Out of Chaos, Hope

Out of Chaos, Hope

It’s been said that one can judge the quality of a society by the way they treat their children and the elderly. In the midst of the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, the strength and the love of the people of Southeast Texas shone brightly, especially as they came to the aid of those who were most vulnerable.

If you have ever been in a country whose language you don’t speak, you know vulnerability. I remember being alone in Japan in a train that stopped suddenly in the Japan Alps. I knew I was the only person on the train who didn’t speak Japanese. I tried to manage my panic until an older woman handed me a candy. Though I didn’t know what emergency instructions might be said, at least there was another human being who knew I was there!

So I loved watching an announcement from the Houston officials, who spoke mostly in English, and some in Spanish-but throughout, whether Spanish or English was spoken, everything was interpreted handily in sign language.

And there were dramatic images of people carrying children and pets (one man carried his son, who in turn had a dog on his lap), and extra care for the elderly and those with disabilities.

College student Austin Seth read on Facebook the call for anyone with a boat to come help rescue people from the floods. He drove an hour from his home in Lake Jackson and allowed a CNN reporter, Ed Lavandera (video), to ride in his boat to get a better sense of the situation in Dickinson. Ed pointed out evidence that people were rescued from their roofs, including several homes where the people clearly chopped through the roof to escape their attics.

About 5 pm Austin and Ed were on their way out when they heard a woman calling to them. While they were on the air, the woman first handed one dog to Ed, who was able to bring the dog into the boat while still giving his update. Then an elderly man, the woman’s father, walked out with a cane. The water was chest high, and the entrance to the boat was higher than that. Austin had jumped into the water and entered the house, because the woman went to get her mother, who had Alzheimer’s.

Ed first tried to pull the father into the boat but clearly that would not work. Austin came up and gently asked, “I can lift you up, if that’s okay?” He said yes and they brought the father into the boat. After bringing in another dog, Ed told the anchorwoman that they should cut away until they checked the condition of the mother. On the web, they did show the mother, who did express concern about her looks, to which Ed answered, “You look great!” The sensitivity shown by the young volunteer and this news reporter preserved not only the lives but the dignity of this family.

Our prayers go to the thousands of people who have lost so much in the wake of the hurricane and floods. Personally, I thought of our sisters and brothers of New Covenant Presbytery, where my friend Lynn Hargrove is part-time Stated Clerk. Their long-time executive Mike Cole has retired, and the position is still vacant, so Lynn posted the following on their website:

Harvey shows no signs of leaving our presbytery yet. Please know that Presbyterian Disaster Assistance plans to be here later this week. Our offices are closed on Monday, and possibly longer. Please email, use our Facebook page, or call cell phones. Our disaster preparedness team will be contacting you. Pastors and clerks have been asked to provide updates. People from across the country are praying for us.

So as those in leadership seek out those in need, let us continue to pray, let us be inspired to help those in our neighborhoods who need help, and let us pledge support, now and on-going, to these Harvey survivors, as they rebuild their lives.

Your partner in prayer and in action,

Wendy

When God Intervenes

When God Intervenes

 

 

I know this is proof texting (digging around the Bible to find a quote to fit your purposes, even if it doesn’t reflect the meaning of the Scripture), but I couldn’t resist thinking about the attention put to this morning’s solar eclipse. Certainly such an event could bring great fear among those who do not understand the systematic design of the universe that incorporates it. This fear can only be exacerbated by yet another collision of a US Navy ship in the ocean around Asia which just occurred.

But even if today’s events portend the end of the world as we know it, for Christians (and all those who suffer from the brokenness of the world) are to celebrate it. Indeed, this prediction is followed by Jesus’ conclusion that “when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28) By the way, if we don’t welcome the end of the world as we know it, we may consider if we are on the rich young man’s side of God’s preferential option for the poor.

What we often forget is that for something new and significant to happen, there needs to be a discontinuous break-that is, change, such that your old maps and logic don’t work anymore. That can be scary for many, and a loss for those who loved the “good old days”-or at least the memory of them. I have noticed this when a church makes a significant change, even a good one, as long-time members miss aspects of the old way they did church.

The Bible is filled with moments when God intervenes in human history, which results in a reversal of existing power structures. I’m sure you have noticed how often messengers from heaven start their announcement to us mortals with “Do not fear!” This happens, of course, in the stories of Christ’s birth as well as Christ’s resurrection-both miraculous moments of total upheaval. They are moments of unprecedented change, but since we look back on it, it is change that we celebrate.

