It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
Saturday was a great day in God’s world. At Westwood Presbyterian Church, the Presbytery of the Pacific ordained to the ministry of Word and sacrament Elder Mark S. Jones, Sr.
I hope that some of you might know Mark Jones, and not just because he spent 26 years in the CPM process before his ordination. Like many people under care of CPM, Mark has been too busy doing ministry to prepare for it. Among other things, Mark has been a long-time ruling elder at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, he has been on staff of Westwood Presbyterian Church in a variety of ministries, and heqw1aza was CRE pastor of Community United Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles. Throughout, Mark has been a faithful leader in the National Black Presbyterian Caucus, he has served the national church through the Racial Equity Advisory Committee (formerly ACREC), and has been a tireless, always loving, servant of the Lord.
As Mark gave his first benediction as the Reverend Mark S. Jones, Sr., I was flooded with memories of great stories about him—just as every other person had their favorite stories. One that struck me was a tragic one, though. We were at a national meeting, sitting together in the back of the room of the closing service. The plenary speaker was a woman missionary who was talking about how “we Presbyterians” needed to reach out to “them,” meaning people of color and immigrants. This is a common irritation for me, because many dominant-culture Presbyterians have a habit of speaking to each other as if all Presbyterians are of the same background. Even though they do account for over 90% of the denomination, there are a few of us who don’t fit that category, yet long to be recognized as part of the “we Presbyterians.”
This mild irritation took on tragic proportions that day, however, because while we were finishing up the meeting, Mark was getting texts from his sister, whose teenaged son Bijan had been shot while in his car, and who was about to die in the hospital. Whereas most Presbyterians think about victims of drive-by shootings as a very distant “them,” here was a constantly faithful leader whose beloved nephew was most definitely one of us.
This and other joyous stories came to my mind during Mark’s ordination service. Because of COVID, there were very few people physically present in the Westwood sanctuary, so only one person was allowed to lay his hand on Mark for his ordination. That person was Rev. Dr. Charles Marks, another great leader in the Church, who has served as pastor, seminary professor, and staff of Synod of Southern California and Hawai‘i as well as the national church. As Charles stood with his hand on Mark’s head, I was reminded of the story of Elijah and Elisha, and all the ways the inheritance of service to God is passed from generation to generation.
The tradition of Black Presbyterians is an exceptional one, marked by current leaders such as Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, President of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk; Rev. Dr. Charles Marks and Rev. Dr. Casper Glenn, both of whom are retired in our
community (and both should have books written about their amazing lives); mathematician Elder Katherine Johnson, who DID have a book written about her (“Hidden Figures”) and Condoleezza Rice, daughter and granddaughter of Presbyterian pastors, who has had several; and Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon, who wrote the book on Womanist ethics (including “Black Womanist Ethics” and “Katie’s Canon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community”).
Of course, there are countless saints of all backgrounds who reflect the giftedness of the Presbyterian Church. One of my great mentors in this Presbytery is Rev. Bryce Little, who in turn shared the news about Elder George Cassat, long-time Treasurer, Trustee, and generous supporter of the Presbytery and Synod. Elder Cassat, a financial advisor who volunteered his expertise to others and was a lifelong Rotarian, was a member of our churches in Arcadia and San Marino, and passed on to the Lord at the age of 97 on December 3, 2020.
This Saturday is our Presbytery meeting. Among other things, the meeting will be the opportunity to celebrate two exceptionally gifted leaders in our church who will be retiring, Revs. Jan Cook and Jeff O’Grady. We will also have the opportunity to celebrate two exceptionally gifted leaders who are coming into greater leadership in our church: Dr. Charlene Jin Lee, whose PhD advisor was Katie Cannon and who will be seeking advancement as Candidate under care of our CPM, and Harlan Redmond, well-respected community organizer and soon-to-be Princeton MDiv who is also under care of CPM, and who has a compelling proposal for a new worshiping community in our Presbytery.
This is an exciting time for the Presbyterian Church, and for San Gabriel Presbytery. We give thanks for the great leaders who helped bring us to where we are now, and we can look ahead to outstanding leaders who will continue to fulfill God’s mission in this area, with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love (W-4.0404h). We have a wonderful opportunity to expand greatly who is included when we say “we Presbyterians,” and the Presbytery leaders are hoping to provide more ways for us to explore what it means to connect with more children of God than ever before. May our hearts and faith be big enough to embrace all whom God puts into our branch of the family tree.
I encourage you to register for the Presbytery meeting—even if you are not a commissioner, you are welcome!—and I hope to see you on Saturday.
In Christ’s peace,