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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Presbytery of San Fernando celebrates 55 new worshiping communities in 55 years

‘The work is real,’ one NWC director says

April 13, 2024

Members of Oikos 4:45, a new worshiping community whose ministry to address food insecurity was supported by the Presbytery of San Fernando’s fund-matching campaign to celebrate the presbytery’s recent milestone. (Contributed photo)

“God is not yet finished with the Presbyterians!” said Nick Warnes, director of Cyclical LA, a ministry of the Presbytery of San Fernando in California, and executive director of Cyclical INC. Warnes was describing what it meant for him to meet the milestone of 55 new worshiping communities in the 55-year history of the Presbytery of San Fernando.

“The work is real,” said Warnes, who reflected on “the struggle of the institutional church in the West to keep up with the mission of God” and to navigate the hurdles of bureaucracy and the disappointments that a new ministry faces in the midst of cultural change. “Blood, sweat and tears have flowed for everyone involved with faithful innovation.”

According to San Fernando’s executive presbyter, the Rev. Dr. Juan Sarmiento, the presbytery celebrated the “55 in 55” milestone through a communications campaign, a newly edited history of their churches, and a fundraising and fund-matching campaign to support a new worshiping community focused on addressing food insecurity as well as support for mission co-workers and leaders in the commissioning and ordination process.

Nick Warnes directs Cyclical LA, a ministry of the Presbytery of San Fernando.

“San Fernando Presbytery was born in 1968 after almost two decades of rapid expansion fueled by new arrivals to the Los Angeles area and the construction of the freeway system,” said Sarmiento. One of the first actions of the presbytery was the organization of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Westlake Village, California, which was a growing master-planned community known as “a city in the country.” Shortly after that, the presbytery responded to a “notable influx of immigrants into the region by chartering three Korean congregations,” said Sarmiento. Personally, Sarmiento felt a shift in how the presbytery understood evangelism and growth when in 2004 he was elected moderator of the presbytery while serving as the organizing pastor of a new church development.

Over the past decade as the presbytery and Cyclical LA have focused on supporting people discerning new ministry startups, Warnes has seen a shift away from the older model of church-planting connected to geography.

“Overall, our presbytery has done a good job of adapting away from what we call the ‘industrial, location-centered, new church development model,’” said Warnes, who defined this denominational-wide approach as “finding a piece of property where new housing was being developed and setting a goal of building a church building, placing a PC(USA) pastor in the building and gathering people for Sunday worship services and weekly programing … enough to charter and economically sustain the new church.”

Beloved Everybody is one of the 41 current new worshiping communities in the Presbytery of San Fernando. (Contributed photo)

Warnes noted the decline in the success of that model over the past 50 years and the new path that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement has opened for presbyteries and ministries like Cyclical LA. Warnes added that “1001 allowed our denomination to step into a post-industrial and highly adaptive structure, where leaders could be incubated to follow the Holy Spirit.”

For Warnes, the first new worshiping community in the Presbytery of San Fernando under this framework was Northland Village Church, which began to gather in 2009 and “quickly developed an ethos around 2 Corinthians 5 and God’s ministry of reconciliation.”

The Rev. Dr. Juan Sarmiento became executive presbyter of the Presbytery of San Fernando in 2020.

On its home page, the presbytery celebrates the current evangelism numbers, with 41 new worshiping communities currently operating and “217 committed people not previously identifying as Christian.”

“The task of starting a new worshiping community can be daunting and overwhelming,” said Warnes, and so a focus of Cyclical LA’s ministry with the presbytery is a monthly meeting for “discerners” who are given a regular space with one another to dream, pray, learn and experience mutuality. Warnes has heard the stories of more than 200 people through the discerners’ meetings.

Warnes sees the benefits of diversity for all churches and communities of faith across the presbytery and the region. He notes that people come from different contexts and have different needs. Some want funding; others just seek fellowship. Some new worshiping communities affiliate with the PC(USA) and the presbytery, while others do not or operate non-geographically. The diversity of contexts helps the presbytery stay focused on innovation and adaptation and consider the creative solutions to the challenges facing the denomination, its current polity, structure and approach to growth.

Beth Waltemath, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus: Presbytery of San Fernando celebrates 55 new worshiping communities

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Isabella Fidanza, Religious News Services Project Archivist, Presbyterian Historical Society  
Sherri Finke, Ministry Relations Officer, Presbyterian Foundation  

Let us pray

Gracious god, we thank you for those who minister to the sick, the poor, the dispirited, the disenfranchised and all in need of your healing power. May we all strive to spread Jesus’ love and compassion far and wide as we go about our daily lives. Amen.