respective presbyteries.

God has infinite wisdom and foresight, so I have always believed that God had clear intentions in bringing us together as the one body of Christ, a body that we never could have formed by ourselves. This weekend I am constantly reminded of the blessings God has given me, in the people God has brought into my life. And that includes the Presbytery of San Gabriel.

Thanks be to God!




Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Matthew 13:33

Many people have asked me about my trip to Israel and Palestine, and even asked that I speak about it. I’m glad to hear of their interest, as this is very important to us as Christians but we have not paid much attention to it as a presbytery. However, I am still processing the experience, and I doubt I will ever be resolved enough to be able to give a succinct report of what I saw. Instead, at least for now, the experience will shape my perspective on life, and how we as God’s children are to act in the world. As we try to find ways to respond to the tragedy in Turkey and Syria, we yet look for glimpses of hope.

There are a few things that are quite clear to me (at least for now!). People refer to my trip in different ways, and this reflects the many ways we perceive this birthplace of Abrahamic faith traditions. Also, what we see and understand is greatly impacted by the persons we entrust to help interpret the land, and our own background that give us lenses that focus and filter our perceptions. (Now that I think of it, isn’t all that true of our faith formation?)

So, for instance, though I was instructed to tell the Israeli immigration officials that I was a “pilgrim,” and folks have asked me about my pilgrimage, it didn’t feel like a pilgrimage to me. While I and many others have referred to this land of Jesus as the “Holy Land,” I am uncomfortable to confess that I didn’t sense the place to be all that holy. Being the child of a politically active family did lead me to see things through a political lens, yet I continue to struggle with the stance that our denomination has taken, though I am deeply troubled by the political situation there, which is worsening from day to day. Having been raised with a very deep appreciation for the Jewish tradition and the Jewish people’s response to so many tragedies and persecutions over the centuries, I could not simply condemn what is happening in Israel as “apartheid,” though the only tears I shed came out of disappointment for a people I have always considered as moral exemplars of justice and compassion.

My response to the controversy over what to do and say about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians has always been two-fold. First, we Christians have no right to judge other people’s use of their faith as justification for persecution, especially if we dare to judge Jews, who have been victimized the most by those who claim to follow Christ. Second, anti-Semitism is always present, from microagressions and unspoken biases to bloody massacres all over the United States and the world, and I can’t see providing any fuel to allow that evil to grow. I have been told that once I got there and saw what was happening, my mind would be changed. This did not exactly happen. As troubled as I was by the worst aggressions against the Palestinians, I still remember (and was reminded at our WinterFest opening session) that people who claim to be Christians have been responsible for multiple genocides all around the world. And as focused as the Presbyterian Church has been on Israel and Palestine, I saw almost no presence on the ground; the Christian churches who were seen as peacemakers were Lutheran and Mennonite.

So how are we to respond? How can we contribute to peace in this troubled crush of religious passion and vengeance?

I now realize that this was my most basic goal of the trip. I have felt that the people of this land, those who were singled out for favor and calling by God, represent the first and last chance for God’s realm of peace to be realized. If we who all look back to Abraham as called by God to be our spiritual father cannot heed God’s pleas for justice, peace, and reconciliation, how can we ever expect to see shalom? What approach will further the cause for God’s peace, and how can our faith in Jesus Christ guide us?
Throughout my course, I questioned our leaders about how to work for peace in this land. They were:

  • Huda Abuarquob, a Palestinian Muslim peace activist and Regional Director for the Alliance for Middle East Peace (, an umbrella NGO with mostly Jewish leadership,
  • Marcie Lenk, a Jewish woman from New Jersey who moved to Israel as a young adult but came back to the US to earn a PhD in early Christianity at Harvard, and
  • Stephanie Saldaña, a Christian writer and journalist fellow with the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture. She has lived for twenty years in Syria and Palestine and has studied with a shaykhah (the feminine form of sheikh, which among other things is used to describe a Muslim religious teacher).

All three women are devout in their faiths, have studied at Harvard, and two of them, Huda and Stephanie, have been Fulbright Scholars. They have different opinions and approaches to the troubles of the land in which they live, but what they have in common is a commitment to reconciliation through dialogue and mutual respect. While their efforts may not be incendiary or spectacular, they liken themselves to leaven, being that little speck of yeast that raises the whole loaf, even if some purists would try to rid themselves of it.

One organization they agree to support is called the Bereaved Families Forum or The Parents Circle Families Forum ( This is a group of parents who have lost loved ones to violence, and simply tell their stories. They have gone into schools in Israel and Palestine, and organize an annual service of remembrance on Israeli Memorial Day; thanks to COVID they have moved this event to Facebook and Zoom, so the 2022 service was viewed by 200,000 people around the world. (You can still view the service by clicking here; towards the end Huda speaks, as well as a most powerful message by Israeli activist Yuli Novak.) By simply telling their stories, they have changed hearts, faced threats of violence, and provided safe space for dialogue and peacemaking.

