Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 2:4-5
I am so happy to be back home, and WinterFest and our first Presbytery meeting of the year offered a nice way to re-enter from my sabbatical. Thank you for your prayers for my rest and renewal. I am still adjusting to the time change from Israel-Palestine (they are 10 hours ahead), but it was such an incredible blessing to be able to participate in this study program at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. I am grateful to God and to you for enabling me to do this.
I am still processing my experience, which impacted me on many levels. And there is much to share from WinterFest and Presbytery, so I will hold off on sharing too much right now. But I will say that amidst all the ancient and holy shrines and basilicas in and around Jerusalem, I was much more moved by the efforts of God’s living stones, people of faith who continue to work for peace and compassion amidst very difficult and complex conflicts.
Of course, we have our own crises here in the USA, especially the multiple mass shootings from a couple of weeks ago, starting with the tragedy in Monterey Park. I was able to touch base with Rev. Ming Hsu, pastor of our Good Shepherd Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Monterey Park, and he said that the people are doing well and their faith remains strong. I urge you to pray for God’s guidance as we face an almost insurmountable problem with the number of guns in this country.
The first evening of WinterFest was led by two outstanding speakers, Elder Mona Morales Recalde, tribal member of and community educator for the San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians Gabrieleno/ Tongva and elected Commissioner with the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission (and clerk of session of La Verne Heights Presbyterian Church!), and Dr. Elaine Enns, co- author of Healing Haunted Histories: A Settler Discipleship of Decolonization with partner Dr. Ched Myers. This session was the most impactful event I’ve experienced in the PC(USA) in my memory, especially as Mona shared her faith and expertise in confronting the near genocide of her people with her faith-based hope for the future. Elaine’s work with Ched at Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries is well-known, and she shared a model for examining our own migration stories to uncover the intergenerational traumas that are impacting us and those we encounter. She highlighted the different ways by which we became settlers in lands that have already been stewarded over the millennia by Indigenous peoples—those who, as Mona emphasized, are still here! The book Healing Haunted Histories has been transformative for me, and Elaine was generous to share a way to purchase copies at a discounted price. If you are interested, go to the Wipf and Stock website and when checking out, type in HHHFEB23 in the “Coupon Code” field. Mona lifted up the recent return of an acre of land in Altadena to the Gabrieleno/Tongva tribe, and suggested some volunteer options that we will most likely take on in future months. More on that later.
Thursday’s sessions were led by Rev. Dr. Daniel Lee, reflecting his work as Academic Dean for the Center for Asian American Theology and Ministry at Fuller Seminary and author of the recently- published book Doing Asian American Theology: A Contextual Framework for Faith and Practice, and I led a training for new elders and deacons. Both sessions included opportunities for sharing from their participants
On Friday evening, Kay Gustafson was unable to lead her annual workshop on legal issues for churches, but if you want to receive a copy of her presentation, please contact Ally Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org and she will send it to you, and pass on questions you may have to Kay for response. But we had two other sessions on Friday, one co-led by our Stated Clerks Ally Lee and Steve Salyards, on the amendments to the PC(USA) Constitution that came out of last summer’s General Assembly, and a leadership training session in Spanish led by Revs. Amy Mendez and Margarita Reyes.
Our Presbytery meeting on Saturday morning was the first fully in-person meeting in three years, and we thank Westminster Presbyterian Church in Pasadena for being gracious hosts. The main highlights from this meeting were the approval of 17 of the 33 amendments being proposed by the General Assembly, an update on Board of Pensions benefits and assistance programs from Senior Church Consultant Rev. Kristin Leucht (email@example.com), the commissioning of Sam Bang as Co-Pastor for Congregational Life at Northminster Presbyterian Church, and the approval of the call and ordination of Tiffany Ashworth. Tiffany has just begun her ministry with Occidental Presbyterian Church in Eagle Rock, and she will be ordained on Sunday, March 5, 2023, at 4:00 pm at Tiffany’s home church, Knox Presbyterian. Let’s show our support for Tiffany and celebrate new ministries in our midst by attending her ordination service.
WinterFest ended on Saturday with a plenary session on “Reimagining Church Building Use,” with a panel of friends and experts on church property transformation: Rev. Carlton Rhoden (Westminster Presbyterian, Los Angeles), Rev. Victor Cyrus-Franklin (First Methodist, Inglewood), Phil Burns (elder at Pasadena Presbyterian but here speaking as Principal of the Arroyo Group and lead for the Congregational Land Committee of Making Housing and Community Happen), and Rev. Bert Newton, organizer for Making Housing and Community Happen. The panel spoke of ways that our churches can work with knowledgeable partners to repurpose underutilized property for community use and a new income stream for the church’s mission. If interested in exploring possibilities, you can contact myself or Wendy Gist (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Phil Burns at (email@example.com).
I had to notice that both Mona Morales Recalde and Phil Burns are active elders in our churches, yet their “day job” expertise was made known to us only as we consulted community organizations. What incredible gifts we have among our own church members! And even as we look at making best use of the property God has entrusted to us, may we always remember our goal of bringing more of God’s children to Christ—knowing that the church is made not of concrete and plaster, but of us living stones.
Giving thanks for a good start for 2023,