July 21: Listen to the Children

by | Feb 26, 2020

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Mark 9:37

It is helpful to stop and reflect once in a while—as individuals, as congregations, and as the Presbytery of San Gabriel.  This week is Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten season.  Lent is traditionally the season of preparation for people who seek to join the Christian church, with Easter as the time for receiving them.  If nothing else, this is what I suggest for a Lenten practice:  to be more intentional in reflecting on who we are as humans, as Christians, as individuals in need of grace.  Sometimes people abstain from something that is appealing or regular in their lives, which might be seen as some kind of cleansing ritual, but it can also simply be a way of noticing how we fall into patterns of dependency on things that distract us from God.

As a presbytery, we might reflect on who we are and what God is calling us to do.  Five years ago, ten churches and the presbytery used the “New Beginnings” process to look at who we are, who is in our community, and what God is saying to us now.  This culminated in several serious decisions made by some of the participating churches, and a very large and active feedback session on the part of the Presbytery in January 2016. 

The feedback we received was a little different than what I expected.  There was gratitude for Living Waters for the World as an opportunity for churches to join together in mission.  But the priority named by the members was relationship—building relationship between local church and presbytery and building relationships between churches.  There were also comments common to just about every mainline church in America:  a desire for revitalization and help in building youth ministries.  Last year we surveyed the commissioners at one presbytery meeting, and the response affirmed the desire for revitalization and building relationships between churches.

This feedback has guided presbytery leadership over the years, to varying degrees of success.  But we do what we can!

A few years ago we focused on youth ministry at the 2018 Winterfest, with the leadership of the Fuller Seminary Youth Institute.  Their “Growing Young” approach suggests that all kinds of churches can be a welcoming spiritual home for young people, and they offer six core commitments to adopt:

  • Unlock keychain leadership by empowering all, especially young people
  • Empathize with today’s young people instead of judging or criticizing them
  • Take Jesus’ message seriously, welcoming young people into a Jesus-centered way of life
  • Fuel a warm community of peer and intergenerational friendships instead of focusing on “cool” worship or programs
  • Prioritize young people (and families) everywhere, not just with lip service but by supporting, resourcing, and involving young people in all facets of the congregation
  • Be the best neighbors by enabling (and I would say joining with) young people to connect and be good neighbors locally and globally.

In San Gabriel Presbytery, we established our annual Day of Service as a way to foster relationships between churches, as individuals work together for a few hours.  We coordinate this day with our Tapestry Youth Collective’s summer mission week, and it has been a joy to see presbytery folk of all generations working together each summer.

This year we have the privilege to welcome General Assembly Co-Moderator Rev. Cindy Kohlmann to our presbytery for Pentecost weekend, so be sure to mark your calendars for Saturday morning, May 30, at Iglesia de la Comunidad.  Cindy is a dynamic speaker, and a good friend, and it will be great for her to see that you are all that I brag about, and more.  However, this impacts the Day of Service (too much on the agenda, and too early for the youth to come), so leaders from Tapestry and Justice Peacemaking and Mission (the committee that organizes the Day of Service) recommended, and the Executive Commission approved, that we hold the following:

Evening of Advocacy, Education, and Service
an intergenerational event
Tuesday, July 21st, 2020
6-9 pm, including dinner, place TBD.

So mark your calendars!  The details have not been worked out yet, but this will be a great opportunity to connect with our younger members and listen to their perspective and wisdom.  At last year’s Day of Service, we had a brief but sweet time of sharing across generations.  This year it is my hope that we have deeper mutual learning as we dialog together on issues important to us as followers of Christ in this world.

I just heard that public health workers are teaching children as young as 6 years of age how to administer Narcan, which reverses the lethal impact of opioid overdose, as too often they are present when parents or others overdose.  We have heard young people speak out on gun violence and creation care.  Certainly their experience of and perspective on the world is radically different than mine, and I need to understand this better if I, for one, can relate to them better, and see more fully what is happening in this world.

Churches are the one institution outside the family where we are able to walk with each other over the course of years and generations.  We are blessed by this kind of long view of life, and my hope is that we can learn more from each other as we celebrate the ways God lives through us in all stages of life.  In this respect, I give thanks for the Presbyterian Church, where we see God working through all people, in all circumstances.

Along these lines, we give thanks for the life of Katherine Johnson, who went home to the Lord after 101 years on this earth—including 33 years helping astronauts fly beyond the earth.  You may know something of Ms. Johnson through the book and film “Hidden Figures,” about several African-American women mathematicians who did complex mathematical computations for NASA.  I confess to great Presbyterian pride when I saw one scene in the film, with Katherine Johnson speaking with astronaut John Glenn, because I knew that these two history-making, intellectually brilliant, honorable and diligent leaders had one other thing in common—they were both Presbyterian elders!

Please mark your calendars for July 21st, and consider utilizing this Lenten season for reflection on who we are as children of God, and as fallen humans yet saved and called forward by Christ’s life-giving love.

Peace of Christ be with you this Lent,