But now thus says the LORD, the One who created you, O Jacob, the One who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
During the holiday season, it seems that the cycle of life in God’s household has been laid bare.
Several members of our presbytery family lost loved ones to eternal life. The week before Christmas, Becca Bateman’s 58-year-old mother-in-law died suddenly, Amy Mendez’s sister died from the cancer she had been battling, as did David Pak’s sister, who died on Christmas Day. Last week, Nancy Moore’s husband Stan and Bong Bringas’ father-in-law passed away.
We are also seeing life and ministry transitions, including one pastor who just found out that two children will be expecting their first children this year. Yesterday, Westminster Presbyterian in Pasadena said farewell to Martha and Twining Campbell, who are retiring after 22 years as co- pastors; Mariko Yanagihara’s last Sunday at New Hope was December 26. At the beginning of ministry, Harlan Redmond was interviewed by CPM and will be recommended for candidacy at our February 5th Presbytery meeting.
Overarching all of this is Casper Glenn, who celebrated his 100th birthday yesterday. (On Saturday, he celebrated the 75th anniversary of his ordination!) He was set to have a celebration in his hometown in South Carolina, but due to COVID, the plans were changed to Southern California—and even then, many people joined via Zoom out of caution for Casper and the attendees. Casper’s doctor son tried to shield Casper by requesting that everyone get a negative PCR test before attending, and enforcing strict distancing guidelines. But Casper, who is still in top form mentally, emotionally, and physically, loved seeing his friends and family, and even joined in the Electric Slide dance break.
One personal surprise for me was seeing Rev. Allison Harrington, the current pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church, a church with a rich history in Tucson, Arizona. Allison is the daughter of Nancy and Steve Harrington; Steve was my main mentor as I was going through seminary and the CPM process. Many of the bones of my ministry were formed with Steve’s guidance. I’ve known Allison since she was a rebellious teenager, but now she is an exceptionally strong leader in the church and nation, especially in the area of social justice. She has in past years worked with Kristi Van Nostran in advocacy for immigrants.
Over the course of the evening, several phases of Casper’s ministry were highlighted. I think just about everything Casper did, he was the first. I now realize that in some cases, he wasn’t just the first, he actually founded it, including his first ministry, founding Cherry Hill Community Presbyterian Church in Baltimore. He said it was part of the Presbyterian Church’s “Colored Ministry in the North” evangelism effort, and that he “saved souls by wearing out soles” as he went door to door to meet his new neighbors.
Among other things, Casper was the first African-American pastor of Southside Presbyterian, which itself was so unique as a multiracial church that Martin Luther King, Jr., heard about them and went to visit. He was the first executive presbyter for San Diego Presbytery, and the first African-American synod executive, for Alaska-Northwest. I remember him telling me how his beloved wife Vernilla did not like being left in Seattle while he was flying bush planes to visit native churches in Alaska, so they picked up and went to Kenya, being the first African- American Presbyterian missionary to serve in Africa. As a member of our presbytery and living at Westminster Gardens, Casper and Vernilla were closely connected with South Hills, Baldwin Park, and Pasadena Presbyterian Church, and friends representing these churches spoke.
In celebration of his 100th birthday, the Presbyterian Historical Society wrote an article on him.
After so much was said about Casper, he ended the evening by talking about the Presbyterian Church. Born on a farm in South Carolina, his family had to patch together an education for him, including sending him to one of four high schools that the women of the Presbyterian Church founded for black children in South Carolina. As he put it, “the Presbyterian Church provided what the state did not.” He then attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Lincoln was founded by a Presbyterian pastor and was the first degree-granting HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) in the United States and the alma mater of Thurgood Marshall, Langston Hughes, the first president of Nigeria, the first president of Ghana, and so many other leaders in all fields.
This Presbyterian Church, for all our worries and faults, can look back and give thanks for the ways God worked through generations of leaders, we can look forward to the ministries to come from some amazing young pastors, and we can look around and see greatness in our midst now, in churches small and large. With all the struggle in our world, may we remember the ancestors, the role models, and the future leaders in our San Gabriel Presbytery family, and show our appreciation by being bold bearers of the light of Christ in this world. Let us be people of hope, and bringers of hope, to neighbors and friends old and new. Thanks be to God!