140 years of witness

It can be easy to be misunderstood when serving Jesus Christ.
The first pastor of St. John’s Presbyterian Church in San Francisco found it necessary in 1870 to rebut accusations that the church at Bush and Mason Streets was for rich people only.
In a San Francisco Record opinion article, it was noted that although the church was charging an annual pew fee for a seat, that poor families could get a seat for no fee. Also, a “colored freedman” received communion.
Rev. Dr. John Anderson gave us a history lesson during St. John’s 140th anniversary. He also pointed out our current sanctuary at Arguello and Lake is an almost exact replica of that original building. It was dedicated on Easter Sunday in 1906, but almost demolished just days later by the 1906 earthquake.
Although the building is a National Historic Landmark, the church is defined by the faith of its members. Dr. Anderson said the church committed to spend 25 percent of its budget on outside missions during the Great Depression in the 1930s.
It’s a legacy Dr. Anderson has heightened during 20 years as head of staff. The service also doubled as his anniversary thanks to the inventive mind of associate pastor Rev. Theresa Cho, who had been working furtively for weeks to come up with appropriate surprises.
First, she presented him with a bound photo volume of the baptisms and weddings which Dr. Anderson has officiated in recent years.
Then many of the 85 children in the church displayed artwork featuring words which reminded them of the pastor. The kids laid hands on him in prayer after presenting a prayer shawl decorated with imprints of their hands.
Elder Douglas Olds, about to be installed as a minister of word and sacrament in a couple of weeks, spoke on behalf of the church leadership. He said Dr. Anderson had shown them all how to act courageously in spite of controversy.
His ministry has extended as far as the Holy Land, perennially visiting the Palestinian Authority to plant olive trees.
As Dr. Anderson concluded in his sermon, we are all called to be witnesses through our own experiences, not just what we hear from the pulpit.
From the day before, I shared my own vignette while leading the Harvest Pantry. Our system to serve 300 households in an orderly fashion is to assign numbers to arrive during specific 15-minute intervals. We assign numbers every three months.
This can be frustrating for people who come to the pantry expecting to be helped on the spot. We give the option of helping as a client volunteer for those who come between the number assignments.
A woman stormed up to the door Saturday morning pointing at me and accurately charging that I had turned her away the week before with the suggestion to volunteer. I agreed with her and repeated our policy.
She turned and flipped me a bird. A couple of high school volunteers were next to me at the time and I could tell from their eyes they were wondering how I could be so heartless.
I told them sometimes the best way to help someone is to tell them no.
About 20 minutes later, the woman drove up, opened her trunk and began unloading bags of artisan baked bread. The two wide-eyed students began carrying it into the church to distribute. Apparently, she had been so angered that she realized she had her own resources to draw from.
As stately as the building appears, our real testimony is through the service of the many members who practice their faith through service.