For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:8-10
I remember several years ago, during a time when the PC(USA) was struggling with what felt like crippling conflict, Tod Bolsinger invited several presbytery leaders to meet at the church he was then pastoring, in San Juan Capistrano. I can’t even remember exactly why he called us together, but it felt like he was trying to provide a safe space when people could talk about their differing views in a safe place, so that folks could hear each other. What was revealed to me in that meeting was the way different people used the same words, but not understanding the depth of meaning in those words.
For instance, there was a discussion at that time about the possibility of establishing presbyteries on the basis of affiliation, rather than geography. The proponents of this move considered geographic vs. affiliate presbyteries to be a semantic difference, and in fact the geographic basis was an outdated model, before technology erased distance between affiliated churches. (Of course, this issue of membership in a “neighborhood” church has become even more ambiguous, now that we carry out so much of our church work on-line.)
I was surprised at my own reaction to this discussion. For me, the concept of geographic presbyteries was not at all semantics, but a reflection of our trust in the sovereignty of God. We are called together by God to serve together, regardless of our differences—or rather, we are better able to serve our diverse communities together, because of our differences, as long as we recognized God’s authority and wisdom in calling us to serve in this particular corner of God’s world, at this moment in time. To put it bluntly, we don’t choose to be San Gabriel Presbytery, God brought us together to be San Gabriel Presbytery, for the sake of Christ’s mission in San Gabriel Valley. And therefore, whatever we do is not based on how well we like or agree with each other, but it is based on the grace that God has given us, in each other.
When we gather as a presbytery, as we did last Tuesday, we have the opportunity to witness God’s grace in bringing us together. I love this presbytery, the people in it and the work we do together, but I have to remind myself that we are great and unique not because we have crafted ourselves this way, but because God has made us this way.
So last Tuesday, we celebrated who we are and whom we welcome, we heard about some of the work we enable, and we even talked about how we can organize to continue that work.
For instance, we welcomed unanimously Rev. Dr. Daniel Lee to be a minister member, as he continues to do ground-breaking, empowering theological work among Asians and Asian-Americans, especially at Fuller Theological Seminary. Several people saw the potential for Daniel to be a thought and justice leader in our presbytery, and we are thrilled and grateful to welcome him. We also honored the good work of Revs. Tarry Nelson and Ann Oglesby-Edwards, both of whom were ordained by this presbytery, served in several other capacities, and returned to San Gabriel and now have the status of “Honorably Retired.” And we approved Rev Vikki Randall coming to serve as interim pastor of First Presbyterian Altadena, and Rev. Tom Eggebeen as interim for Westminster Presbyterian, Pasadena, and we pray for Westminster Temple City, where Vikki is finishing her temporary pastorate.
The greatest gifts God typically gives the church are the Gospel and people, and Daniel, Tarry, Ann, Vikki, and Tom all exemplify the varied and wonderful ways God works through individuals, for the sake of many communities of faith.
While every individual and every church has a calling, we as a presbytery are able to support churches as they seek to do their part of Christ’s mission. We were happy to hear from Rev. Margarita Reyes, who talked about the historic ministry of what is now called Puente de Esperanza, started back in 1891 as the “Los Angeles Mission.” This congregation has evolved and moved with the times—and in partnership with the presbytery, including working with La Casa de San Gabriel, moving to Rosemead, and now serving the La Puente community with a variety of services, including life classes, music, and Bible study and worship. And La Casa de San Gabriel continues to serve the community in San Gabriel with a preschool, parenting classes, and a host of other services. Our presbytery offering went to La Casa, a mission of San Gabriel Presbytery since 1946. You can still give, including online at https://sangabpres.org/donate/ — just choose “give to Presbytery Offering” in the drop-down menu. Another support for the larger community is through Self-Development of People. Most recently we joined with San Fernando Presbytery to support Colectivo Planta, a group of women who take in damaged or weary plants and renovate them for resale.
Elder Stephene Moseley of Community Presbyterian in El Monte talked about their bustling and innovative food pantry, supporting the varied needs and traditions of their neighbors. They provide fresh produce and North American basics, but they also offer food that is preferred by Latin and Asian families, as well as food for pets and diapers for infants. They have stayed open through the pandemic, serving about 350 families per week, totaling over 50,000 individuals a year.
These churches have been transformed for and by mission. Puente had to leave their beloved facility in Rosemead to start anew in La Puente, because the need for a Spanish-speaking church was greater there. Community Presbyterian has been without a pastor for many years now, worshiping with a rotating circle of preachers. But they have continued to serve the community through the great work of Clarke and
Stephene Moseley, and their brother Eddie Zabala. God does send us grace to do God’s work, sometimes in surprising ways. During breakout groups, we were able to share the myriad ways God offers us transformative experiences, in as varied ways as a church significantly changing their worship life first because of COVID but now because of the broader reach of online worship, or a pastor who was able to taste what it feels like to be the “other” as he worked on another continent, enabling him to bring that empathy to the immigrant communities in San Gabriel Valley.
Finally, we touched on ways we organize for mission. We benefited from the good and promising work of Sam Bang, who now serves ¾-time, as Business Manager and Associate for Ministry Development. We moved the on-going work of Matthew 25 activities to the Education, Equipping, and Empowerment (EEE) Committee. And we will review the temporary committee structure that has the portfolio of the Vision Strategy Team distributed to existing groups, namely:
- the Executive Commission (PEC), for long-term strategy for the Presbytery as a whole
- EEE, for providing leadership development and other resources for existing congregations, and
- Commission on Ministry, for supporting and credentialing new worshiping
The PEC welcomes feedback whether to reinstate VST, or continue with this use of existing committees.
Truly, we are a channel of God’s grace, and though this column is long, I hope you agree that it is long because there is much to celebrate in the life of our presbytery, as we share God’s love with the world.