Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
This is Thanksgiving week, and while it’s good to give thanks—at all times and in all circumstances— it’s nice to be able to look back and see what we can be thankful for this past year. Actually, they say it’s good for our mental health to live with an attitude of gratitude, and while we should not discount hardship, we know that there is always reason to give thanks. And as I look back on the life of this presbytery, I can give thanks to God for an infinite number of blessings, but let me just share the first ten that come to mind.
Thanks be to God, and for the Bible who tells us about God, and how God would want us to live our lives. We know we would not be here at all, or in a state of despair and confusion, if not for the life and love God has given us in Jesus Christ. Our reason for being is to appreciate and live out of our understanding of what God has given us, including the invitation to participate in God’s mission in this world. May we continue to rely on and build from this foundation of faith and purpose.
Thanks for the churches, church leaders, and pastors who continue to serve faithfully through all circumstances. We spend energy and time bringing up new leaders and new worshiping communities, but of course the energy, leadership, and mutual support of our presbytery come from our established churches, and I should never take that for granted. Every member, and every congregation, has gifts and a piece of God’s wisdom, and we are far better positioned to discern and do God’s will if we have more people involved in the leadership of the presbytery. We seem to hover right under 100 leaders every year, though we can certainly welcome more!
Thanks for the fellowship of support and generosity lived out in the life of the presbytery. I was texting with one of the presbytery leaders this last week, who mentioned being “really grateful for our Presbytery because it feels as if we genuinely like each other and want to include everyone.” So thanks again to the leaders who have been around for a while, who not only serve their own ministries but expand their welcome to folks who bring new perspectives of God and the church to our presbytery. I experienced this directly at our last presbytery meeting (the first in-person meeting in almost three years), as the host pastor spoke of the partnership of Christian bodies serving together at West Covina; a new pastor became instant sound board technician; another pastor shared persimmons from his tree; we shopped for gifts from a sister church and a recipient of our Self-Development of People grant; we gave gift cards to a family finding peace in our community after fleeing war in Ukraine; and most of all, we enjoyed sitting together at tables but also connecting with friends in San Diego and Oakhurst by Zoom.
Thanks for the polity that facilitates the way we do mission together. While many cringe at the demands of our polity, I know that many people are Presbyterian specifically because of it. For myself, I believe the polity is the codification of what we believe as Christians. And it has become a combination of guardrails to keep us from getting into trouble, practices that facilitate our work as we don’t have to recreate everything on our own, and flexibility and even challenge to develop policies and practices that work best for our context.
Thanks for the larger church that provides counsel, vision, and resources so that we can look ahead to our future work, with the knowledge that we need not go it alone. Many folks are aware that our national church has offered the vision of Matthew 25, which includes the commitment to confront racism, and the Synod provided $150,000 to help our churches get through COVID and matches funds for new worshiping communities, and Synod executive/Stated Clerk Rev. Mark Hong provides constant support, including participating in our presbytery meetings and serving in every way he can, including consulting with churches and even providing pulpit supply in a pinch. What you may not be aware of is the constant interaction of church leaders across the denomination providing mutual advice and support, and the training for moderators, clerks, executives, permanent judicial commissions, and all things General Assembly, including guidelines for considering the many recommendations we will be considering in the next several months. The network of mutual support is not always obvious, but our life together would be much more difficult without it.
Thanks for resources that enable our little presbytery to try new things, support those in need, and provide staff to facilitate our life and mission together. We do have financial and property resources that enable us to support our member congregations and the larger mission of the presbytery in many ways. Several churches and ministry partners do their work at properties managed by the presbytery, we have funds to help churches and individuals in financial crisis, we have designated funds to support new worshiping communities, and we are able to provide staff to support the work of the presbytery.
Thanks for the staff who are dedicated to God’s will for our churches and for San Gabriel Valley. Thanks to Stated Clerks Ally Lee and Steve Salyards; Associate Executive Presbyter Sam Bang; Chaplains for Retired Presbyterian Church Workers Diane Frasher, Harlan Redmond, and Rob Crowell; and Mission Advocate Wendy Gist. They are all faithful, gifted, creative, caring, trustworthy, and dedicated to the ministry of the presbytery. I am most grateful for these wonderful colleagues, and I expect that any of you who have come in contact with them can attest to the blessing they are.
Thanks for the “Trust Clause” of the PC(USA), and for our presbytery’s understanding of it. I may be the only person who lifts this, but as I look at our presbytery and the ways we are better positioned to serve our community than most presbyteries in the denomination, I think the fact that our church leaders understand the trust clause is a big part of it. In essence, the trust clause means that the property of our churches is not the personal property of the congregation, but entrusted to each congregation in order to do God’s work in that community. If a congregation is not able to serve effectively to that neighborhood, the church leaders are expected to raise the concern to the presbytery, and they do. The presbytery works with the church to support the current mission, but also to consider ways to partner with others to meet the changing needs of their neighbors. This is an act of faithfulness and joint ministry that is highly unusual, and a remarkable sign of Christian community that keeps our ministry relevant.
Thanks for new worshiping communities in our midst, bringing new voices and new awareness to us. Sometimes new worshiping communities are seen as a form of institutional survival, but what I have gained from our new groups is a new awareness of neighbors who had not been reached in our past. This is not a failing of our current churches, but a reflection of the ways San Gabriel Valley continues to evolve, sometimes differently from the trajectory of the Presbyterian Church. So as we become aware of more of God’s children seeking to grow their faith and connect with other, more mature disciples, I thank God that we have new spaces and new fellowships to welcome them into the family.
Thanks for new friends and leaders who have come into the life of our presbytery, bringing amazing gifts and experience and expertise, and a willingness to contribute. At our last meeting, I listed the folks who we officially received as pastors and minister members just this last year: John Scholte, Amy Mendez, Tom Eggebeen, Daniel Lee, Chris Choi, Erik Wiebe, Kyung Mo Koo, Andrew Ritiau, Sam Bang, Kate Wiebe, and Harlan Redmond. And that doesn’t include folks under care of CPM, and of course members of our churches and fellowships! Surely God has blessed us richly with these wonderful friends and ministry partners.
As you can see from this long column, there is so much we can be grateful for as a presbytery. And I know that we can focus on any one area and see the many blessings showered on every community, every congregation, and every individual life. How can we do other but give thanks continually, and in every circumstance? Truly God has given us everything we need, and more, and has entrusted us to receive and share what we are offered.
Thanks be to God!