In our lives, many of us have seen great change that may be good but also stunning. Consider the shock of the new when people immigrate to the United States. The radically different culture of the United States can upend the traditional values of the immigrant family. Also, those with professions in their home country may not enjoy the same status in the US, and parental authority may be challenged when children are asked to take on adult responsibilities because of their English language abilities.

Recently there seems to be a simmering war between those who most fear the changes in our society. But I can sense some of the fear they are feeling. When talking about diversity, I often think how hard it can be to welcome in people of different cultures-not just for them to assimilate to our ways, but to be open to the change a new culture might introduce. I think about the revulsion many Asians had to drinking the milk of another mammal, which one person likened to drinking blood. Yet when the US occupied Japan after World War II, they introduced milk, which resulted in an increase in height and bone health-and a learning that many Asians are lactose-intolerant.

By contrast, what if someone who drank only milk their whole lives was offered a glass of lemonade? That person might think they were being poisoned! And so those who were raised thinking that America at its best is filled with a certain demographic would become concerned when they realize that the nation’s population is much changed. And the moment when the US will no longer be a white-majority nation is coming soon, and has already arrived in, for instance, San Gabriel Valley. Not only that, the non-white populace is gaining in status, most vividly demonstrated by the first African-American President. Add to this the rapid acceptance of people of different sexual orientations, even to the point of military commanders speaking out in favor of transgendered people in our armed forces. The changes really have been breathtaking-and for some, the changes have been shocking.

But again, change can be scary but also good. How do we manage our fear when confronted with a new world, even if it turns out to be a wonderful new birth? Recently our national church has responded to the violence at Charlottesville with several resources, which I share here:

  1. A letter to the Church was offered by Co-Moderators T. Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston, Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, and PMA Interim Executive Tony De La Rosa. If you’d like to read it, click here.
  2. There are many different resources developed to help churches learn about and deal with racism, and they can be accessed at one website, facingracism.org.
  3. For those who want to take much more direct action, the Office of Public Witness is organizing a day of advocacy in Washington, DC, on September 12. They have also announced next year’s Ecumenical Advocacy Days for April 20-23, 2018. The PC(USA) has been a key leader of this annual event, which is acknowledged as a gift to the larger church. You can go to their OPW webpage for general information and resources.

These reflect a few of the ways we Christians can face a changed future of any kind. We can learn from our leaders and resources developed by sisters and brothers in the faith. We can step forward in faith, knowing that our encounters with God are often realized when we step outside our comfort zones. And, of course, we can always pray for comfort and guidance, we can read Scripture to learn more of God’s will for the world, and we can share our concerns and our wisdom with our community of faith.

In these unusual times, when so much change offers both promise and concern, may we continue to be strengthened by the enduring love of Jesus Christ, and may we share that love with this worrying world.

In faith,

Wendy

Two Major Crisis

Two Major Crisis

Hello everybody!

Yes, I’m back, after taking some time off and helping to lead a seminar in Florida.  No need to go into detail on the last few weeks, but I enjoyed a little travel, some concerts, better sleep, too much food, and a wonderful conference with immigrant clergywomen from all around the PC(USA).  Speaking of concerts, there’s a concert coming up at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday, August 19, at Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.  The Elite Chorus, a Taiwanese choir whose conductor Cliff Yang and some members come from Shepherd of the Valley church, sings with the LAKMA (Los Angeles Korean Music Association) orchestra in a concert dedicated to “Harmony & Friendship.”  Call the ticket office at (323) 850-2000.

In the meantime, the life of the Presbytery continues.  The Presbytery installed Walter Contreras as Spanish-language pastor for Pasadena Presbyterian Church, and John Moon as pastor for Korean Good Shepherd.  The service at Korean Good Shepherd marked a major milestone, as the AC will likely recommend being disbanded at our September 16 Presbytery meeting, after countless hours given by 16 AC members over the years.  Back at the Presbytery Center in Temple City, more improvements are being made-and Puente de Esperanza is making great new improvements at their new campus as well.  The Irwindale church property is set to transfer to the Coptic Orthodox church tomorrow, and we helped the church worshiping in Irwindale to move to our Azusa church.  I am happy with the Irwindale sale, not only because we can use the cash flow, but I actually think this will be a blessing for this historic building.  The Orthodox church tradition is much more intentional about caring for and making beautiful their sacred space, so I fully expect that the building will be well cared for, even as we appreciate the improvements that Mideast Evangelical Church put into the building while under their care.

