Reflection: Pentecost, San Gabriel Style

by | Oct 28, 2019

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.   

Acts 2:4

First, let me share some news of the community:

  • We heard that Rev. Tom Duggan passed away last Monday night.  The celebration of his life is tentatively scheduled for December 6th at Pilgrim Place in Claremont.  Our hearts are saddened, and our prayers for comfort and peace are raised for Gail and Tom’s family and many friends.  I happened to see Gail at Claremont a few weeks ago, and she shared that Tom was aware that his time on earth was coming to a close, but it’s not easy for the family who are left behind.
  • Yesterday Pasadena Presbyterian showed their appreciation for the ministry of Rev. Dongwoo Lee, who is leaving his position as pastor of the Korean Language Ministry.  In his ministry at PPC, he introduced great new ideas for outreach, welcomed several new young families to KLM, hired some wonderful staff, and demonstrated how PPC’s leadership can work together across the language ministries.  This was poignantly demonstrated as most of the Korean members left, and several Latino members came to say good-bye, and circled him with prayer.  Dongwoo will now be able to return to his PhD studies, which he could not maintain in the midst of a busy pastor’s duties.
  • Last Wednesday Twila got a shiny new knee, and has been resting at home.  If you are reading this, it means that she is back at work.  However she will be working from home for the next two weeks, so if you want to reach her, best to do so by email.  She plans to be back in the Temple City office November 12th.

The last news item is to report the installation of Rev. KokThai “KT” Lim at Grace Taiwanese Presbyterian Church.  It was a joyous time for the church and for KT, and as I’ve been saying for a few months now, it is nothing short of a miracle that we have faithful, qualified, young pastors in all of our Taiwanese churches.  Thanks to God and our churches and Rev. Mei-Hui Lai, who until this year was the national staff person for Asian congregations in the PC(USA).  Mei-Hui did a huge amount of work for us, most notably helping to recruit pastors for our churches, introducing us to Pipi Dhali of GKI-LA, and even acting as moderator of session for Grace Taiwanese.  Now that Mei-Hui has retired, her successor is our own Rev. Ralph Su.  I was saddened to hear that Ralph was asked to work out of the Louisville office, though half of the churches he supports are on the West Coast—but since his family are still here, we still get to see him once in a while.

As you know, ordinations and installations are the responsibility of Presbytery, so the services are led by members elected by Presbytery.  For KT’s installation, the Presbytery elected Moderator Rev. Roberto Ramirez, Elders Ihab Beblawi and Lilian Chuang, and Revs. Ralph Su and myself.  I was asked to give the charge to the pastor, and I started by apologizing for my linguistic shortcoming.  I was grateful that KT speaks perfect English, and he was the audience for my words.

I then noted that if our commission spoke their mother tongues, our service would have been in Taiwanese, English, Arabic, and Spanish (perhaps with a little Filipino and Mandarin thrown in).  But we worshiped in the dominant language of the Presbytery, and the dominant language of the Congregation, settling on English and Taiwanese.

As always, the service was supported by many of our Taiwanese pastors from San Gabriel and neighboring presbyteries, including Grace’s founding pastor, Rev. Shui-Teng Chen.  Rev. Chen has had some health issues recently, so I was glad to see him looking well.  Knowing that he speaks Japanese, somehow one of the few Japanese words I know came to me, saying “Genki desu” (my garbled way of saying “you look healthy/fine”).  He then launched into conversation in Japanese, which led me to another phrase that I use quite often, “Wakarimasen” (I don’t understand).  He didn’t hear me, so one of the Grace members had to tell him in Taiwanese that I don’t really speak Japanese.  She then explained he was expressing how grateful he was that Grace has been able to find a new pastor.  Because Rev. Chen doesn’t speak much English, he then simply said to me “Thank you very much.”

I am grateful that in our network of churches we have leaders who speak many languages, so we can better relate to and support all of our churches.  I have bragged that our COM speaks seven languages.  Though we are missing Thai, Cantonese, and Indonesian, this means we can communicate with most of our churches in their main language.

So we in San Gabriel are a glimpse of today’s Pentecost church, because the ability to speak many languages has already been demonstrated.   But even with language ability, we know that there is more to becoming one body of Christ than linguistics—as one colleague put it, “it’s more than a vocabulary exam.”  Because of my work in the Presbytery, I have been blessed with hearing many inspiring stories of faith from countries around the world, and seeing many ways Presbyterians “do church.”  My hope is that we will find ways for our church members to connect with each other, so that our faith lives are enriched by learning more about God’s work in the lives of people of many different cultures.

Happy All Saints Day this Friday.  May we all take a moment to give thanks for our ancestors who helped bring us here—our ancestors of family and culture, and our ancestors in the faith.