Celebrating our newly ordained: Rev. Denise Diaab
Los Ranchos Welcomes Denise Diaab!
2021 has been a special year for Los Ranchos, approving three distinguished women for ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. In our summer editions, the E-News celebrates each of them and their new calls through these spotlights. We welcome and give thanks to God for them!
Never passing up an opportunity to build community around prayer, Rev. Denise Diaab dove right into her new position as Transitional Associate Pastor of Grace First Presbyterian Church in Long Beach, facilitating Centering Prayer classes. “I have a passion for teaching and look forward to having opportunities to create and facilitate adult discipleship classes and Bible studies more regularly,” as she assumes some of Rev. Marion Park’s responsibilities through December during the pastor’s sabbatical.
Building community around prayer, and prayer around community has been a lifelong passion of Rev. Diaab. Born in Los Angeles, California, she has called Long Beach home for many years. Daughter of a Baptist minister, Denise felt the shaping forces that define her faith start to take root in elementary school. Her father was a huge influence. She was baptized when six years old, and remembers planting herself in the second row to hear his sermons as early as age seven. When she had more questions than she could remember, he encouraged her to take notes during the sermons. This practice instilled in her a deep sense of listening at a young age, and she and her dad shared many hours discussing her questions.
Denise just loved church while growing up! In her youth, she enjoyed the close-knit community and ritual of church. She looked forward to Sundays, starting the day with morning worship and Sunday School, and ending it with the evening worship (with Communion service every first Sunday). Denise was particularly inspired by the testifying that took place before Communion, when older members of the congregation would bear witness about the good God was doing in their lives. From the Christmas parties to Vacation Bible School, Denise has a lot of fond church memories from her youth.
As a high school student, Denise was invited to attend an event at the Second Baptist Church in Los Angeles, and that led to attending Sunday School and church there. She would often get rides to the street car so, on her own, she could commute there on Sundays. You might say that Denise found a lot of truth in her high school’s motto: “you find a path or make one.”
Church became a priority again in raising her own children, as Denise wanted the same faith-based experience for her children that she had. Her young family found its church home at Los Altos United Methodist – a relationship that would last 35 years. For Denise, there was always a great yearning to know Scripture, and not just what was written, but to really understand its full meaning. A very inquisitive person, she often found she wanted to delve more deeply than those leading the Bible studies she attended, and she worked diligently on her own to gain a more grounded understanding of the Bible’s meaning in her personal life. While certain verses stood out to her at this time, the one that resonated most was “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” (Psalm 42:1) This Bible verse just really impressed her in the way it expressed the same sense of yearning she was feeling. Ephesians 3:20 is another of her favorites, addressing life situations, and providing her the guidance and protection needed to take the next step in determining her purpose and vocation.
In 2013, Denise became a co-coordinator of the “Get on the Bus” ministry that provided transportation and other resources for children to visit their parents in prison. They held two annual events—Mother’s Day Visit and Father’s Day visit—which included a pizza party for the families in the prison and gifts for the children. When Denise was invited to speak about this program at Grace First, she found a warm, welcoming congregation at their Sunday worship. She became an active participant in their Horizon’s Bible Study and the Women of the Word Book Club and occasionally worshiped there on Sundays. Yet, she was not ready to commit to joining. Then, in her words, “I was at red light one day and God was speaking to me. ‘Denise, you have been looking for a church home for five years. You are looking for a pastor who gets you. What is this, I’m not ready to join?’ She pulled over and texted Pastor Marion: Okay, I’m ready to join.” Yes, the Holy Spirit works in some powerful ways.
Her call to ministry came out of the blue. As much as she loved Scripture and was very involved with the church, seminary was never on her mind. Year’s prior, she had taken an early retirement from her work as a project manager/analyst in the public utilities field to provide childcare for her youngest grandchild. Denise felt this was a gift from God, enabling her to be present for her grandchildren as she had not been able to be for her own children (as a working mom). She was working on the computer one night when she heard a voice say, “You can go to Seminary,” and she immediately looked up Presbyterian seminaries. It came that suddenly.
For Denise, San Francisco Theological Seminary was like “Disneyland for Bible Geeks.” There she learned about Black, liberation and feminist theologies, which all were new to her and offered her great insights and new experiences in terms of faith formation and spirituality. She experienced the courage of Rizpah firsthand, and a new way of looking at Ruth; all contributing to the expansion of Denise’s Biblical universe. “Understanding the Bible from different perspectives has helped shape who I am,” says Rev. Diaab, “and makes things more realistic and understandable, and that our world is not perfect.”
During her internship at Westminster Presbyterian (WPC) in 2018, it was Attorney General Jefferson Sessions’ use of scripture to defend separating immigrant children from parents that prompted her to cancel her plans to teach a class on Ruth and instead, organize a Resistance Bible Study (RBS) group. It would focus on how the Bible not only informs our calling as Christians, but how it also informs our praxis for social activism as citizens. “Where the church has admitted its lack of action in combating racism and other oppressions,” shares Denise, “I felt a sense of success and fulfillment in being part of organizing RBS, now a vital “koinonia” group, providing a safe space for study, growth, fellowship, sharing, lament, and development of church leadership – an example of Christ in community.”
What is most exciting about her new role? On Sunday, June 27th, the Rev. Denise Diaab was ordained as a new minister of Word and Sacrament at Grace First. “It’s not just the opportunity to preside at the table and to administer the sacraments which means so much to me. It’s when we talk about the priesthood of all believers that I feel really blessed, that I have had the opportunity to apply my gifts and passion for teaching and preaching, which I thoroughly enjoy. It’s not just officiating the sacrament, but preaching the Word that constitutes worship. Worship is also the faith formation and spiritual development and that’s what I get really excited about. The training that I’ve had and the growth and maturity that I’ve experienced over the last five years makes me more grounded, with more knowledge and understanding,” she continues. “It has to do with a sense of coming alongside other believers as a companion, and the journey we are on to grow in faith, to mature in our faith, and to grow spiritually.”
Denise also has concerns regarding the challenges for the church. “As we come out of the restrictions of COVID, the question is how do we re-connect, affirming that same a sense of belonging? People are lamenting about violence in our society and around the world, especially gun violence. They are concerned about racism and also the threat to our democracy. All of these are reflections that we, in general, don’t love like Jesus loved us. We do not love our neighbor as ourselves. The 234th General Assembly recognized that the church should be the one to lead the brigade, to push society to overcome and combat racism and oppression. However, they acknowledged that the church has not been the leader, and that the church has often times been silent, or even complicit. These are troubling issues within our church.”
Denise actually finds the reading, writing, and critical analysis she does fun. Her favorite outdoor activities are traveling, hiking and walking, and has run two marathons. This June, she celebrated the fifth anniversary of completing El Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile pilgrimage across northern Spain, which she finished after 33 days of walking. She also enjoys movies, reading and spending time with family and friends. She is mother to a daughter and three sons, and grandmother to five.