We here in the California-Pacific Conference have experienced some challenging and difficult times recently. Life is always a challenge, but sometimes we experience tragedy at a rate far beyond what is normal and natural. Such has been our recent experiences.
With the global ecological destruction, our wildfires have been severe throughout California. We have witnessed this devastation firsthand in our Northern areas and in the Malibu Canyon. Although our UMC churches were saved from burning, some of our local church members lost homes and property in the fire’s wake. We praise God that it was not worse, but we continue to keep all of those who lost homes and possessions in our prayer.
We have also discovered we are far from immune to mass shootings, and the senseless loss of life at the Borderline Bar and Grill hits all too close to home. A former young adult member of our UMC, Noel Sparks was one of the victims, and her Mother still attends our Westlake Village UMC. Our hearts grieve for this family, as well as the other families who lost loved ones in this mass shooting. We still have very few answers to why this all happened, and theologically there are no easy and simple responses. Perhaps our own tears mirror what God is experiencing in this tragedy.
We have lost some of the saints and giants of our annual conference. Jim Brewster, Ana Maria Dominguez, Ken McMillan, Emilio Müeller, Ilse Peetz, and Bob Shepard just to name a few. Although we celebrate their lives, we and their families will miss them greatly. We know that the glory of eternal life will be theirs, but it still stings to not have them among us physically.
Finally, we live amidst the uncertainty of what will happen to our denomination at the Special Called Session in February. At stake is a viable future or perhaps the split of our church and we just do not know what direction our elected delegates will take. The uncertainty and fear are running across our world-wide church and we struggle to keep our anxiety in check.
With these dark clouds hovering over us, this Advent and Christmas season comes to us, perhaps right on time. We need to remember the uncertainty and fear of Mary and Joseph in their time. We also need to remember their response: Against fear, it was not necessarily courage, but faith. Courage is overrated, but faith is so grounded in God that it is the perfect foil to fear. If we remain faithful to God, there will be a positive way forward for all of us, and we need not fear anything.
When I was a young seminary student studying at Claremont, my maternal family faced a very bleak Christmas. Three of the siblings, including my Mom had all died in their early 40’s, and my Uncle’s unexpected death left a fairly new widow and an unborn child he would never know. How to make sense of this to our family was a theological challenge for a young seminarian. Sitting in a cold living room, lamenting our latest loss, I will never forget the emptiness and sorrow of that cold December day. Yet, I felt deep in my soul that God had not abandoned us, and we would be able to pick up the pieces of our family life.
Through the years, each of the cousins would marry and have children of their own. From that sad family day with just a few of us survivors would spring dozens upon dozens of grandchildren, children and signs of new life. From the despair and loneliness God would provide joy and newness.
Let us remember what is about to spring forth: The symbolic birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ who brings hope, love and faith to all! We cannot, nor should not try to escape the pain of our recent losses, but we can be a people of hope. We can respond to fear and sadness with faith. We can demonstrate to all who can see that we are most of all a people of faith, and that faith is the greatest power in all the world!
Be the Hope,
Bishop Grant J. Hagiya
Los Angeles Area Resident Bishop