Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9
It’s has been a busy time these last five weeks catching since before that I was on vacation. I am continuing to minister along two tracks: supporting individually the African Descent Pastors and supporting our African American congregations.
Individually, I have been reaching to provide pastoral care, advice on the call process, council conflicts and ELCA policy to mention a few. These relationships this past year have been significant and inspiring to me. The Ministry situations in which our pastors inherited are challenging to say the least. In spite the lack of human and financial resources all five of my colleagues continue to keep the faith and positively go forward loving, pushing, pulling, forgiving and leading for numerical growth and spiritual maturity within their individual congregations. I continue to be blessed by the individual gifts that my colleagues bring to the rostered leadership in our church.
Corporately, it has been one of my main goals to yoke our congregations more tightly together. To that end, we have been working to consistently do some joint major holiday and annual events. It is important for us to worship and fellowship together so we do not forget that we are all in this. So we meet bi-monthly to vent, pray, plan, and celebrate our past efforts. Our pastors go back to their individual congregations to recruit or assign lay people to different roles within joint program events.
We had been planning before Christmas to have a joint worship service in celebration for Black History month and honoring the late Bishop Nelson Trout. Time did not permit so it was cancelled. But we have rescheduled for June 14, joint Juneteenth worship service at Holy Redeemer, in Bellflower. Ash Wednesday morning Pastor Hemphill and I will be giving out ashes and offering pastoral care at My Friends House. Ash Wednesday evening worship service will have participating six of our Black congregations. Our recently retired Pastor Charlene Limenih will be the preacher. Last year we had our first “Seven Last Words” service in a long time which will be repeated this coming Good Friday, HT will host.
At our most recent meeting, we were sadden and hurt by the revelation of the racist incidents which occurred at CLU. We are prayerfully discussing how we can best support the African American students and positively assist CLU staff in the immediate after math but also proposing some preemptive teachable moments.
Staff meetings nearly every week not only bring information from our various synodical Ministries but also new ideas and the fellowship of encouragement. Staff meetings are proceeded by worship together which reinforces our dependence on Christ and allows us to be spirit led.
During Black history month I reminded our congregations that from struggle comes strength.
We discovered that this was still the time to be the Church: to exhibit faith, to serve, to worship and proclaim of love Christ. Before COVID-19, many folk were not only unchurched but we have a generation to whom God is largely unknown. We have adults that have never been to Sunday school, opened a Bible or inside a church. People need and are more willing to hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our pastors and our African Descent congregations are still witnessing to God’s love and demonstrating their faith by love in action. It of course has not been easy during this pandemic, with meager finances and human resources; the restrictions of social distance and yet the proclaiming goes on.
I admire and I am encouraged by these pastors that go safely out to meet the needs of their membership and their particular communities at large. Pastor Keadle of St. Mark, Pastor John Miller at First in Carson, Pastor Jonathan Hemphill of Another Level and Ascension, Pastor Tracy Williams at Holy Redeemer, Pastor Rod Hines at Messiah, Pastor Ruth Siefert at Community, Johnel Barron at Olivet, and myself at Holy Trinity creatively offer their own individual worship on Sunday from Facebook live, YouTube and zoom. Pastor Charlene Limenih is retired but is still give pastoral care and bi-monthly worship virtually.
Don’t get it twisted, these types of worship are not preferred. We wish to be together in our sanctuaries to lift up praise to God. However we are hearing from people close by and some far across the country that are watching our services on their home devices. We are reaching those who little attend or would never come into our churches.
Our food distribution stations at My friends’ house Holy Trinity, Holy Redeemer, and Chapel of Peace continue to serve an even more community since the pandemic. Pastor Keadle generates virtual stuff to keep all of our youth to feel connected. We have been blessed to be one of the few preschools in L.A. to remain open but only for the children of the beloved essential workers, following the strict guidelines of state licensing.
We are not able to perform our traditional funerals and there have been long delays in burying the dead. But still our pastors are providing a sacred time and place for grief, comfort and hope. Most of our congregations are very vulnerable during this time of Covid-19. But our spiritual bandwidth is strong as God provides the will, the energy, and then faithfully blesses our efforts.
Yes-We are still here to reveal to the residents of L.A. Metro, the God in whom we worship. He Is Risen! He is Risen indeed!
The past five months with the shutdown from the pandemic have forced pastors and congregations to minister somewhat differently. Before Covid-19 many of our congregations were already challenged with meager financial and human resources. However, faith in God remains our most important asset. The Samaritan in the parable has been my recent guide of action to take. The Samaritan had compassion, then ministered to the wounded man at the side of road. The Samaritan used the resources that He possessed. This has been a team effort. Singularly and collectively we have played the role of the Samaritan for each other while also at times have been the wounded man by the side of the road.
I have always provided pastoral care in the form of prayer, counseling, and financial assistance to some of our pastors dealing with personal hardships but especially during this Covid -19 pandemic.
When called upon by a Pastor and/or the Bishop assisted as a mediator for a congregational conflict. Also I have provided “ELCA coaching” for a couple of individuals within the past 4 months.
Here is a summary of specific actions and events of the year. Sharing of resources:
- a) Facilitate exchange between congregations with a high volume of specific food products with a congregation that has a low volume of specific food products for their food distribution centers.
- b) Sharing administrative resources between congregations such as ELCA council/congregational leadership materials, Sunday Worship, bulletin covers, Bible study curriculum and verbal instruction on Lutheran practices. (this has been helpful to some of our pastors that come from different denominational backgrounds and some TEEM program graduates.
- c) Offering joint confirmation classes.
- d) Sharing of information and secular resources that assist the homeless people of our communities. Also sharing a pool of licensed building repair contractors.
- e) Sharing technological “how to” for pre-recording and “live streaming” of our worship services.
- f) Sharing of the incorporation of African American theology and culture with Lutheran practices within a worship service.
Expended African Descent budget funds for emergency financial aid to some of our congregations’ ministry programs in June. (Chapel of Peace, Another Level, Ascension, St. Mark and Olivet).
Meeting with the Black pastors by zoom monthly; also facilitating a zoom meeting with bishop Erwin in June.
Joint worship services: Ash Wednesday service with five of our congregations. Synod Pentecost worship; Juneteenth worship celebration.
Participated as one of the panelists for LA Metro Conference’s “Black Lives Matter” panel discussion in July.
Weekly reporting to Bishop Erwin and Pastor Bos; Supporting other synod staff members and sharing/consultation when appropriate.
Participated as part of a team in Region 2 interviews of pastors seeking calls in July.
Attendance at conference meetings, special anniversaries/programs and some secular organizational meetings representing Southwest California Synod. (such as the city’s LA Metro; Green Dot schools; Wayfinder Family Services)
Keep the Faith,
Pastor James Phillips