But I feel I must acknowledge the two major crises in our world, in the war of words with North Korea, and the violence that erupted at Charlottesville, Virginia.

North Korea

One of the advantages of having a diverse community is being able to hear from people with different perspectives.  I have asked a couple of Korean leaders how they see the situation with North Korea.  I’ve noticed that even as our media reports have reached a fever pitch of panic, life seems to continue as usual in South Korea.  I have been told that they know well Kim Jong Un’s rhetoric, so they are used to his “flamboyant language” not leading to action.  While we characterize Kim as maniacal, the evidence over the years is that the North Korean government’s actions are calculated and will not lead to a war that they cannot win.  Let us pray that even with new threatening rhetoric coming from the US, cooler heads will prevail on all sides.

Charlottesville

Closer to home, this last weekend we witnessed an effort to gather all white supremacist, neo-Nazi, white nationalist groups in Charlottesville, Virginia, resulting in a young man with Nazi sympathies driving his car into a crowd, killing one young woman and injuring 19 people.

There’s been extensive national discussion about how to respond to this demonstration of extreme racial hatred.  One blog post that has “gone viral” was written by John Pavlovitz, youth pastor at North Raleigh Community Church in Raleigh, NC.  The title of the article is “Yes, This Is Racism” and includes Pastor Pavlovitz’ call for White Americans to stand up against racist behavior.

I happen to worry about the use of the term “racism” in this context, because I have often worried that when people equate “racism” with this kind of extreme hatred, it blocks the ability for the rest of us to have a more productive discussion about race.

There are multiple definitions and reactions to the word “racism.”  One technical definition does not focus only on individual, violent, KKK/Nazi-level hatred.  Racism focuses on the power structure which discriminates against racial-ethnic minorities in order to protect the interests of the dominant culture.  This can happen passively, like when White North Americans don’t recognize the special privilege they receive, or it can take many kinds of actions that are quiet or overt in protecting the status quo and those who benefit from it.

A racist society can persist if the problem is not acknowledged.  If racism is recognized only in its most extreme forms, then the systemic injustices are not dealt with.  George W. Bush called racism the original sin of the USA, because the stubborn stereotypes and Bible distortions that were used to justify slavery are quietly passed down, generation to generation.  Our society is so infected by our racist roots that children breathe in racist ideology before we can even guard against it.  So rather than focusing only on the extremes, I would prefer that we all recognize the brokenness of our world, and seek God’s help in challenging it.

This doesn’t mean we excuse the hate-filled white supremacists.  I believe that increased violence comes when those who have traditionally benefitted from a discriminatory system now feel their privileged position is threatened.  Some of the Charlottesville chants such as “You will not replace us” and “Take America back” reflect the fear against a changing demographic in the United States.  I am reminded of the situation prior to the Exodus, when the Hebrew slaves managed to grow even while being oppressed by the Egyptian pharaoh, which led to resentment and murder.

So what do we do?  Flee to a promised land?  Accept the injustice as God’s will?  Pay back evil for evil?  We benefit from the example of leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela, who followed Jesus’ model of acceptance, justice, and grace.  We know it won’t be easy, and the world may hate us for choosing the way of Christ.  But we Presbyterians have built into our Reformed tradition a deep understanding of the need for repentance, and God’s amazing power to forgive, heal, and empower us to do God’s saving will in the world.

May we have the courage to obey, and be channels of transforming peace.

In faith,

Wendy

 

Prayer for Your SGP Staff

Prayer for Your SGP Staff

Every summer, your presbytery staff reflects on our work in the past year, and updates our objectives for the next year, until June 2018. I thought I would share a few top-line priorities, for your information and so you can pray for us as we seek to support the ministries of San Gabriel Presbytery.

Diane Frasher, Stated Clerk Email

Diane has the responsibility for ensuring that the constitutional duties of the Stated Clerk are fulfilled, in coordination with Associate Stated Clerk Twila French. A major new emphasis this year is to provide more training and consultation with clerks of session of our member churches, especially new clerks and/or churches who seek to improve their session minutes and church records. Because Diane will no longer be Stated Clerk for Riverside Presbytery, her schedule will be more flexible from now on. On a personal note, she now lives within San Gabriel Presbytery (in La Verne), and has a new grandson, Dalton, born on Friday, July 14. Congratulations, Diane!

