By Don and Susan Dewey, Co-Regional Ministers

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

~John 11:25-26

Last month’s Mile Marker talked about the Urgent Church, those that are in serious decline and need to make significant changes or will soon die. This month, living into our Easter season, the focus is on places of new life and resurrection. We will look at three congregations where new life is happening and flourishing.

The first is at Community Worship Center in Gardena. This congregation, born out of the remnant of the former Fuente de Vida Disciple congregation, began just two short years ago. As both the First Christian Church of Gardena and Fuente de Vida congregations were coming to end CWC was emerging.

Under the pastoral leadership of Ruben del Pilar and his wife Cindy, this new congregation has grown and flourished from a handful of potential members to now well over 150 attendees on any given Sunday! Through support from the Region and from various members with time and labor, they have almost completely remodeled the once drab and outdated Gardena facility into an alive, vibrant and welcoming church facility.

Our Regional Board recently held their March meeting at the Gardena facility and were given an informative tour of all the things that have been transpiring on the campus and the various ministries being conducted there. We celebrated the exciting new life happening in Gardena with CWC’s ministry!

The second place of new life is at Casa de Refugio in Covina, under the co-pastoral leadership of Francisco Ramos and Soriliz Rodriquez. Following the closing of Covina Christian Church over three years ago, a new church start was planted through our Region’s New Church Development ministry.

In just over three years this congregation, that began with the Ramos family, now has grown to average 60-70 in worship. They have been actively engaging their community with food pantries, special dinners, Vacation Bible School programs and much more. They have also hosted several Regional events and been active in our Region’s Convención.

Through support of the Region many improvements on the Covina facility have taken place as the congregation continues to grow and serve. We are excited about the wonderful new life in Covina!

The third place of new life is still emerging. Last month we witnessed the closing of First Christian Church of Bellflower. After 95 years of ministry in the Bellflower community the congregation made the decision to close its visible ministry.  Also housed there at FCC Bellflower was our Disciple ministry Iglesia Discipulos de Cristo under the pastoral leadership of Angeles Coronado.

With the decision to close, Pastor Coronado’s congregation was told they would need to relocate since the Bellflower congregation was giving their facility to a non-Disciple mega church for expanding its ministry. Pastor Coronado began to look, though unsuccessfully, for a new home for the church’s ministry. Fortunately, the Region was in the midst of taking over management of our Baldwin Park facility that had not had a Disciple congregation meeting there for over 9 years.

The Region has been in the process of restoring and remodeling this facility and has now made it available to Iglesia Discipulos de Cristo for a re-birth of its ministry.

Pastor Coronado’s congregation, now renamed Casa de Fe (House of Faith), has already begun engaging the community of Baldwin Park, offering worship in the local park, meeting with community officials, and hosting gathering events as the facility is undergoing remodeling.

There is much excitement and enthusiasm among the members of Casa de Fe of Baldwin Park for this new beginning in their ministry.

There are also several other new congregations emerging around the Region as continued signs of new life!

A new congregation in Riverside, Iglesia Nueva Vida (Church of New Life) was launched on Easter Sunday! Q ministry, designed around the 12-step model, has begun a new ministry in the Torrance area. Another is WOW church (Walking on Water), this ministry is focused on an inclusionary ministry for persons and families with Autism.

Each of these ministries are reminders that the Holy Spirit is still moving in and through lives to create places of healing, hope, love, grace, and community here in the PSWR!

Certainly there are many other signs of new life emerging around our Region and perhaps your congregation is a place where exciting new things are happening as well. We celebrate these and all the places where God’s Spirit of new life and resurrection are happening.

We ask that you pray for these pastors and their congregations as these places of new life continue to flourish and grow. We also ask that you will hold in your prayers all our congregations as each are seeking to be witnesses of the Good News of the Risen Christ!

 

Together on the journey,

Don and Susan

Co-Regional Ministers, PSWR

Posted
AuthorAlisa Mittelstaedt

Hatchery LA is a project of the PSWR committed to raising up new leaders and church planters through an innovative praxis-based educational program. One of our students, Nathanael Welch has created an initiative to help focus on the particular needs of people with disabilities. He is now in his second year of the program and recently gave an update on the progress of his project and we thought it would be great to share it with you.

