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#GivingTuesday wraps up with communion and stories of committed Presbyterians

With stops in Austin and Los Angeles, the online event examines immigration, homelessness and hunger

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Leon Bloder of Shepherd of the Hills Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas, invites online worshipers to the Lord’s Supper. (Screenshot)

LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s #GivingTuesday broadcast came to a close with a communion service from Austin, Texas, and presentations on churches and a committed mid council caring for immigrants and people without housing or enough to eat.

Watch the Facebook Live broadcast here. Make a #GivingTuesday donation here.

Jesus and his dinner companions

As he prepared to break the bread and drink from the cup, the Rev. Dr. Leon Bloder, lead pastor at Shepherd of the Hills Presbyterian Church in Austin, identified the people with whom Jesus often shared meals — disciples, tax collectors, prostitutes, disciples, “and even people who disagreed with him and wished him ill,” Bloder said. “Jesus took great joy in breaking bread and having fellowship.”

Along with John Dominic Crossan and others, Bloder made the case that the real miracle in the feeding of the 5,000 may have been found in the fact that people shared what they had rather than a divine multiplication of the five loaves and two fish Jesus had to work with.

“As we step into Advent and anticipate the one who broke that bread, who called himself the bread of life, we need to be instructed again about how we should live,” Bloder said. “Jesus wanted everyone to know what it means to live open-handed, not in scarcity and lack … We are unwilling to trust there will always be more than enough.”

“This is a table for everyone,” Bloder said, inviting fellow worshipers to join the feast. “No one should be excluded from this table. Jesus welcomes all.”

Welcoming the stranger

The stage shifted to Los Angeles for the final two hours of #GivingTuesday. A four-member panel — Susan Krehbiel with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Catherine Gordon of the Office of Public Witness, and the Rev. Linda Culbertson and Anita Chombeng of the Presbytery of the Pacific — discussed how churches and other organizations can accompany immigrants.

“We are a wide geography of immigrant people who built the City of Angels,” said Culbertson, general presbyter of the Presbytery of the Pacific. Culbertson taught elementary school students for many years before attending seminary and coming to her present work. She recalled an invitation from PDA about seven years ago. “You helped us understand the plight of these unaccompanied minors,” Culbertson told Krehbiel. “That started us on this journey that continues to evolve. It’s created a need for an even greater response.”

Chombeng, the presbytery’s immigrant organizing coordinator, said as an asylee, “I thought the knowledge I gained in the process could help other people in the same situation I was in … My work is accompaniment. What we think people need is not always what they actually need. You have to ask the immigrant how you can be of help. He or she has a right to determine the future. When you make them part of the process, they become more involved.”

Building authentic relationships to tackle homelessness

Remarkable efforts to end homelessness by two churches in the Presbytery of the Pacific, St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Lomita, California, and First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood were on display during this segment. Read about St. Mark’s efforts here. Watch a video on the work of its “mighty women” here.

“Friendship is an essential element. It’s what Jesus calls us to,” said Amie Quigley of the Hollywood church. “Sociologists will tell you a sense of belonging is a key component to the healing process. Friendships help people thrive and share their gifts, and it allows us to create a space for Jesus and growing in faith.”

Together with city partners, the Hollywood church operates Hollywood Winter Refuge, which invites up to 25 neighbors struggling with mental health issues to rest there during the months of January, February and March in order to facilitate their healing.

“As a team we love on people, develop real friendships and offer them a time to be at the church,” Quigley said. “The church building is one of the most important parts of our ministry. It’s not a jail or a hospital or a hotel. All glory to God, we are able to engage and connect friends with services. It’s been a positive experience for our church and for the city.”

“Amie and the mighty women of St. Mark’s are amazing leaders,” said the Rev. Heidi Worthen Gamble, Presbytery of the Pacific’s mission catalyst. “We just need to come together and ignite our connectional system as Presbyterians.”

Those engaged in ministry within the presbytery to people without housing meet monthly and are “in deep prayer for one another,” Worthen Gamble said. “We read Scripture and share stories about how we are inspired to do the ministry we are called to do. We talk about how to connect with service providers and how to think collaboratively and connectionally in your church — how to see the ecosystem of what’s going on and where the gaps are.”

“We see that spiritual component,” Worthen Gamble said. “We can pray with folks and have conversations with folks that no one else can. We can enter spaces through the heart, and that’s a sacred place to be, a place where people are hungry for nourishment. We need each other to do this because it’s very challenging work.”

Responding to hunger concerns in diverse communities

The Los Angeles segment concluded with stories of food ministry at several churches within Presbytery of the Pacific.

“As you can see,” Worthen Gamble said after a couple had shared their stories, “my job is joy.”

The Rev. Heidi Worthen Gamble, at left, mission catalyst for the Presbytery of the Pacific, speaks with Marcella Martinez of Bethesda Presbyterian Church in Gardena, California, during the final segment of the Giving Tuesday broadcast. (Screenshot)

Marcella Martinez, director of youth and children’s ministries as well as food ministry at Bethesda Presbyterian Church in Gardena — where her father, the Rev. Dr. Felipe Martinez, is the pastor —  said even during the pandemic, church youth group members went door-to-door seeking help for neighbors in need. That initial effort, which included selling masks and homemade food and holding car washes, raised enough money to feed 25 families, she said. “We are blessed to have met so many people along the way,” she said. “We were able to adapt to people’s needs.”

Her father said it this way: “We are Presbyterians and we need to provide hope. We need to preach the gospel and we have wonderful resources, but we need to connect and love people to help them change their lives … We have learned that by working together, we are better. As Presbyterians, we are proud to do ministry that helps us grow.”

Bryce Wiebe, director of Special Offerings and the Presbyterian Giving Catalog and the co-host of the Los Angeles segment, summed up why it’s important to hear from partners engaged in faithful ministry.

“These stories matter,” Wiebe said, “and they make a difference because we share them.”

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