Reflection: Thanksgiving

by | Nov 25, 2019

I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love

Ephesians 3:16-17

It seems a long time ago since our Presbytery met but it was only last Tuesday!  The meeting was the last meeting of the year, so the Presbytery reviewed this past year in several ways, and looked ahead to 2020.  The meeting was full and the energy was good.  Thanks to Trinity Presbyterian Church for their hospitality, and to Rev. Ally Lee for acting as substitute minutes clerk while Twila French continues to recover from her knee replacement.

As we looked back on 2019, we honored pastors and leaders who went home to glory this year, including Revs. Zac Bright, Robert Jacoby, Harriet Johnson, and Tom Duggan.  We received the financial review from 2018, confirmed the roll of minister members, and thanked Presbytery leaders who have completed their terms.  And we learned and acknowledged the indigenous peoples among us, including those who have lived in this Valley for 10,000 years.  As San Gabriel Presbytery, we have connections with indigenous Taiwanese and Hawaiians, and specifically the Tongva people, who have been living throughout Southern California for the past 3,000-5,000 years. 

We looked ahead to 2020 by electing new leaders and approving a new budget, and hearing a preview of WinterFest, which will be held at Arcadia Community Church February 8th.  We got an update on the next anticipated installation for Living Waters for the World, at Asociacion de las Bienaventuranzas (Association of the Beatitudes,, a community for children and adults with mental and physical disabilities in Lima, Peru.  And for General Assembly next June in Baltimore, we elected TE Commissioner Jennifer Ackerman, TE Commissioner Alternate N’Yisrela Watts-Afriyie, and RE Commissioner Maria Cacarnakis, and voted to concur on an overture that confirms a presbytery’s role in approving severance for departing pastors (along with the already-stated responsibility for approving terms of call).

Best of all, we welcomed new and old friends, including new Board of Pensions regional representative Rev. Kristin Leucht (, Rev. Tom Erickson and CRE Mickey Fenn of New Theological Seminary of the West, and the pastors and several elders from our two Indonesian fellowships, including Pastor Nova Winerungan of GPIB Claremont and Pastor Pipi Dhali of GKI-LA in Covina.  We elected our 2020 vice moderator, RE Deborah Owens of Westminster Pasadena (TE Roberto Ramirez will become Chair of the Executive Commission and TE Karen Sapio becomes Moderator), and commissioned RE Sam Knottnerus to pastoral work as Family Ministries associate with Arcadia Community Church. 

On the staffing front, RE Carl von Bibra reported that we are very close to announcing the new presbytery administrator, and he gave an update on the chaplaincy for retired Presbyterian church workers:  Rev. Lauren Evans is cutting back her hours, so Rev. Diane Frasher is stepping in temporarily as chaplain for Monte Vista Grove Homes.  In December we will meet with the House of Rest Board, and if they agree we will look to hire a half-time chaplain for Monte Vista Grove, and Lauren will continue quarter-time at Westminster Gardens and working on program development.

We also looked at a few specific situations, including reporting that the possible dismissal of Alhambra True Light Presbyterian Church will be considered at the Presbytery meeting on January 14, 2020, and getting feedback on a more comprehensive policy on pastoral compensation and paid leave that is being developed by COM.  We heard from Joshua Marmol of Knox Presbyterian about their immigration ministry, including the church’s support of Irma, who had to flee Honduras after experiencing persecution related to her work advocating for land rights and women’s rights.  Knox’ personal, physical, and spiritual support of Irma was facilitated by Kristi Van Nostran, our immigrant accompaniment organizer (, who is also organizing the visitation ministry at Adelanto detention center.

Finally, we voted to move the three functions of the Vision and Strategy Team to:

  • long-term strategy and vision for the Presbytery as a whole going to the Executive Commission,
  • New Worshiping Communities leadership and partner congregations (who would work with COM as needed), and
  • an expanded Education Committee, called EEE—Education, Equipping, and Empowerment (training, youth and leadership development, and resourcing to current congregations). 

This new format will be piloted in 2020 and may come back as a bylaws amendment at the end of the year.

Prior to the meeting, I was feeling somewhat anxious; I don’t know exactly why.  So I was very pleasantly surprised at the spirit and participation of the meeting.  It reminded me how gracious God is, and how there is so much to be thankful for—including God’s mercies that we don’t always see.  I am very thankful that there is a spirit of love, and welcome, not only for new friends and ministries, but also when we anticipate the departure of a sister church.  As the Alhambra elders at the meeting later affirmed, we are all still part of the larger Reformed church, and all of us are united—as CRE Sam Knottnerus says, “because Jesus made us family.”

So as we connect with friends old and new, as we learn and work and serve and reach out to those we don’t know, as we discern and decide and lead, as we live and die, let us continue to do so in love, giving thanks in all things for Jesus Christ, who first loved us.

Happy Thanksgiving and as we begin Advent this Sunday, may our hearts be filled with wonder and gratitude for Immanuel, God with us.