As I write this, I realize that I may be attracted to this approach because it is similar to the approach some of us have tried to take towards racial reconciliation here in the United States. While the dominant approach in the PC(USA) towards anti-racism is mandatory training, some of us who have been doing anti-racism training for decades prefer an approach that is less quantifiable but possibly longer-lasting: that is, sharing our stories so that we can see God’s child in each other. Like the yeast in the widow’s bread, like a dozen scraggly disciples of Jesus, like the tiny oft-occupied land of Israel, God often chooses the small, faithful efforts to further God’s plan of salvation for the world. As in this quote attributed to anthropologist Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Let us live as thoughtful, committed citizens of the kingdom of heaven, in whatever circumstance that confronts us.



The Good Life

The Good Life

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.     Psalm 23:6

A few months ago, we received a letter addressed to Foster Shannon at the Presbytery office. I was intrigued, because the return address was Anne Cohen. Anne is a well-loved local UCC pastor, who is classically progressive, as one might imagine for a UCC pastor in Southern California.  I wondered why Anne would be writing to Foster, as I wouldn’t imagine them to be pen pals.

I called Foster’s number and found it had been disconnected. I contacted folks at the two churches I knew Foster served among us—Alhambra True Light and Arcadia. Jamie Fong, a deacon at Alhambra, contacted me, because she has been dutifully scheduling visits to Foster and Janis Shannon at the home where they were now staying.

I went to visit Foster and Janis, taking with me the letter from Anne Cohen and a souvenir from the meeting when Arcadia called John Scholte. The letter turned out to be an invitation to the memorial service for Anne’s father, Rev. Albert Cohen, whose obituary starts by describing him as “minister, activist, ecologist and agitator.” So I’m guessing that Foster didn’t have much more in common with Albert than with Anne, and yet there was enough of a relationship for Anne to track down a way to personally reach out to him on the occasion of her father’s death.

The visit was pleasant enough, though Foster didn’t seem to remember Albert. But Foster and Janis were very pleased to hear about Arcadia’s new pastor. I was glad to see them in a place that was safe and friendly, though I could only guess how difficult the adjustment was for Foster especially. (Alhambra’s pastor, Jack Davidson, and I have had a couple calls trying to encourage Foster to move to a retirement community, and he wouldn’t hear of it.)

A few months passed, and Jamie contacted me to see if I would like to visit Foster again, and I was scheduled to see him after Christmas. But then COVID took that away from us, as the home did not want to risk allowing outside visitors coming in.

A week ago Jamie forwarded an email from Foster’s daughter saying visitors can come again, and that it would be good for people to visit now, because Foster had stopped eating and it seemed he would not be with us much longer. So I went to see them on Thursday afternoon. Janis and I had a good conversation as she told me their 70-year journey of faith. Foster rested quietly, though several times he raised both arms as if he was giving a benediction or reaching up to the Lord.

I had precious few interactions with Foster, but I did share with Janis my favorite memory. He invited me to have coffee so we could discuss Korean Good Shepherd, with whom we were in the throes of the dismissal battle. The Presbytery was forming an Administrative Commission for them, and I asked Foster to be the chair, because I knew he had sympathy for Korean Good Shepherd’s conservative misgivings about the PC(USA), though he himself had chosen to stay PC(USA). This coffee was the first time I had a conversation with Foster, and early on he looked at me with piercing eyes and said, “Now I’m pretty sure there is very little we agree on . . . But I love you anyway!”

I always thought that was a glimpse into the best way to be Presbyterian—honest, acknowledging our differences, but confirming that our common love in Christ transcends all. And when I learned that Foster did go on to the Lord on Saturday, I was so thankful to have spent some time with him and with Janise just two days before, to hear more about his life of faithfulness and to remind Janis that she will continue to be loved by her church family, even as she feels so alone without Foster.

Indeed, this winter I have been amazed at the stories of some of our older siblings in Christ. I wrote about Casper Glenn’s 100th birthday party, and the joy of that event continues to buoy my spirit. As Bryce Little is arranging things since Phyllis died a little over a week ago, he shared Phyllis’ service with Presbyterian World Mission:

1957-1960 she taught at Hope School for the Presbyterian and other missionary children in Cameroon

1960-1970 Phyllis and Bryce were appointed to develop urban-industrial mission work under the Church of Christ in Thailand and Trinity Theological College in Singapore

2002-2010 Phyllis and Bryce served as Regional Liaisons to serve with our PC(USA) partner churches in Portugal and Spain.

And now there’s Foster’s earthly journey coming to an end. It’s hard for me not to lionize these great role models in ministry—and I can’t help but also give thanks to God for the incredible loving lifelong partnerships of Casper and Vernilla, Bryce and Phyllis, and Foster and Janis.

As we look ahead to Winterfest and our Presbytery meeting, I give thanks for all the holy and amazing folks in our presence. The Presbytery meeting is really short, but we will have the opportunity to hear from and greet new/old friends Harlan Redmond, Tom Eggebeen, and Amy Mendez. And WinterFest will focus on helping us nurture resilience in our own emotional well-being, and in our congregations. We will hear from Presbytery members who are mental health professionals as well as pastors, and friends and church leaders who will share their expertise and experience caring for people who are struggling, and helping us tend to our own mental health during these stressful times.

I believe resilience is helped by taking the time to reflect on the blessings we’re aware of, and giving thanks. Role models to inspire us, friends to partner with, folks to teach and learn from, souls to care for—certainly God has blessed us. So let us give thanks, and cherish the time we have together.

See you at WinterFest,


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.



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.





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,