Twila French, Associate Stated Clerk/Administrator Email

As I have shared, Twila has had to take on yet another major job responsibility when we purchased the Temple City property. In addition to her work with Diane, managing the office, and doing the bookkeeping, Twila is a point person for repairs and coordinating with our shared ministry partners as we share the Presbytery Center. Unfortunately, one area we had hoped to relieve Twila was website management, but that has not happened as the redesign has not been completed and an on-going maintenance person has not been identified. We will need to make some decisions if the website redesign is not completed by September. An on-going prayer I have for Twila is self-care, especially taking vacation time away from the Presbytery.

As I have shared, Twila has had to take on yet another major job responsibility when we purchased the Temple City property. In addition to her work with Diane, managing the office, and doing the bookkeeping, Twila is a point person for repairs and coordinating with our shared ministry partners as we share the Presbytery Center. Unfortunately, one area we had hoped to relieve Twila was website management, but that has not happened as the redesign has not been completed and an on-going maintenance person has not been identified. We will need to make some decisions if the website redesign is not completed by September. An on-going prayer I have for Twila is self-care, especially taking vacation time away from the Presbytery.

Wendy Gist, Mission Advocate Email

Wendy’s priorities expanded significantly when the Justice, Peacemaking and Mission Committee was formed in 2015. She continues to live into this expanded portfolio in the coming year, now including SDOP (Self-Development of People). We discussed the success of our first annual Presbytery Work Day, and have plans to enable more participation next summer. Wendy is finalizing the preparations for the second youth trip to Peru (though she misses Rocky Supinger, who worked with her to coordinate the details for the first youth trip several years ago). Please pray for all participants, youth and adults, during their time in Peru, July 27-August 7. And we still hope to invite several new participants for our first-ever installation in Peru’s capital city of Lima. This will be a great opportunity because Lima is more accessible and closer to sea level, and the culture of Lima is rich and fascinating. The hope is that the Lima trip will be in Spring 2018.

Jake Kim, Ministry Development Associate Email

Jake will continue to work with the Vision and Strategy Team to develop procedures for evaluating potential new worshiping communities and their leaders, especially as they apply for funding through and from the presbytery. Jake and VST will also support potential new worshiping community leaders, especially who may be interested in the middle of our presbytery, as well as working with a couple of churches in redevelopment. One area that Jake also hopes to focus more on is leadership development, especially supporting young adults who may be coming into leadership in their churches.

Lauren Evans, Chaplain for Retired Presbyterian Church Workers Email

Lauren is learning from our retirees how to define and support the relationships of our retirees with the larger church, and with each other. There is a desire for retirees to connect with each other in a different way from their career days before retirement. Lauren hopes to hold quarterly lunches, and to explore ways our retirees can use their personal and also pastoral gifts. Finally, Lauren anticipates opportunities to help retirees navigate their finances, and to share their story. I for one would love to hear more from our amazing retires, who have lived and often were raised in other countries in work through World Mission. Lauren is seeking a way for the retirees to share their stories-I for one would love to hear more from our retirees!

Wendy Tajima, Executive Presbyter Email

As I mentioned last week, several of our churches are making significant decisions about their future ministries, and I want to support them through their transitions, whatever they may become. Of course, property issues continue to roll along, both the revision and management of the new Presbytery Center but also the ongoing sagas of attempts to sell the Irwindale and South Hills (Pomona) properties. Another major initiative will be to work with Twila French and our CPA, Bruce Gray, to do a major redesign of our accounting system. The current accounting system needs a redesign, especially with property income and expenses, dozens of defunct accounts that need clearing out, and to enable a mission-specific fiscal process.

Speaking of the new Presbytery Center, we need a high-quality grand piano for the sanctuary. The piano was replaced by the Disciples by a loaner when the building was transferred. If you know of a grand piano that can be donated to the Presbytery or purachased, please let Twila or me know. But since I’ll be out of town the next three weeks, better to contact Twila at 626.614.5964 or Email.

One last update. This last weekend was a very happy one for our presbytery, as Pasadena Presbyterian Church met as a full congregation and voted to call Rev. Dongwoo Lee as their Korean Language Pastor. Dongwoo has been a very active member of our presbytery, and his great pastoral gifts were most appreciated as he helped Korean Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church during a most difficult time as they were exiled from their building. Korean Good Shepherd’s Administrative Commission just met this weekend as well, and with that church’s call to Rev. John Moon, the AC voted to seek dissolution this fall. They gave original jurisdiction to the church session immediately, and plan to complete financial reviews and present a final report for the September 16 Presbytery meeting. HALLELUJAH!

PPC’s Korean praise team sang a song that included the following lines:

Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God
And nothing will be able to stop us from loving His church.