It’s hard to believe that just one year ago I was getting ready to host my first ArtWalk and pop-up gallery.

My goal last year was to help raise awareness and visibility for people with disabilities and the challenges they face. I decided the best way to try and accomplish this was through a combination of art, storytelling, and community.

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So last March I met with a group of people with disabilities and their friends and families to figure out a way to make this happen. The solution: ArtWalks.

ArtWalks are events where persons with disabilities are invited to take pictures of the things they find beautiful and interesting in the world, from their perspective. For our first ArtWalk we hiked through a great little park in Long Beach. We had a great group of people who really enjoyed the chance to take pictures and make some new friends in the process.

Two weeks after this we held a pop-up gallery in a local coffee shop. The pop-up gallery is meant to showcase not just the artwork, but the artists themselves. The hope is that not only will the art gallery make their work and perspective visible, but that they themselves will become visible as well.

Far too often people with disabilities are ignored throughout society. They are effectively made invisible - including in the church. My hope was that these ArtWalks would help to correct this by raising awareness among the nondisabled about the lives of people with disabilities through art and creative self-expression, build networks of people who share similar experiences, and to empower communities to make positive change towards valuing every member.

One year later we’ve made amazing progress. I have been privileged to speak at a number of DOC regional churches, including Mission HillsLA with Ryan Pryor and Mission Hills Christian in Pasadena. After hosting several more ArtWalks locally, I wanted to give communities across the country the tools and confidence to do this on their own. So I hosted several webinars to try and spread the word. At the beginning of March we had 7 communities and churches across the country agree to host ArtWalks in their neighborhood. I have committed to working closely with each group, providing them with the tools and resources they need to make it a success.

These are easy, fun, and meaningful experiences for everyone involved. My dream is that by this time next year we have an explosion of interest in not just ArtWalks, but in the lives of people with disabilities across the country. If you want to get on board and host an ArtWalk in your community, or learn how, you can visit www.differentunited.com or email me at nathanael@hatcheryla.com.

You can learn more about my story and why I do ArtWalks at:http://www.differentunited.com/our-story

 

For more information about the innovative opportunities at HatcheryLA: hatcheryla.com

Posted
AuthorAlisa Mittelstaedt

By Don and Susan Dewey, Co-Regional Ministers

 

Another church closed. First Christian Church of Bellflower held its final worship service on March 26, 2017 and has officially closed its visible ministry. The congregation, like so many in our Region and our Disciples denomination had aged and declined to place in which they were no longer able to continue.

This has been shared numerous times in the past but it bears repeating, the church as we have known it is changing and new forms and models of church are emerging. The church in America is going through a sea change of transition as new generations are seeking alternative ways of living out their spiritual lives.

It’s also important to remember that there are no quick fixes to the continued decline of the mainline church nor is there any one model of new church that replaces or reaches everyone.

We also know that there continues to be a growing number of those who choose “None” when ask of their religious affiliation. As well as those that now claim to be “spiritual but not religious.” But the truth remains, many congregations must change or they will die.

Thom Rainer in a recent article on “Growing Healthy Churches, Together” calls these churches “the urgent church.” He says, “Time is of the essence. If changes do not happen soon, very soon, these churches will die. The pace of congregational death is accelerating.”

He is speaking particularly about mainline churches in America. The church in China, South America, and Africa is growing by leaps and bounds.

What, then, are some of the key changes churches must make? Rainer offers nine suggestions of change but warns that none of them are easy.

 

Here are nine changes:

1. We must stop bemoaning the death of cultural Christianity. Such whining does us no good. Easy growth is simply not a reality for many churches. People no longer come to a church because they believe they must do so to be culturally accepted.

I believe the church must once again refocus its energy and re-engage their communities in the places of the greatest need. In the book of James we read: Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:15-17

The Great Commission of Christianity is about going out into the world; it’s not “y’all come.

2. We must cease seeing the church as a place of comfort and stability in the midst of rapid change. Certainly, God’s truth is unchanging. So we do find comfort and stability in that reality. But don’t look to your church not to change methods, approaches, and human-made traditions. Indeed, we must learn to be uncomfortable in the world if we are to make a difference. “We’ve never done it that way before,” is a death declaration.

