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Come Join Us for Worship!

October 4th, 2012 § 1 comment § permalink

Every Sunday except for the fourth Sunday of the month:
Contemporary Service: 9:00am to 9:45am in the chapel
Traditional Service: 10:15am to 11:15am in the sanctuary

Fourth Sunday of Every Month:
Combined Service: 9:30am to 10:30am

“Ministry Instead of Maintenance

June 16th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

We made it into the denominational magazine. This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Presbyterians Today and is reprinted here with permission. You can find the original article at http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/today/

ONE IN MISSION | Linda Valentine

Linda Valentine is executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

‘Ministry instead of maintenance’

By deciding to sell its church building, a congregation finds new freedom to do God’s work.
When Elizabeth Steele arrived at Whittier Presbyterian Church, the first thing that struck her—after the refreshing openness of its small but active membership—was the sheer size of the building. “We have a huge facility,” says the veteran interim-ministry specialist. “Without the building, this could be a healthy small congregation, but the facility is absorbing all of the church’s time, energy, and money.”

Elizabeth and the congregation set out on a journey to discern God’s call.

Whittier is a 64-member Anglo congregation in a majority Latino community near Los Angeles. Average worship attendance is between 20 and 25. Whittier shares its vast space with Nueva Vida Presbyterian Church, a Latino congregation, which also has fewer than 100 members. Together, they embarked on New Beginnings, a Presbyterian Mission Agency assessment process designed to help congregations understand where they are and then make faithful decisions about new directions for their future.

Now in her 10th interim position, Elizabeth was called to Whittier Church in May 2013 because of her experience with New Beginnings. She has been through the process as a presbytery representative and as an interim in a previous congregation. She is also a trained and experienced assessor for New Beginnings.

“I have seen a number of different assessment tools, and a lot of them basically look at the same information—like finances, building use, and demographic information,” she says. “The biggest difference is that the New Beginnings curriculum has a good way of putting it together for people and giving them a process. If they will read it and discuss it with the understanding that some of it applies to them—some doesn’t—then it has served its purpose.”

In October 2012, the church began six weeks of studying the report in small groups at different locations. “It was hard work to look in the mirror and see exactly who we are as a congregation,” says Donna Hanson, a ruling elder at Whittier. “Sometimes we were sad in our conversations, and sometimes we were energized and excited about possibilities. As we discussed possible ways to go forward, each group came to the conclusion that we were going to make a decision and not just continue exactly as we are until we are out of money.”

In the church’s conversations, the building was always a focal point—even a flash point. After much prayer, talk, and work, Whittier concluded not only that it is a vibrant congregation with a vital mission but also that its facility is too large for both congregations. They decided to sell.

“Once we were able to separate the question of what happens to the building and what happens to the congregation, that’s when the new options appeared,” says Elizabeth. “As long as people had stuck in their minds that closing the church meant closing the congregation, nothing much could happen. Then there came a point where they realized, ‘No, we can use the building as a resource for ministry in a different way.’ ”

Is the church joyful about selling the building? Elizabeth says the answer is yes and no. “Even those who are eager to move on are sorry to be leaving,” she says. “Most of them have spent 60 years here. But the idea that they can go somewhere else—use the financial resources to do ministry instead of maintenance—they are so excited about that.”

Donna says that the church today is “full of energy and looking for a new focus,” confident that God has a plan.

“It was the talking with each other each week and sharing our concerns about our shrinking congregation that helped bond us together stronger as a church,” she says. “There was a sense of unity when we finished with New Beginnings. We didn’t have a concrete direction, but we knew that God was calling us to stay together and that God had plans for us.”\

 

LEARN MORE
For more about New Beginnings and its discernment process: whatisourfuturestory.com