As we all seek to serve Christ’s church in different ways, and as we can celebrate together each other’s ministries and the ministries we support as one body, let us give thanks to God for opportunities to uplift each other in the Presbytery, and for very gifted and faithful staff who support you as you follow Christ’s leading. And may we all continue to love Christ’s church.

In Christ’s peace,

Wendy

On the Move

On the Move

Are you keeping cool?!

Yesterday I was quite worried about the weekend heat, because we do not yet have air conditioning in the sanctuary at the Presbytery Center on 9723 Garibaldi in Temple City. Worshiping with 200+ folks at 1:30 in the afternoon without air conditioning was going to present quite a challenge for Mideast Evangelical/MEC! (A challenge almost matched at Trinity in Pasadena, as they tried a Saturday afternoon worship in THEIR no-AC sanctuary.)

I decided to stop by to see just how hot it was, and found the folks moving their worship to the fellowship hall. It was so hot that Grace Taiwanese had finished their lunch quickly and went home, which cleared the air-conditioned fellowship hall for MEC to worship there, thank God!

Korean Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church

The MEC folk had good spirits about the move and I heard this mobile worship went well. I left early so I could visit with Rev. Dr. Heidi Park, our minister member who moved last year to Cincinnati to be a professor at Xavier University. She had also visited Korea, and her husband continues to go back and forth between Korea and Pasadena for his research. She is doing fine, Xavier has been a welcoming community, and she is doing very interesting research on the physiological impact of historical trauma-she has learned that there are changes to the DNA of a people as they are haunted by past persecution. This research was observed initially with Holocaust survivors after World War II, and Heidi is looking into the struggles of the Korean people. (Interestingly, after speaking with Koreans who have immigrated to the United States, Heidi is hearing that immigration has been more traumatic than memories of past wars.)

There are other ways God’s people are on the move in our presbytery. Rev. John Moon just began his ministry at Korean Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church, and we pray for him and for his people, that his faithfulness and pastoral gifts help to support and heal and lead the people of KGSPC into a future of hope and service. His installation service is Sunday, August 6, at 4 p.m. Please come and celebrate and pray for this critical new chapter in KGSPC’s ministry.

Pasadena Presbyterian Church

This coming Sunday, Pasadena Presbyterian Church will be hearing and voting on a new pastor for their Korean Language Ministry, and the next Sunday, July 23, the Presbytery will install Rev. Walter Contreras as pastor of their Spanish Language Ministry. Please show your support at this 2:30 p.m. service. Rev. Ann Oglesby-Edwards, PPC’s transitional head of staff, is working diligently with skill and sensitivity in addressing multiple interim tasks at the church. Blessings on PPC as they are experiencing an exciting time of transition!

Tonight, the Commission on Ministry will be considering several requests from churches asking the Presbytery to walk with them as they consider their future ministries. One and possibly two churches will be utilizing the New Beginnings process this fall, which will lead to new awareness of the church and their neighborhood, and with this awareness the church members can discern God’s will for them. If your church is interested in New Beginnings, most of the same personnel who led our churches through New Beginnings two years ago are still doing it, so there is still a Presbyterian-focused approach available to our churches. Let me know if you are interested; if your church has not used the stimulus funds (the Presbytery reserved $2,000/church for church development processes like New Beginnings), then the net cost to the church is $1,500, which is still a relative bargain for the data you receive. Of the ten churches that went through New Beginnings two years ago, significant decisions have been made in seven churches at least, which is a very good track record.

It’s exciting to see how many churches are on the move in our Presbytery. I’m not sure why God decided to move us in the dog days of summer, but it certainly does help to remind us of the challenges of the Exodus. And I have always loved that God was perfectly happy without a structure built by humans who tried to contain God who cannot be contained. And if we can comprehend God’s freedom to roam, may we learn to be equally free to move as God leads us.

So as we begin our mini-Exodus and the new promise (and challenge) of change, as our churches take bold steps into an unknown future, may we give thanks that God goes with us every day, even as we worry about discomforts along the way. And thank God that we can band together as God’s people, and be as Christ for each other and for all our neighbors in San Gabriel Valley. May we encourage and support each other on this journey, that we all may stay faithful and embrace the opportunities of change that God is presenting to us.

And let us pace ourselves. To that end, I will be taking the second half of July for vacation, and then will help lead a seminar for new immigrant clergywomen in Florida (including Mary Ren, our Mandarin pastor at Alhambra True Light!), so I will be out of the office July 17-August 6.

Trusting in our nomadic God,

Wendy