In a recent Transformation Committee meeting Linda Gardner shared several inspiring quotes about transformation. Two of them struck me as important for the church today.

The first said, “How does one become a butterfly? You must want to fly so much you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.”

As we approach this season of Easter we are reminded again that we are the people of the Resurrection! However, to have a resurrection/new life one must be willing to die. Old ways, structures, methodologies must give way to new ideas, approaches and models for being the church today.

The second quote was much more straightforward. It simply said, “Nothing changes if nothing changes.” The Prophet Isaiah reminds us of who God is and what God is about: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”

3. We must abandon the entitlement mentality. Your church is not a country club where you pay dues to get your perks and privileges. It is a gospel outpost where you are to put yourself last. Don’t seek to get your way with the music, temperature, and length of sermons. Here is a simple guideline: Be willing to die for the sake of the gospel.

Many people today are reluctant to “join” a church because it feels as though they are simply invited to accept things as they are and perpetuate an institution that may or may not have any relevance to the their needs or their daily living. Most people are looking for a community that takes seriously their spiritual hunger and actual needs of their community.

4. We must start doing.  Most of us like the idea of evangelism more than we like doing evangelism. Try a simple prayer and ask God to give you gospel opportunities. You may be surprised how He will use you.

I sometimes wonder if we have put too much weight on one simple worship service or sermon to be our only Evangelism tool. Or that we have abdicated our responsibility as a “priesthood of all believers” to share the hope we have in Christ.

Scripture reminds us, But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” 1 Peter 3:15

5. We must stop using biblical words in unbiblical ways. “Discipleship” does not mean caretaking. “Fellowship” does not mean entertainment.

I believe the invitation here is ask ourselves how are we guiding others into a deeper relationship with Christ and developing a genuine place of belonging for those seeking true community?

6. We must stop focusing on minors. Satan must delight when a church spends six months wrangling over a bylaw change. That’s six months of gospel negligence.

We may or may not receive the reference to “Satan” but I think we all know what he’s talking about. Sometimes as church we can spend enormous amounts of time discussing and haggling over the color of the bathrooms and hardly anytime talking about reaching those in our communities with the Good News!

7. We must stop shooting our own. This tragedy is related to the entitlement mentality. If we don’t get our way, we will go after the pastor, the staff member, or the church member who has a different perspective than our own. We will even go after their families. Don’t let bullies and perpetual critics control the church. Don’t shoot our own. It’s not friendly fire.

I think the challenge for the church is to remember that we are the body of Christ, many members but one body. We have different parts but each one is important and needed. (1 Corinthians 12) We need to find a way to work together in healthy ways so that the body can grow and be its best.

8. We must stop wasting time in unproductive meetings, committees, and business sessions. Wouldn’t it be nice if every church member could only ask one question or make one comment in a meeting for every time he or she has shared his or her faith the past week?

Perhaps the challenge here is to move from spending much of our time as managers of an institution and more time as witnesses of the love and grace of Christ.

9. We must become houses of prayer. Stated simply, we are doing too much in our own power. We are really busy, but we are not doing the business of God.

I think it’s worth noting, that as we read through our Gospels, how many times they refer to Jesus taking time alone to pray. If prayer truly is our communication to the divine and we are really wanting to be God’s church, then perhaps we need to spend more time listening to where and how God is inviting us into being the church today.

Friends, we serve a risen Lord, the Spirit is alive and moving in and through us and in places we least expect. Death is not the end but can in fact be the beginning a whole new way of living. The church as an institution is simply the means for carrying out the Gospel message but it is not the Gospel.  We must be willing to adapt and change the means for carrying out the Gospel message for the sake of its message.

We still have Good News to proclaim that a hungry and hurting world is dying to hear and know. For me the one command of Jesus “to love one another as I have loved you” must be the primary focus of what we do as church; all else can die or change.

May God’s Spirit of grace and peace strengthen you and empower you as people of the resurrection!

