The Beacon


"We who are many are One Body, because we all share one bread and one cup."

"TAKE THESE PROPHETS, TAKE THESE PEOPLE AND LIGHT UP THE WORLD" -- With these words Tom Shenk opened the second Parish Profile Committee (PPC) sponsored seminar designed to gather input from the parish regarding the characteristics we will be looking for in our next Rector. Following up on Fr. Bob Honeychurch's first session entitled "Sharing Our Stories: Personal Histories at COS", Tom asked us to address "What We Do Well And Beyond". I did not count the house, but I believe there were approximately 45 Prophets in attendance. While the two hour time frame did not allow us to shine a light on the world, we did indeed shine a bright light on THE Church of Our Saviour!

Tom, introduced by PPC Chair Paul Kilian as a "famous facilitator of fortitude, frankness, and finesse" especially qualified "to front our fruitful" discussion, lived up to his billing in spades. However, before he engaged us in responding to his three questions, he delivered what he characterized as a "Sermonette", the gist of which was his challenge to us to keep in mind "what people say about our BRAND when we're not in the room."

Then, he divided us Prophets into tables of six or seven before asking the first of three questions.  My table was typical of every other one, a diverse representation by tenure, age, gender and constituency . Designated as the table facilitator, my 'peeps' were Anne Peplow, Ben Harrington, Will Dumain, Joanna Cory, Ivy Qi and Ray Lew who is 'church' shopping and has been joining us over the last month.

Question # 1: Why Do You REALLY Come To Church? -- At first, you would think this would be easily answered, but Tom's emphasis on REALLY caused our table to hesitate longer than one might have expected. It certainly did for me, but we facilitators are a pushy lot! Here's what we came up with, in no particular order: "I need church." "Always has been a part of my life." "This holy place brings me closer to God." "Faith, Friends and Family." "A safe haven." "Our inclusiveness." "The Sermons." "Church challenges me." "It refills me."

My take away: As with the diversity of views of COS's history last week, every single one of us sees things based on a very subjective perspective. That said, I believe these Seminars are REALLY beneficial because they serve to open the eyes and ears of us Prophets to the reality that every point of view has merit even if isn't my priority.

Question # 2: Who Are We, REALLY? -- Just in case we didn't take REALLY seriously, Tom added for our consideration this statement -- "The healthiest organizations are the ones which have REALLY fierce views of their realities." Interestingly, rather than causing us to be hesitant, the answers this time came fast and furiously. The very first response at out table was "we have lost momentum", and I was somewhat surprised by how much of a consensus there was from across room later about this. At one point, one Prophet said: "COS is CONFUSED!" Others chimed in with variations of the same theme, mixed with praise for what we have going for us ranging from our liturgy, the sanctuary, the campus and our multiple Outreach Ministries. After listening to this exchange, our visiting Prophet Ray Lew volunteered one of the best comments of the morning: Based on his impressions to date, he would drop the 'CON' and the 'ED' from 'CONFUSED' and replace it with two words -- 'A FUSE'. From his perspective, "it (COS) is ready to be lit!", becoming an even more vital faith based institution in the future. Sue and I share this view.

If you want a quick summary of why Ray AND we believe the above, I recommend that you pick up a copy of a parish handout entitled "Concentric Circles of BLESSINGS at THE CHURCH OF OUR SAVIOUR". I put this together prior to the celebration of our 150th Anniversary; and although some of the sections need to be revised, it still is a relevant summary of who we are. FYI, following a concept I first heard from The Rev. Canon Denis O'Pray, I divided our parish life into four Concentric Circles: Inner Circle -- WITHIN THE SANCTUARY; Circle 2 -- WITHIN THE GATES OF 535 WEST ROSES ROAD; Circle 3 -- THE GREATER COMMUNITY; and Circle 4 -- IN THE WORLD. If you were to read this pamphlet, I think you would agree with Ray's view.

Question # 3: What Do We Want To Become? -- More from Ray. "You know I just discovered your beautiful fountain in the Messler Columbarium? Of all the churches I have visited, you are the only one that provides such a wonderfully serene setting where people can reflect and pray." For me, his observation pretty much summed up what COS is now and what it can become with inspired, coordinated leadership. From the Messler Fountain to St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Galilee, we have so much to offer. We do not need to reinvent the wheel; we have have so much already in place as you will note if you read "Concentric Circles of BLESSINGS".

Thinking about all of this after commenting about how COS has the opportunity to establish a 21st century model of what a faith based community can be, I recommend that you all (but most particularly the Parish Profile Committee) read Parker Palmer's "Let Your Life Speak". Although written to guide individuals in assessing their personal Journeys, I think the first fifty pages also are relevant to institutions like ours. The Bottom Line: We have many gifts AND some things which we are not very good at. Our focus going forward should be on those many areas where we excel. That said, I do not think this is a zero sum situation where, for instance, we should be emphasizing our ministries within inside 535 West Roses Road over those outside the gates. Rather, I think the approach of the next 'administration' should be to determine what the gifts and interests of our parishioners are and then attempt to direct them to those opportunities which we already provide.

