Connections in the Connectional Church

by | Mar 27, 2023

In Christ Jesus the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.

Ephesians 2:21-22

This last week, I’ve been able to witness the connectional church, embodied in two current leaders: Ruth Santana-Grace, Co-Moderator of the 225th GA (2022-2024), and Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator of the 218th GA (2008-2010).

Ruth is dear to us as my immediate predecessor as Executive Presbyter of San Gabriel Presbytery, having served here for 9 years until she moved to be EP of Philadelphia Presbytery in 2014. Ruth has been with us for the weekend, visiting with the residents of Pilgrim Place, and speaking at an open house for her at San Marino Community Church on Friday evening and yesterday at Claremont Presbyterian Church. Her focus as Co-Moderator is to be an ambassador of hope for the church, and she was full of optimism and joy in her service, even as she acknowledges the challenges we are facing in the world around us and in the church. As we are in the liminal space of significant change (but not clear what the final destination looks like), it may feel like we are in the wilderness. But the wilderness journey gives us the opportunity to try new things, and to realize that God walks with us even as we go through unknown spaces, with no guarantee that things will go the way we expect. I was able to have lunch with Ruth and Bruce on Friday, and Ruth is so full of love for you all, asking for updates on everyone!

Bruce has been with us for almost two months. He’s been having a blast as bridge pastor of Filipino Community United Presbyterian Church in Azusa, working with their great session on a ministry plan for their Filipino roots and the multiracial community of Azusa. He’s also been meeting with different folks, including some of our pastors and the presbytery staff. He’s a master networker, and has been introducing me to folks with creative leadership potential, because he has said (more than a few times) that we are his new favorite presbytery, and he thinks we are a great home for leaders with vision.

Bruce has become a well-respected author; when he was our keynote speaker for the 2021 WinterFest, he had just published “In Defense of Kindness.” While he has been with us, he completed his first draft of a comprehensive primer on faith that would be accessible to folks who are discerning spiritually, but not sure about the relevance of the Christian church in this post-Christendom world. He is always on the leading edge for the church, starting a new church before the 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement, and active in social media and worship technology before the rest of us. I’ve noticed how informed he is as a child of the PC(USA), including his critique of the institution. When meeting with the presbytery staff, we talked about how we describe the Presbyterian tradition as a strength rather than a burden. For instance, is the Book of Order a set of restrictive rules, or a challenge to be more faithful, and reconsider outdated practices? Bruce suggested that “if we really followed the PC(USA) Constitution, we would be a very different church.”

It is a blessing to hear the perspectives and love these national church leaders have for our little presbytery, and to get a sense of the larger church in different contexts, and into the future. As we look ahead to Holy Week, and we consider the life-giving love of Jesus Christ, we have much to be thankful for, including the body of Christ that is the Presbyterian Church (USA)—and the leaders who represent the future hopes for the church. And, as I see San Gabriel Presbytery through the eyes of people who have experienced many a presbytery, I am reminded of the blessing you are to me, but more importantly, to Christ’s mission in San Gabriel Valley. May you know the blessings of Christ during this Lenten season.

In Christ,