An Overdue Update

June 8th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

The last few months have been busy. As some readers know, our first offer fell through. It came with a whirl of excitement and a frantic deadline. It would have had us out of the building by Easter. That meant spending the first part of the year cleaning out closets and rapidly making decisions about what to take, what to leave, and what to give away. If you visit now, you will see bare spots on walls where pictures used to hang. But the sale of our property was contingent upon the sale of other property. The other sale did not happen, so our sale did not go through.
In some ways, the cancellation brings relief. It has given us time to think. What ministry can we do when we are not burdened with caring for a too large building? How do we be responsible about our future and new resources? Where are we going? The cancellation means we can take time to make serious decisions with deliberation. However, having had an offer we know we can not drag our feet. Like the disciples at Pentecost or the people of the Exodus after the last plague, we have to be ready when the time to act suddenly appears.
There is also the kind of frustration that comes whenever plans change unexpectedly. We were emotionally prepared to scramble, and now we slow down. The extra waiting can be disappointing. How do we keep our disappointment from overwhelming our excitement? Where are we going?
So we continue to prepare. We are able to shift the discussion about this congregation’s future from how to do maintenance to do how to do ministry. We have time to understand the question is not whether there is ministry to do, but how do we choose a ministry that both reaches people and uses our skills and abilities. For this part of our discussion of the future, I lift up Frederick Buechner’s quote “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.1” What is it that gives us joy in God’s service and how can that joy be used to meet people’s deep hunger for hope, support, and new life.

1. From  Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC

Smokin’

June 1st, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

I enjoyed the following sermon written by my friend and colleague so, with his permission, I am posting it here.

Frank R. Fisher, Obl OSB
Interim Pastor
First Presbyterian Church
Pontiac, IL

Smokin’!”That exclamation of excitement and awe emanates from the mouth of a teenage visitor to the very tiny congregation. For an instant the worshipers turn and gape at the speaker with open mouths.
Excitement, you see, isn’t a normal part of this Presbyterian congregation’s order of worship. But the worshipers attention quickly returns to the morning’s main distraction. After all things are going on around them that don’t seem to meet their proper criteria of decency and order. Propriety has always been an important part of the tiny congregation. But they weren’t always tiny. Once their Sanctuary, in the church’s upper room, had thronged with people. All sorts of influential people gathered there every Sunday, and frequently during the week, for worship, work and fellowship. Lately though, their membership had shrunk rapidly. And as they gathered together for worship on this Day of Pentecost, they couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before their doors shut forever.

Then, in the middle of the service, in the midst of Pastor Johnson’s somewhat boring sermon, it happened. All of sudden, the pastor’s calm and peaceful phrases were drowned out by a roaring sound. Ladies’ hats, and one or two of the men’s hair pieces, went sailing into the air as a hurricane force wind burst through the doors and windows and swirled around and around the Sanctuary. And in the midst of the wind appeared tongues like fire that reached down from the ceiling towards the heads of every person in the room.

“What can be happening,” someone cried out with alarm! “Don’t be afraid,” answered Pastor Johnson with a voice filled with awe. “It’s Pentecost, and the Spirit’s fire is falling again!” Indeed it was the Holy Spirit coming among them, and reminding them of the day Christ’s church was born. For as the fiery tongues reached each person, they knew the congregation could have a future. They knew the Spirit could empower them to reach out to others within their community. They knew the Spirit could give them the power to speak in ways their community both could hear and needed to hear. Exciting visions of a vital ministry stretched before their eyes as they saw the way the Spirit could work through them and empower their work.

But in the midst of their excitement, they drew back. “I just don’t know if everyone will want to do this kind of work,” one worshiper observed. “Yes,” another agreed. “It’s a nice idea, but I’m not really sure
we can fit it into our schedules.” One by one the worshipers agreed that the path ahead was impossible to tread. Then in decency and in order they filed out of the sanctuary, shook Pastor Johnson’s hand, and
said, “nice sermon pastor.” Five years later the congregation closed its doors for the very last time.

***

Smokin’!”That exclamation of excitement and awe emanates from the mouth of a teenage visitor to the very tiny congregation. For an instant the worshipers turn and gape at the speaker with open mouths.
Excitement, you see, isn’t a normal part of this Presbyterian congregation’s order of worship. But the worshipers attention quickly returns to the morning’s main distraction. After all things are going on around them that don’t seem to meet their proper criteria of decency and order. Propriety has always been an important part of the tiny congregation. But they weren’t always tiny. Once their Sanctuary, in the church’s upper room, had thronged with people. All sorts of influential people gathered there every Sunday, and frequently during the week, for worship, work and fellowship. Lately though, their membership had shrunk rapidly. And as they gathered together for worship on this Day of Pentecost, they couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before their doors shut forever.