 

Together on the journey,

Don and Susan
Co-Regional Ministers, PSWR

Posted
AuthorAlisa Mittelstaedt
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Sunday, April 9  Irvine UCC, Sunday worship

Sunday, April 9  University Christian Church, 5:00 am

Monday, April 10  San Diego Clergy dinner

Tuesday, April 11  Tehachapi UCC, evening

Thursday, April 13  Church of the Foothills, evening

Saturday, April 15  So California / Nevada Pacific Islander Asian American Ministries UCC, 10:00 am

Monday, April 17  Disciples Seminary Foundation (DSF)

Tuesday, April 18  FCC Fullerton, lunch event and evening event 6:30-7:30 pm

 

If you are interested in scheduling a presentation with Loren, please contact Nancy Fowler at fowlernancy@aol.com.

For more information about missionary Loren McGrail, please visit our previous blog post.

Posted
AuthorAlisa Mittelstaedt

By Don and Susan Dewey, Co-Regional Ministers

 

Susan was asked to bring a word for the Sunday Morning Worship of the General Board meeting in Indianapolis last month, and thus shares this version for the March Mile Marker.

 

Matthew 5:14-16 (NRSV)

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."

Bob died last month. He was 93 and he was raised by the woman who started all of the social service and justice programs for women in Ventura. He was an eagle scout and a Navy lieutenant in WW2, and he was a crusty old guy.

He was on the search committee that called Don and I to FCC Ventura in the late 1990’s.

And he attended every board meeting, whether he held an office or not. He was always the one who would ask the detail questions when we brought a new idea.

How will this work? How much money will this cost? Where is the money going to come from? How will it change things?

For the first 5 years I thought, this is just a crusty old guy questioning anything these new young pastors wanted to try! But one day that crusty old surface broke open and inside what we found (I guess it was always there,) but what we found was a thoughtful, faithful man of God who just wanted to know where he would fit in.

He asked questions to know how he could help, did he have the funds to support the project and would what he had to offer, help move things forward. And the day we thanked him for his leadership and told him we would be leaving to go to fill the Regional Ministers position, there were tears in his eyes and in ours.

Underneath that crusty old exterior was something beautiful and rich and powerful. Once that crusty old exterior was opened up his spirit began to shine, at least for me.

Some people see the church as a crusty old entity with outdated structures and practices and archaic language…… is there truth to that?

My friends it is time to break open this church! It is time to break open this church!

You read the Matthew 5 passage at the beginning of this word, so please read it again in the Message:

 

Matthew 5:14-16 (MSG)

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—SHINE! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous God in heaven.

(Please look up Geodes) You might have wondered what those dusty, crusty rocks on your table are, what they are for? These are Geodes, and there is one for each of you to open sometime today. When you break open a Geode you will find interesting crystals, colors and designs, something very different than the dusty crust exterior.

Friends, it is time to break open this church! When we risk breaking open the church we find the core values and deep truths of our faith, and they are beautiful and life changing and we are called to let them shine!

Friends, when we break open our Disciples church we will again see those beautiful colors and designs that are our core values: like no creed but Christ, the centrality of the table, all are welcome, freedom of thought and interpretation balanced with a firm foundation in Christ.

In the PSWR most of the candidates who come to the region seeking Standing or Ordination, particularly those coming from other faith traditions, start with me and what I hear regularly is: “I have found the church I needed.”

I heard it last week from a former Lutheran Army Chaplain. He grew up Missouri Synod but was always in trouble for asking too many questions. He talked about finding his way into FCC  and that’s what he said (arms raised high) “I found a home."

People are looking for a home, a welcome, a place where they can bring their whole selves, a place that welcomes questions, a place that celebrates unity in diversity, a place that honors both head and heart as a means to faith, and friends, we have it!

That’s who we are!

So lets break open this church and let who we really are shine like a light on a mountaintop. Lets let our core values shine as God’s beloved community!

Christian unity has been a value since we began. Campbell writes in his Declaration and Address, “That the Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one;”

We know how to hold that place of tension between various perspectives, giving one another permission to hold different views and it is a beautiful part of who we are!

One of our tag lines is “In essentials unity, nonessential liberty, in all things charity (love)."

