Today in the Mission Yearbook

Presbyterian panel relates two compelling Matthew 25 stories


The presbyteries of Giddings-Lovejoy and Pacific share dramatic accounts with those attending the Polity, Benefits and Mission Conference

December 9, 2023

Dr. Corey Schlosser-Hall, at right, moderated a panel that included, from left, the Revs. Liz Kanera, Cedric Portis Sr., Linda Culbertson, Heidi Worthen Gamble and Ryan Landino. Photo by Randy Hobson.

Panelists from the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy and the Presbytery of the Pacific regaled those attending the Polity, Benefits and Mission Conference with the innovative Matthew 25 work going on in their jurisdictions — one related to affordable housing and the other to racial justice

The Rev. Ryan Landino, presbytery leader at the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy, told the story of the loan debt that was saddled years ago on Third Presbyterian Church, a predominantly Black congregation in St. Louis. Alongside Landino on the panel were the pastor of the church, the Rev. Cedric Portis Sr., and the Rev. Liz Kanerva, the associate presbytery leader. 

According to Landino, the upshot was that two white churches had benefitted from a property transaction while repair issues were left with Third Presbyterian Church. “The claim was all parties would give up something equally, but that wasn’t the case,” Landino said. “We made the decision to try to do what we can to make it right” by centering restoration, wholeness and repair. 

Two motions were made during the most recent presbytery meeting. One was to forgive all the debt that Third Presbyterian Church had acquired. The second was to repay all of the principal and interest Third had paid. The first motion passed 96-1. The second was approved by a count of 90-3. The price tag, he said, would be nearly $721,000. 

“In the middle of all this, I got a call from a bank,” Landino said. Proceeds from an estate with no successor were to go to a church in the presbytery that had closed. Instead, the presbytery would receive the largesse — $810,000 in all. 

“It was a literal example of manna from heaven in response to faithfulness,” Landino said. 

Portis said the movement of the Spirit “was unbelievable” during the presbytery meeting. “Immediately after, people hugged me and asked, ‘What does it feel like to be debt free?’ I said, ‘You’ll have to check back in six months. I’ve never ministered without this yoke.’” 

The presbytery “stared guilt in the face,” Portis said. “They didn’t run away from that guilt. They just stared it in the face. It took a lot of courage to do that.” 

“I’d be lying if I said race didn’t play a role in what transpired, but I’m excited by the direction we are heading in,” Portis said, “to forgive the debt and give us the start that we needed.” 

“We as a church are doing fine, and we’re excited for what the future holds,” Portis said. “We are excited about being true to our Matthew 25 covenant.” 

Kanerva wondered: “Can you have repair without repentance?” 

“I was born and raised in this presbytery. White folks in this presbytery have a lot of repentance work to do,” Kanerva said. “The Spirit is moving around us, but the repentance work is still there.” 

Next, panelist moderator Dr. Corey Schlosser-Hall, deputy executive for Vision and Innovation at the Presbyterian Mission Agency, turned to the Rev. Linda Culbertson, who’s served as general presbyter of the Presbytery of the Pacific for more than 30 years, and the Rev. Heidi Worthen Gamble, the presbytery’s mission catalyst. The presbytery voted last year to accept the Matthew 25 invitation. “We said we will follow our churches and share our stories about the work we’re engaged in,” Culbertson said. 

Worthen Gamble told the story of how a small number of Presbyterians working on housing issues in Los Angeles County worked hard to convince the California State Assembly to pass a law last year creating funding mechanisms to help build affordable housing in one of the nation’s most expensive markets. 

“I did not expect my folks [on the presbytery’s Homeless & Housing Task Force] to get on it like they did,” Worthen Gamble said. “They said, ‘We’ve got this. The Lord will do this,’ and I could reassure the coalition these are praying Presbyterians, and we are going to keep on keeping on.” 

SB 679 passed the California State Assembly without a vote to spare. 

“That would not have happened without Presbyterians,” Worthen Gamble said. “This affordable housing solutions agency [created by the law] has the potential to be a game-changer. But that’s another story for another day.” 

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Matthew 25 stories shared at the Polity, Benefits and Mission Conference

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Shelvis, and Nancy Smith-Mather, Mission co-workers serving in South Sudan, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Rebecca Snipp, Administrative Project Manager, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray

Dear Father, thank you for the opportunities you have given us to spread your word. Help us to serve you in all our words and actions and to show your love to the entire world. Thank you. Amen.