Then, in the middle of the service, in the midst of the prayers of the people it happened. All of sudden, the Pastor’s Meyer’s words were drowned out by a roaring sound. Hymnals, bulletins, and the choir director’s robe went sailing into the air as a hurricane force wind burst through the doors and windows and swirled around and around the Sanctuary. And in the midst of the wind appeared tongues like fire
that reached down from the ceiling towards the heads of every person in the room.

“What can be happening,” someone cried out with alarm! “Don’t be afraid,” answered Pastor Meyer with a voice filled with awe. “It’s Pentecost, and the Spirit’s fire is falling again!” Indeed it was the Holy Spirit coming among them, and reminding them of the day Christ’s church was born. For as the fiery tongues reached each person, they knew the reason for the congregation’s existence. They knew they existed to embody Christ’s love both to their community and to the world. They knew the Spirit could empower them to show that love. They knew the Spirit could show them the direction they needed to go and the work they needed to do. Exciting visions of a vital ministry stretched before their eyes as they saw the way the Spirit could work through them to bring the light and love of Christ to everyone they met.

But in the midst of their excitement, they reconsidered. “This is a really good idea,” one member observed. “Yes,” another agreed. “Why don’t we make sure Pastor Meyer does this work. And we can hire some more staff to work with he r.” One by one the worshipers agreed they’d direct the pastor and her staff to get busy with the work that needed to be done. Then in decency and in order they filed out of the sanctuary, shook Pastor Meyer’s hand, and said, “it was a wonderful service. We’ll talk some more about what we need you to do at our next Session meeting.” As the years went by the clarity and vision they’d briefly observed became more and more obscured by the day to day tasks of keeping their organization functioning. More and more worshipers faded away to more and more places. Eventually the members decided there was no reason to continue their common life. And after a final worship service, they said goodbye and went on their separate ways.

***

Smokin’!”That exclamation of excitement and awe emanates from the mouth of a teenage visitor to the very tiny congregation. For an instant the worshipers turn and gape at the speaker with open mouths.
Excitement, you see, isn’t a normal part of this Presbyterian congregation’s order of worship. But the worshipers attention quickly returns to the morning’s main distraction. After all things are going on around them that don’t seem to meet their proper criteria of decency and order. Propriety has always been an important part of the tiny congregation. But they weren’t always tiny. Once their Sanctuary, in the church’s upper room, had thronged with people. All sorts of influential people gathered there every Sunday, and frequently during the week, for worship, work and fellowship. Lately though, their membership had shrunk rapidly. And as they gathered together for worship on this Day of Pentecost, they couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before their doors shut forever.

Then, in the middle of the service, in the midst of the Lord’s Supper it happened. All of sudden, the words of the pastor’s great prayer of thanksgiving were drowned out by a roaring sound. Communion bread, the chalice, and the pastor’s stole went sailing into the air as a hurricane force wind burst through the doors and windows and swirled around and around the Sanctuary. And in the midst of the wind appeared tongues like fire that reached down from the ceiling towards the heads of every person in the room.

