New Year, New Light

by | Jan 4, 2023

And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Matthew 2:12

Happy New Year!

This year, I am feeling more hope than I have for several years now. But New Year’s Day turned into a weekend, which was just confusing enough to remind me that while some things feel “normal,” we will do best to resist trying to return to the past, and instead take confidence in God’s road ahead.

I am seeing signs of normalcy that are reassuring. At one church that was hit hard by COVID, one of their three music groups has returned to lead in worship. Churches that have been without pastors throughout 2022 are seeing progress: one has just called a new pastor, one is deciding among a short list, and a church that looked like they were headed for closure has stabilized and learned to continue without a pastor. For us Japanese, this was the first year since 2020 when we weren’t worrying about where to find mochi, which must be eaten on New Year’s Day. Even the fact that the Rose Parade holds to their traditional “Never on Sunday” rule (a throwback to old Christendom days, when Sundays were held to be sacred—remember that?) shows that some things haven’t changed. And thank God that while we have had some rain, it isn’t raining on our parade!

But there are adjustments. At any given church, communion may still be served with the little COVID packets, and a few or many folks wear masks (and given the high incidence of various illnesses, masks are recommended indoors, for the protection of others, as much as for the protection of the wearer).

Most churches are livestreaming their worship services—which meant that even though Filipino Community United Presbyterian Church in Azusa met on New Year’s Eve, we could wish a happy new year to friends in the Philippines, for whom 2023 had already begun. And between FCUPC’s Saturday worship and Rose Parade traditions, what might have all happened on January 1 became a three-day celebration!

Now these adjustments can be disorienting. Folks still struggle to open those COVID communion kits without spilling juice on themselves. At any given event, there is at least one person getting over a cold (or worse). At FCUPC, we joked about how we had to keep telling ourselves “it’s Saturday” even while we were doing our normal Sunday morning activities. And on Sunday morning, I kept thinking I should turn on the TV to watch the Rose Parade as I cooked for New Year’s. On a deeper level, several people near and far passed away on New Year’s Eve, reminding us of the many loved ones we have lost in the past year.

But there are signs of the new that are most welcome. On January 16th, Wendy Gist will begin her work as the new Immigrant Accompaniment Organizer! She is incredibly well-qualified, with experience as a mission co-worker in Nicaragua and mission enabler for both our presbytery and San Fernando. Wendy worked closely with Kristi Van Nostran, and has always helped with advocacy and church education work on immigration and other mission priorities. Wendy will continue with her current work, which means she will be almost full-time with us. As the senior staff member on our staff, Wendy’s commitment, faithfulness, and effectiveness is well-known, even as she continues to stay current with the ever-changing landscape of immigration policy. Thanks be to God!

Then, on February 1st, Bruce Reyes-Chow will begin a three-month bridge pastorate with FCUPC in Azusa. You might recognize Bruce, who was our WinterFest plenary speaker two years ago, and is a former GA moderator, the first Filipino moderator and at the time the youngest. Bruce continues to be an innovator and faith leader for many. Bruce’s goal with FCUPC is to work with the church to discern and develop a mission plan for the next chapter of their ministry in Azusa, as they consider new pastoral leadership after the retirement of Pastor Rollie Baybay. Though Bruce will be part-time, he has offered to do something with the presbytery. We welcome Bruce for his time with us, and commit to limit our demands on him (Bruce has a pretty severe case of long COVID, and continues to struggle with fatigue).

And yesterday, Rev. Harlan Redmond served communion for the first time for Interwoven. People have told Harlan that there were people weeping at his ordination service on December 18th, but it was yesterday’s worship at Interwoven that gave me hope, feeling the joy of the members, hearing Harlan’s message which as usual offered new perspectives, and giving thanks to God for bringing us new leaders and friends into this old Presbyterian family.

As we live into the hope that God provides for 2023, we know there will be stumbles along the way. As I heard from Harlan’s message (and as I considered Herod’s murderous response to Christ’s birth), we cannot become paralyzed with fear that mistakes will be made, nor that resistance will rise up against Christ’s actions on behalf of God’s people. We will live with faith that imperfect as we are, broken as the world is, God is yet in charge, and God asks us to take the risk of being obedient, that we may be agents of God’s will.

We have been through a lot. And there may be more trials ahead. But we are God’s people, and as we accept the call to be Christ’s hands and heart on earth, as we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, and as we continue to trust God in spite of unexpected turns in the road ahead, we will be bearers of Christ’s light for this hurting world that has become a little too used to the darkness. Let us trust in God’s plan that we cannot understand, but may we see glimpses of God’s grace in our lives, and in the world.

I will be taking the second half of my sabbatical this month, so if you need anything, you can call Ally Lee at (626) 614-5964, or email and Ally or Sam Bang will respond. Cyndie Crowell returns as COM Chair as Sophia Eurich-Rascoe takes some well-deserved time off. I will be going to Israel January 13-30, but will see you at WinterFest starting February 1. Please pray for me in my rest and my travels, and I continue to be so grateful for the partners in ministry we have in San Gabriel Presbytery and throughout the Synod and denomination.

We have reason to hope, and I pray that God’s hope in us is realized as we live with faith and love— for God, for our neighbors, and for each other. As we continually seek out and encounter Christ in our lives, may we receive and follow God’s will for us.

Blessings for you and our churches throughout 2023,