Having a firm foundation in Christ, but having the freedom to talk and question and sometimes disagree and yet still know we all have a place at the Table is a core value for us! I love that Campbell was accused of Latitudinarianism! Isn’t that a great word!? I guess they thought Campbell’s table was too big.

Last year Don and I were privileged to travel around China with the Week of Compassion leadership and meet with our partners in China. Partnership in mission is a core value.

Working together in Christ, all around the world, taking the love of God to the ends of the earth and helping the church grow is a core value.

As an aside let me tell you when people say the church is dying, you can remind them that the Church in China has 40 million Christians who fill to overflowing the pews every week and they can’t train pastors fast enough for the growth of the church. Partnership in mission is one of our core values.

Ahh…but what does it look like to let our light shine? Isn't that what Mission First is all about? (Please go to the General Church website and see the Mission First report). Isn't that what we are here to talk about as the General board? (Please go to the General Church website and read the reports). Isn't that what we are here to talk about as the General board? The light! Love! Hospitality! Welcome! Compassion! Justice! Inclusion!

These things are at the heart of our faith that we hear over and over again in our scriptures, from the prophets to Jesus and seen in those early disciples! How do we let our light shine? Think about what is that bright crystal in the center of our faith, what is the design in the center of our faith life? What are the colors that illuminate our Disciple witness?

How do we let our light shine?

Yeah, we all have our daily lives to live, and for the pastors in the room we have all the details of Lent and Easter just around the corner to work on, but is that the light?

Yes we have the details of our local church, region and denomination’s finances and care for our buildings to deal with but is that the light?

Friends, people are hurting in our world; immigrants documented or undocumented are frightened and hurting. How do we let our light shine?

Transgender and LGBT communities are frightened and hurting. How do we let our light shine?

The financially vulnerable and the elderly fear about their healthcare. How do we let our light shine?

The worth and dignity of women and persons of color is again at risk. How do we let our light shine?

Sometimes it feels like we are stuck when we just try to use our established structures to address the challenges of today. To tell you the truth, I am struggling to know what to say to the powers that be and what to do for the vulnerable members of our community. I am hearing their stories of fear and uncertainty and I don’t know all we need to do, but I know we need to do it.

What is hiding our light? Is it our crusty outside, our structures, our habits, our established practices, by-laws, the safety of the familiar….our fears?

Are our fears hiding our light? Fears of what will be the consequence of speaking out for justice, for compassion? Or what will people think if we act on the streets for the vulnerable? Or maybe it is our doubts that hides our light! Our doubts, can we really do anything that will make a difference in this political world, this economic world, this world that seems obsessed with fear. Our fears and doubts and insecurities can hide our light and keep us from acting out the love, justice, hospitality and compassion we know our God calls us to share.

We, the leadership of this denomination need to step out of business as usual and let the light of our faith shine in the world! We are to bring out the God-colors in the world.

We need to go public! God has made us light bearers to be out there on a hilltop, on a light stand and shine, yes SHINE!

I often have heard from folks new to Disciples that we are the best kept secret!

Friends, the good news we know in Jesus Christ is not meant to be a secret!

We are commanded to let our light shine!

I asked the General Board to look around the room, there were almost 120 people who love Jesus, who are talented and experienced people with gifts and skills and full of the light of Christ. There is power in this room! There is POWER in this room! Do you see it? Do you believe it? Do you know it? What we can do together!!!!

Friends, there is power in our Region. Do you see it? Do you believe it? Do you know it? What we can do together!!!! We can and need to break open our church to reach out to bring protection and healing to the venerable who live among us.

There are pastors and laity in our region who are creating statements, programs, actions and vision for how we can address the pain and hurt and fear of our communities. Please see Dr. Berquist’s statement at DSF, and look for the workshops on "Marginalization, Faith, and Community Organizing."

And then lets turn to one another and say, “Let your light SHINE!” Say it again, and say it one more time!

 

Matthew 5:14-16 (MSG)

 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop,

on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous God in heaven.

 

Let’s break open this church and let our light shine! Amen? Amen!

 

Together on the journey,

Don and Susan

Co-Regional Ministers, PSWR

Posted
AuthorAlisa Mittelstaedt