“What can be happening,” someone cried out with alarm! “Don’t be afraid,” answered Pastor Smith with a voice filled with awe. “It’s Pentecost, and the Spirit’s fire is falling again!” Indeed it was the Holy Spirit coming among them, and reminding them of the day Christ’s church was born. For as the fiery tongues reached each person, they were reminded of their baptism vows and their call to reach out to others as member’s of Christ’s body. They knew the Spirit could empower them and direct them as they reached out to follow their call. They knew the Spirit could show them the people they would serve and the ways they would serve them. Exciting visions of a vital ministry stretched before their eyes as they saw the way the Spirit could transform a burned out lamp to a roaring flame that would shine Christ’s love out clearly in the midst of the darkest night. They accepted the Spirit’s call to be about their Lord’s work. Those who were able began to minister to those who were in need as the Lord commanded. And their worshipers who were older and could no longer labor began the vital task of prayer for all those the congregation encountered. In words and in deeds the worshipers spoke to those to whom Christ called them in the language of love; a language all could know and understand. New life abounded among them as they gathered to worship, for fellowship, and to serve. Fiery worship filled with the Spirit’s power became their norm and kept them focused on their Lord’s call. Not one of them knew how long their congregation would exist; indeed, not one of them even cared. For they were about their Lord’s work and living each day in the burning flame of the Spirit’s breath.

The teenager worshiper’s exclamation of awe became their byword and standard, and the way they were known to all around them Smokin’,” visitors shouted in wonder at the joy of their worship! “Smokin’,” the community cried in wonder at they way they showed forth Christ’s love. “Smokin’!” “No, not us,” the worshipers replied. “For we work and worship in the love of Jesus Christ and through the power of the flame and wind of the Holy Spirit. And to God alone be glory.”
Amen.

The Communicator – February 2015

February 1st, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

View church newsletter

Continuing on our Adventure

November 11th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Whittier Presbyterian is full of energy and looking for a new focus.  We have been through New Beginnings, which showed us that we are a small yet vibrant congregation.  We decided at that time to work with Nueva Vida and help them to grow.  After much prayer, talk and work; we now know that these buildings are really too big for both congregations.  The upkeep of all these buildings is so expensive in both money and time and effort.  So… we are investigating where God will lead us; we know he has a plan for us.

We have been talking with Real Estate people to determine the worth of our buildings and finding if another congregation would be interested so it is not just a tear down.  God also opened doors for us to talk to Presbytery and we discovered that when we move on, they might be interested in keeping the buildings and leasing them out to a different church.

Pastor Elizabeth has been sharing this information after worship services this summer, but we know many of you have been on vacation and missed those discussions.  

Session has always coveted everyone’s prayers for the direction God might be taking our congregation and we are seeing fruits from those prayers.  People are contacting us about using the building and people are sharing ideas of where we might go and what type of mission we could provide for our community.  There is no timeline for anything that is happening but Session will be sharing information as it develops.  So please be patient and please continue your prayers, as these are exciting times for our congregation.   Please be sure to talk to a Session member if you have ideas or questions or concerns.  Session is excited and can feel the energy coming from our membership about where God is leading us.  So keep praying and thinking and sharing.
Questions:  talk to Lurene, Carole, Melinda, Marilyn J, Marilyn R., Donna, Jim, Fermin (Session members) or Pastor Elizabeth

Thanks to Donna Hanson for this piece

Whittier’s Great Adventure

October 28th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

We’re moving! We are not sure yet where we are going. We are not doing this without large doses of reluctance and sorrow, but we are stepping out in faith.

Like many congregations that were started in California during the boom years after World War II, we were planted, grew large, and in recent years have seen our numbers decline. The buildings that once housed a congregation of over 1300 now hold less than 100. They are too big and we are too small. Several months ago, after much conversation, we came to the painful recognition that we can no longer maintain these buildings. Rentals help pay the bills. However, we increasingly find that being a landlord absorbs all our time and energy. Little is left for doing the kinds of ministries—from sheltering the homeless, to starting the still-operating preschool, to wonderful music programs—that were a big part of our life. So we faced the hard question. What now?

We considered closing. That is what many congregations do at this point. We considered merging. That is another option many congregations take. Then we realized there is a third option. We can take our strengths, move where we do not have the burden of maintaining the building, and find new ways to reach out and share God’s love and grace. We can carry on the congregation’s 70 plus year history of following God’s leading and sharing God’s love.

We are still figuring out the details, but we know God is leading us. We ask one thing of those of you reading this. Pray for us. Pray for us the following prayer.

Lord,
Introduce us to the people we should walk with,
Show us the ministry we should do,
And lead us to the place where we should abide.

