Life and Death, Faith and Science, Change and Tradition

by | Nov 22, 2021

We will tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and God’s might,
and the wonders that God has done.

Psalm 78:4

We had a very full Presbytery meeting last Tuesday. Ally Lee is sending out a summary of all the actions taken in the meeting in a separate email, and you’re welcome to forward it or use resources in it for your church.

The meeting was full because we covered several year-end tasks, like electing new leaders for the coming year, and approving the 2022 budget. We also made a commitment to be listed as a Matthew 25 Presbytery, and had some discussion about how we are already acting in the light of Matthew 25. We can explore this more in the new year. And we witnessed to a great many life transitions in our San Gabriel Presbytery family, including welcoming new Inquirer Jae Yang, advancing Tiffany Ashworth to candidacy, welcoming Arcadia’s new pastor John Scholte, and approving the ending of several pastorates: Steve Wiebe from PPC, Erik Dailey from Occidental and Eagle Rock, Martha and Twining Campbell from Westminster Pasadena, and Mariko Yanagihara from New Hope. We also remembered friends who died this last year.

During the necrology, Diane Frasher mentioned that Monte Vista Grove Homes has lost 19 residents this year. A year ago, the Grove suffered many losses within a span of a few weeks. And over the last two years, we all have experienced losses that have not been fully grieved, because COVID has not allowed us to celebrate lives together. As the fear of COVID is lifting a bit, we are starting to gather more readily, which means we are catching up on past deaths as well as those leaving us now.

So this weekend, I attended two memorial services. The first was for a man who died a couple weeks ago. The second was for Barbara Stout, who died almost two years ago. It is a glimpse into our state of mind when COVID first hit that after she died on February 15, 2020 (I got the date wrong in my last column; sorry), we expected her memorial might be delayed a bit, until April. More than twenty months later, some of us came to her memorial service, with masks, and others watched via livestream, because indoor gatherings are not yet safe for many.

The first service was for Gus Forsberg, an expert on materials for the space program at JPL. The service was filled with stories about Gus’ mentoring of many young engineers. There was much laughter and affection expressed; it became clear that JPL is a very close-knit family. A few of the speakers—hardcore scientists, one and all—also spoke of faith. I was reminded of an astronomer in Hawai‘i who shared that she came to faith through her study of the cosmos, inspired by her awe at the vastness and beauty of space. By the end of the service, I had to smile at the opportunity to witness this celebration of faith, science, and sarcasm—and love.
On Saturday we gathered to remember Rev. Barbara Stout. Barbara was a trailblazer; she was ordained in 1977 (after 21 years of non-ordained ministry in Christian Education) to be the first woman installed pastor in Riverside Presbytery, as associate pastor at Westminster in Ontario. But most of Barbara’s ministry was in San Gabriel Presbytery. She was pastor at Trinity in Pasadena for 16 years, and served at Claremont as Director of Christian Education (a role she also filled at Pomona Pres) prior to ordination, and as volunteer parish associate after her retirement from Trinity.

Like Gus at JPL, Barbara was a teacher and mentor to many. Barbara supported and mentored countless children and several seminarians. One thing that became clear almost immediately in Barbara’s service was her legacy in helping the church become more comfortable with women in pastoral ministry. All four clergy leading her memorial were women: Karen Sapio, Cyndie Crowell, Anne Weirich, and myself.

This past week, I was reminded that we may need to challenge the dichotomies we use to organize our world view. Death to our mortal life leads to eternal life—life with our Lord and in our hearts, and in the lives of future generations. Faith need not deny science, and scientists can see the hand of God in their work and in their families. And those who think we are making no progress can look around and see the growing diversity of leadership, even in the church. But that diversity does not mean a rejection of tradition; both services were well-served by our most traditional hymns, and the (blue) hymnal that Barbara worked on reflects a nice mix of ancient, traditional, and new ways to praise God.

We all have the opportunity—indeed, the responsibility—to tell the glorious deeds of the Lord to coming generations. In doing so, we can inspire and assure people left out by discrimination or despair that they, too, can contribute the great gifts God gave them. And we can share the traditions that comfort and empower us, even as we blaze new trails so that others can join our journey of faith.

As we spend time this week giving thanks, let us give thanks for those who have gone before us—and may we commit to be teachers, role models, and encouragers for those who come after.

Gratefully yours,