Wednesday, February 27, 2019

From There To Here!

Dear Friends,

Last Sunday was the 10th Year Anniversary for New Hope Family Church! God had called me to a small church that had been struggling with a previous pastor. In the middle of our process of healing and restoration, the denomination decided to kick this congregation out of their home church and give their property and their $60,000 in a savings account to a Spanish-speaking church! We voted to leave the denomination and New Hope Family Church was born. We worshiped for the next 18 months in the home of Raul and Ann Gallardo and then rented a Lutheran Church in Lake Balboa until it was shut down by their denomination. That was when we rented a Lutheran Church property in Sylmar. 

We grew spiritually as our faith matured. We grew in our worship to Him, and as our praise lifted us up into His presence, that became one of the “sweet spots” in our service every Sunday. We celebrated the Eucharist every week and grew liturgically as we added prayers and creeds from the earliest Christian church. Most importantly, we grew in our love of God and in our love for each other.

We had started a Wednesday service at an assisted living facility that added about 30 people to our church. Then, about ten months later, fewer people were attending the Sunday service. For many different reasons. Old age that left some home-bound. Death. Some no longer wanting to drive the 45 round-trip miles from the San Fernando Valley to Sylmar. When the Sunday service became financially unsustainable and we were unable to afford our rent, NHFC transitioned to holding just the Wednesday service.

We had for many years prayerfully petitioned God to grow NHFC according to our vision. He patiently listened and then turned the church upside down by answering our prayer according to His plans and purposes for us. To God be the glory! In the three years we’ve been at Abbey Road Villa, we’ve had some services with over 80 residents and guests. We have permanent residents who have attended nearly every service and have had residents who have come, stayed for awhile, and then moved on to a nursing home or a different type of facility when their physical or mental health had changed. In these three years, we’ve had the opportunity to bring the Gospel message of Jesus to hundreds of people. Praise God! Last year we even had a real "fairy-tale" wedding between two of the Christian residents who  proved to all of us that Godly love between a man and a woman is not limited by age or disability!
The woman is the photo is Noem. She has been to every church service for the past three years and she "dresses" up for church by having a caretaker put a fresh ribbon bow in her hair. She doesn't speak or understand a word of English. She is Armenian Orthodox but a smile beams from her face as she worships right along with me every Wednesday. We don't take an offering.The residents typically have no money. But Noem always gives me something. It's a cookie wrapped in a napkin, or a saltine cracker she saved from yesterday's lunch, or maybe one of those little jam packets that came with her breakfast. At the end of the service, as it is common in her Orthodox tradition, she will always bless me with the sign of the cross and give me an "offering."
As we were developing into a more “liturgical” church during our Sunday services, God was preparing us for ministry at Abbey Road where the congregation is about 90% Catholic. They know I’m an ordained Protestant pastor but our ecumenical Eucharist (Communion) services are familiar to Catholics, Lutherans and Episcopalians. On the first Sunday of the month is the “liturgical” Eucharist service and my good Lutheran friends, Sandy and Shelley Chase come to assist. They are the “worship team” and Shelley is the “Eucharistic Minister” who assists me in distributing the sacraments of Holy Communion. 

The Wednesday services look more like the typical Charismatic Protestant service. Rhianna Voigt is now a self-employed owner of an Insurance Agency and has arranged her office hours so that she can come and assist at the Wednesday services. The residents love these new changes and new faces and feel loved and cared for by their church.
When your family makes the decision to place you in a residential care facility, your life, as you know it, has been ended. Your home and all those things in it that you so enjoyed are gone. There are so many things you miss. Your pets. Your friends. Your freedom to go wherever you wanted. You miss your church. Sunday had always been the day you looked forward to. Church was where you connected with God and connected with friends. You miss the hymns and worship music that seemed to draw you into the presence of God and give you comfort and peace. You miss hearing the Word of God. You miss Holy Communion – that most intimate time with your Heavenly Father.
We can’t give them back their home, or their possessions and pets, but we can give them church. And yes our church “family” looks a little different these days. Older and grayer. More infirm. Little or no money. And a lot more diverse and inclusive! We have devout Catholics, Armenian Orthodox, Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans and Pentecostals worshiping right next to each other. That’s a foretaste of the glory of Heaven, Rev 7:9 and for nearly all of them, NHFC will be the last church they’ll attend before they too will enter the Kingdom of Heaven to be with Jesus. 

Most of them have been in church all their life, but we may be the last pastors they will have to love and care for them. The last ones they will talk with.. to absolve them from their sins.. to give them the sacraments – the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.. to bless them in the Name of a Holy God.. to give them hope.. They know they are nearing the end of their life and, in a place where people are dying, thoughts of death are never far from their mind. What they hear each time we are there is that God is with them now and forever – that through the grace of God, they have eternal life and a new hope in Christ. “New Hope” church and ministry is aptly named. That’s why God called us to this place. To give them hope for their future. To hold their hand during this life transition. They are precious people and I love every one of them. 
Thank you Lord for this wonderful decade of ministry and reforming New Hope Family Church into Your plans and purposes for us. To God be all the glory and honor and praise forever and ever. Amen!

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