A Living Benediction
Last September, I had the joy of celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Community Presbyterian Church of San Juan Capistrano. Through tear-glistened eyes, I was reminded in worship of the many people who have lifted up the name of Jesus in that space, not too far from the historic Catholic basilica at the south end of our presbytery.
One photo from my smart phone captured it all. During the benediction, pastor Leanne Strommen cradled newborn Franklyn Sage Jones in her arms and introduced “Frankie” to her spiritual family. Standing beside Leanne was retired pastor Bob Schwenck who had preached faithfully in that chancel for decades, but more importantly, cared for God’s people. Behind them was a table spread with bread and cup, a meal that strengthens the faithful and points to the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God.
As I received that benediction and heard that good word, I thought about the many words that have been spoken and sung into my life since I was Frankie’s age, and the church that has nurtured my faith and given me a sense of purpose beyond anything I could have asked for or imagined.
This church – our church and denomination – is standing at a critical moment in history. Whether we are celebrating our 100th anniversary like Community Presbyterian of San Juan Capistrano or are three-months old, as Canvas of Irvine, the new spiritual landscape we find ourselves in requires us to be at our best to adapt and thrive.
Indeed, it takes the same openness to God’s Spirit, the same hunger to expand God’s Kingdom, to be vital regardless of the years we have been a congregation. And for that reason alone, we need each other more than ever.
The Power of Together
We need each other because every congregation and fellowship brings a gift to the table. Our five new worshipping communities teach our 46 organized congregations about starting new groups from scratch. Our organized congregations teach our new worshipping communities about how to identify and train leaders for ministry. Our tech-savvy groups help others sharpen their web presence and develop blogs that people actually read. And, as a presbytery, we all join to make this region and world a better place through our mission efforts.
In 2019, two new worshipping communities were recognized, one was chartered, over 50 elders were trained in missional practices, a team attended the Kaleidoscope Stewardship Conference in San Diego, 20 youth and four adults attended the PC(USA)’s Triennium Conference in Indiana, 20 elders participated in workshops called “Websites for Small Congregations,” and $54,000 was contributed to our presbytery’s mission partnerships with Habitat for Humanity, Christian Outreach in Action, the Syrian-Lebanon Network, and the LA/USC Chaplaincy. And that’s just a snippet of what we accomplished together.
Because of the generosity of our congregations’ mission support, known as “General Mission Giving,” we will continue to adapt to changes in our society even as we hold onto what is beautiful and sacred about being Presbyterian. Indeed, it is the faithful commitment we have to one another and to the Great Ends of the Church that makes us living benedictions for all the “Frankies” in the world, and those yet to be born.
So, at the beginning of this new year, I want to say thank you for being the church to one another and to me all these years. As I celebrate 30 years of ordained ministry in February, I’m still immeasurably grateful to be a Presbyterian, for the way we are always reforming according to the Word of God, and the way we seek to be faithful in every era, by grace alone.
With you on the journey,