Keep watching. We’ll let you know where God leads us and how our adventure unfolds.

New Beginnings Follow Up Discussions

March 2nd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Please mark your calendar and take the time to join us for the four weeks of the New Beginnings follow up discussions. We need everyone’s input as we make decisions for the future of Whittier Presbyterian Church. We need everyone’s voice to be heard and this is the time and place to be involved with our decisions. See you all there.

A Present for Jesus

November 22nd, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

A Present for Jesus

The contrast between the images struck me hard. Like many people, when I get up I do a quick check of the news on my computer. That morning my screen filled with images and stories of the tornado hitting the Philippines. Later the same day, I sat down to relax by watching a program. The ads came first. This one, a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, was my first Christmas ad of the season. I won’t mention the company but like most holiday advertisements it consisted of encouragement to buy, buy, buy because the more we spent on gifts the more our relatives and friends would appreciate us. The contrast between the aching need and the extravaganza of gift giving bothered me. I was troubled when I read an article stating the average American plans to spend over $800 on gifts this year (down from over $850 last year). Self-gifting, the practice of buying a gift for oneself has increased. Is this really how Jesus wants us to celebrate his birth? What can we do different?
How about we buy a present for Jesus? It Is his birthday we are celebrating.
I am not so naive that I believe people will stop buying or exchanging gifts nor do I think we should. Many of us enjoy it. Watching children’s faces light up on Christmas Day is something parents celebrate. I do think we can remember Jesus in our gift giving.
But what would happen if each of us also bought a present for Jesus? By that, I mean what if we gave one gift designed to help at least one of the many aching needs we can find in our world? It should not be a left over gift, but a gift as big and significant as all the other gifts we give. If we spend $20 on the average gift, our Jesus gift should be at least $20. If we spend $100, our Jesus gift should be at least $100. It is, of course, always OK to give more. I know folk who have decided they do not need more stuff and ask their families to give them alternative gifts by giving where the need is greatest.
What kinds of gifts could we give? Here at the church, we regularly support Homework House http://www.homeworkhouse.com/locations.htm (free tutoring for children), Bridge of Faith http://www.bridgeoffaith.org/ (supporting women who have aged out of the foster care system without really having the skills to support themselves), and First Day http://www.whittierfirstday.org/ (working to help people overcome homelessness). Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has opened a special account for the Philippines. You can donate to that or one of the other places they are helping at http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/pda/who-we-are/. Looking to help in another way? Try http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/pda/who-we-are/ for gifts ranging from wells to chickens to school packs. Not comfortable donating online? Send a check directly.

Why Whittier?

August 7th, 2013 § 1 comment § permalink

I have been asked why I came to Whittier Presbyterian, a once large congregation that has now shrunk in size. The honesty of the people who interviewed me is what convinced me. This is a congregation that had gone through the New Beginnings process and made some intentional choices about their future. Now, they asked for someone who could help them implement those difficult decisions.

 

We live in a time that is challenging for the Church. The percentage of the population that considers themselves Christians has declined while the percentage listing themselves as having no religious preference grows. Many people have a view of Christians shaped by the hate-filled groups that fill the media. The number and average size of congregations is shrinking. This is one of those periods, they have happened before in history and will probably happen again, when God is pruning the Church. When comfort comes before discipleship, when belief becomes easier than transforming lives, God does something to shake up the Church.

 

But this kind of challenging time is difficult for those who face the changes. It is hard on clergy, it is hard on members, and it is hard on everyone. I have watched congregations whither because they would not or could not accept that the context the Church lives in is changing. I consider it a gift to be asked to work with a group that is trying to face the change (which is not the same as liking it).  How could I say no to this adventure?

 

Pray for the Church and each other as we follow God into this new future.

 

Welcome Elizabeth Steele

June 9th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

God continues to bless our church family. We have a wonderful new pastor, Pastor Elizabeth Steele. She is a wonderful addition to our worship family. Pastor Elizabeth has invited us to dream about new possibilities for our worship space, the community around us, and deepening our own relationships with God. Please join us in this endeavor. We are a welcoming congregation!