Reflection: Mission Statement
Thus says the Lord:
Heaven is my throne
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is my resting-place?
We are coming up to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to step foot on the moon. CNN produced a documentary that is comprised entirely of video, photos, and audio transmissions during the mission, and it is stunning. I am always stunned by the enormity, and enormous beauty, of space, and it always affirms my Presbyterian understanding of the greatness and sovereignty of God. If you ever want to be so inspired, I recommend visiting the APOD website (“APOD” stands for “Astronomy Picture of the Day”).
By the way, Presbyterian trivia time: What do John Glenn, Buzz Aldrin, and Katherine Johnson (the lead in “Hidden Figures”) all have in common, besides their groundbreaking accomplishments with NASA? They have all been dedicated Presbyterian elders! So much so that Buzz Aldrin quietly took communion on the moon during that historic Apollo 11 landing. (Ironically, I only learned of this because Margarita Reyes, who had just moved the First Rosemead church to become Puente de Esperanza in La Puente, invited me into a conversation on communion with her Catholic priest neighbor. He wanted to understand the Presbyterian view of communion, to inform his adult education in his parish on ecumenism, because he was so intrigued by an article in “Guideposts” on the steps Elder Aldrin and his pastor took to be authorized to take communion on the moon—including contacting the Stated Clerk.)
The Apollo project was an enormous, ambitious, and stunningly complex mission, and arguably one of the highest achievements in all human history. Yet we Christians believe that without God, we are broken and prone to self-centered triviality and destruction. So regardless of our endeavors, we seek the will of God, knowing that without God our efforts fall short. And in completing these endeavors, we do as Buzz Aldrin did—we pause to give thanks and contemplate God’s hand in all that we do.
So what does this mean for us today?
Last week I had the opportunity to have lunch with a few leaders from the Pomona and Claremont churches, and one elder asked about the vision for San Gabriel Presbytery. It was compelling to me because the Presbytery tends to take a more supportive role in response to our member congregations. And yet, we do have opportunity to work as a collective, and even the responsibility to act on issues that a congregation cannot. We do the former (working as a group of churches) whenever we make decisions for the presbytery, join efforts on a presbytery-wide mission such as Living Waters for the World or the Tapestry youth ministry, or welcome each other and support each other when churches need help. We act on issues that go beyond a single congregation when we offer advice based on collective wisdom, or help a church facing conflict or fraud, or decide on starting up, merging, or ending church ministries in a particular area.
We believe that presbyteries are formed as a result of God putting eher a particular group of people, through congregations, in a particular time and place, to proclaim the Good News to their community in the way most relevant and faithful to God’s vision for that moment.
In San Gabriel Presbytery, we are in a good place—many churches are thriving and serving God and God’s people faithfully; churches are welcoming new members, new partners, and new pastors; and churches who are struggling are getting direct support from sisters and brothers in the Presbytery. There have been times of conflict, and now there have been several years of relative peace (so much so that some of us worry that the energy is “low”). There have been initiatives to utilize our property assets to support ministry better, and renewed partnerships with House of Rest and Monte Vista Grove Homes. The partnership with Monte Vista Grove was celebrated this last Saturday, when San Gabriel Presbytery and Rev. Jeff O’Grady of San Marino Community Church were given the 2019 Spirit Awards, and Lauren Evans’ chaplaincy at Monte Vista Grove (a ministry of our presbytery, funded by House of Rest) was lifted up as the most visible manifestation of this partnership. And we continue to increase our mission beyond our church walls, including La Casa de San Gabriel, Pomona Hope, the LAC+USC Chaplaincy, Living Waters for the World, and now the Immigrant Accompaniment Ministry, led by Kristi Van Nostran.
After this lunch when the topic of the Presbytery’s mission was discussed, I thought that perhaps it is time for us to take a new look at what God wants of us. Karen Sapio, who was at this lunch, will be Moderator of the Presbytery next year, so we may invite some conversation on this. Karen also shared the vision that is coming into sight at Claremont Presbyterian—that rather than having a specific program of ministries that may (or may not) attract others to follow, that the church become a platform, or dare I say launching pad, for “gospel-formed dreams” as people are led to respond to God’s call for that community. In light of this, I wondered whether the Presbytery needs to have a set program for others to follow, or do we continue to take a more supportive role, offering networks and services and resources as leaders answer God’s call?
As we seek to be faithful to Christ’s mission in our world, I am reminded that while I (and many Presbyterians) spend a lot of energy trying to decode God’s will for us in very specific ways, one of my seminary professors characterized God’s will more as a broad river, where each individual (like every fish and beaver) makes our own little decisions, but we are part of a much larger effort that we may never fully understand or even recognize.
As we are faced with seemingly impossible problems, such as the whiplash of massive deportation raids against our neighbors threatened and then delayed, it is worth our time to open up to God in prayer, asking “what would You have us be and do?”—as individuals, as churches, and as San Gabriel Presbytery. And may we trust Jesus enough to obey, and go forth in faith, even beyond our understanding.
Blessings for the journey,