To accomplish this we will need to call a robust and energetic priest who not only can preach and take care of us pastorally but also is an administrator, a networking social media maven, and, dare we say, a bit of a charismatic evangelist!     

WHY ROMANIA?: PARISHIONER LISA MONDORI PROVIDED SOME ANSWERS -- If you attended the Forum, you now know more about Romania than 99% of the population in Southern California. Why? Because that is where Lisa Mondori will be retiring to momentarily. Again, why? It's a long story which she condensed to 45 minutes Sunday morning. She expertly and entertainingly described a Journey which makes my checkered career look pretty pedestrian. It started with law school and then ten years in Japan assisting in their purchases of U.S. assets in the 1980's until the 1989 crash; the Peace Corp at age 45 where she was posted to northeast Romania for 2 years; five years in a law firm in California; and ultimately joining World Vision International as an attorney focusing on the Balkans and the Middle East for 10 1/2 years. Along the way, in 2010 she bought half of a plot in the region of Bucovina where she had previously been posted and had made friends. This is a very rural area bordering Ukraine and is increasingly known for the concentration of its Painted Monasteries.

As she began to think about her retirement, her Romanian friends convinced her to join them in building two cottages on the property they had purchased together. Although this process has provided her with many unexpected surprises, the cottage is nearly completed; and the pictures of her new home she showed us look very attractive. She will be heading over there soon.

Having been aware for sometime of Lisa's plan, we had had some discussions about the draw of Romania other than friends. She addressed this briefly Sunday, and I want to take this opportunity to expand on her decision because I think it is something far too few people in this country are thinking about. Here is the other DRAW for her: She can live there very, very comfortably on her Social Security. Yes, there is inflation, but the cost of living is such that she does not have to worry about affording whatever life style she decides to choose.

Were she to stay in California, this would not be the case. Housing is unaffordable, rents continue to rise, the safety nets of Social Security and Medicare continue to be reduced, AND we all are living much longer than was ever anticipated, thus challenging the sustainability of many people's resources. For an in depth study into what the U.S. is facing as the upcoming 'silver tornado' of retirees begins to materialize, I recommend that you google "America Is Running Out Of Family Caregivers, Just When It Needs Them Most". Some things for you to consider: 1) Every day 10,000 people turn 65 -- In 2020 there will be 56 million people 65 and older, up from 40 million in 2010! 2) Today 34.2 million people provide unpaid care to those 50 and older -- These caregivers, 95% family, provide an estimated $500 billion worth of free care annually, three times Medicaid's professional long term spending. 3) A full time home health care aide costs on average $49,000 a year, a nursing home private room close to $100,000. 4) Affordable long term health care insurance is either unaffordable now (because of increased life expectancy) or not offered at all. One way to avoid the above potential problems -- MOVE TO ROMANIA!

SOME RELEVANT STORIES TO INTRODUCE AT YOUR NEXT COCKTAIL PARTY -- Keep in mind that one reason for Lisa making her decision is that she did not own her own home so she did not have any equity to supplement her retirement.

1) A house on North Myrtle in Monrovia where Lisa lived just sold for over $900,000. It contains about 1,200 square feet!

2) My brother tells me that Clark (Las Vegas) and Washoe (Reno) Counties in Nevada are growing rapidly because California residents are moving east to purchase affordable housing AND to avoid paying a state income tax.

3) The Diocese of Los Angeles has over 140 parishes and mission churches. Unfortunately, many have sold their Rectories over the years to balance their budgets. So, when it comes time to call a new priest, their options most likely will be limited to candidates already living in Southern California. COS OWNS ITS OUR RECTORY!!!

4) A friend I worked with for twenty years settled in the East Bay in  Northern California; but when her husband retired recently, they decided to leave California to preserve their financial resources. They have bought a nice home in Austin, Texas, for much less and have no state income tax.

5) The Rev. Canon George Woodward who recently retired as Rector of St. Edmund's had moved out of the Rectory and purchased his own home eighteen years ago. Although not in his original retirement plans, he was called to be the Rector of St. Paul's in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. He reports that the equity in his home will go a long, long way there because the cost of living is so much less. By the way, he estimates that half of his parishioners are American citizens who spend at least six months of the year in San Miguel because it is less expensive than home.

6) PIMCO, the world's largest fixed income investment manager, just announced that it will be hiring 1,000 programmer and software professionals to staff a new, state of the art data processing center. Although PIMCO's home office is in Corona Del Mar, the facility will be located in Austin, Texas, for all of the above reasons.

7) While not moving out of the state or the country, Fuller Seminary is relocating from Pasadena for some of the same above reasons, particularly because of the affordability of housing for faculty and students. Interestingly, where Fuller plans to move is to the campus now occupied by the Claremont School of Theology which, for many of same above reasons, is trying to move to Oregon.

The Bottom Line: Anyone approaching retirement these days needs to think creatively about how the next probably long chapter of their Journey is going to look. Just say'in.