Reflection: One Voice

by | Jan 21, 2020

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

(Ephesians 4:4-6)

It has been a very full week in the life of Christ’s church.  Last Tuesday we gathered for the first Presbytery meeting of the year.  It was a very full meeting, with good participation, many decisions, and lots of prayer.  We officially welcomed Rev. Ally Lee as Administrative Presbyter and Associate Stated Clerk, and approved or renewed several pastoral calls.  We installed Karen Sapio and Deborah Owens as Presbytery Moderator and Vice Moderator, and thanked Becca Bateman and Roberto Ramirez as outgoing and incoming moderators for the Presbytery Executive Commission.  And we gave grants to Community Presbyterian Church in El Monte for their food pantry ministry, and to Puente de Esperanza in La Puente for their CaliCenter community center for families.

But last Tuesday’s Presbytery meeting will be most remembered for three major actions:

  1. We examined and approved for ordination Peter Hawisher-Faul, who is being called as co-pastor with wife Rev. Kelsey Hawisher-Faul to Radford Presbyterian Church, Virginia.  Last night, Peter was ordained at Pomona Presbyterian Church, and we celebrate and bless him and Kelsey as they begin their ministry together.
  2. The Presbytery’s policy on minimum compensation for pastors was consolidated, updated, and expanded to include different forms of paid leave such as Sabbatical, Personal Time Off (which incorporates sick leave, personal leave, jury duty, etc., in one leave of 12 days per year, as long as three days are always available for sick leave), and Family Leave (providing for 8 weeks for critical life events such as the birth or adoption of a child, or caring for a parent with critical medical needs).  It also brings together several policies that have been approved over the years, and reaffirms that all pastors are compensated equivalently.
  3. The Presbytery voted to dismiss Alhambra True Light Presbyterian Church, responding to several years of discernment on the part of the church, and over two years of work between teams appointed by presbytery and church to pursue reconciliation and, having determined that reconciliation was not possible, negotiate terms of dismissal.  Those terms can be summarized as $1.5 million ($500,000 upon dismissal, then $100,000/year for 10 years), and a 10-year reversionary period (ATLPC must continue doing ministry in the Reformed tradition in their location for 10 years before the Presbytery releases any claim on the property).

This last weekend were the memorial services for Tom Duggan and Jake Kim, attended by Presbytery members at both.  Tom had passed away back in October, and the service was a time of shared love and thanksgiving for the many decades of ministry and family unity that marked Tom’s life.  I was at Jake’s service, at Church of the Valley in Apple Valley, where Jake had just been installed as pastor in October.  Church of the Valley had been dismissed by Riverside Presbytery to ECO, so we had just released Jake to ECO last September. 

Jake died suddenly from an aortic aneurysm three days before Christmas.  He was 48, and leaves his wife Yuni and two young sons, Ari and Avi.  If you would like to share your condolences, you can send cards to Yuni and contribute to Ari and Avi’s college fund by sending checks made out to Church of the Valley, 20700 Standing Rock Ave, Apple Valley, CA 92307.

The suddenness of Jake’s death, right after starting this most promising ministry and after this move to a new community for his young family, has shocked all of us, and a couple of the memorial speakers shared their anger over this tragic death.  As hard as it was to say good-bye, the congregation asserted our faith in God by singing “How Great Thou Art” at the end of the service.  The hymn was sung with all the power, all the anger, all the faith that was held in the hearts of the people, as if we were giving it all to God—or trying to convince ourselves that God understands and has a purpose, even though we cannot understand any of it.

The last time I felt the power of a congregation singing their emotions and their faith was at the beginning of the meeting with the congregation of Alhambra True Light Presbyterian Church, when they confirmed their support for the terms of dismissal.  Tears were shed during the singing of both these hymns, as we considered the depths of the bonds that were being broken.

But for myself, they demonstrated how unified we still are, even in the face of death and division, because we know that mortal death does not separate us, and denominational differences do not permanently divide the one church of Jesus Christ.  We continue to share memories and learnings, hymns and prayers, traditions and worship, personal relationships, and the possibility for ways to still be Christ for each other and the world.  When we sing these old hymns with the force of memory of so many lives joined in Christ, we are all still one.

In life and death, our temporary divisions fall away.  I noticed that during Jake’s service, the PC(USA) was mentioned several times, though ECO was never named.  The reception was like a family reunion; Don Maddox was there, as he had served as an interim for Church of the Valley years ago.  A woman serving at the reception told me that she knew we were praying for them because Bill Hansen (their former pastor who lives at Monte Vista Grove) told her so.  I told her that we named Jake during our Presbytery communion, remembering that at Christ’s table we are joined with saints across time and space—and she wept.

Thank God for the Lord’s Table, for beloved hymns, for the Lord’s Prayer, for all the ways that we can gather even in the face of death and division, and with one voice, one faith, one plea for peace, we can witness to our one Lord, who is above all and through all and in all.

In Christ,