A New Beginning
I haven’t written it before but this column is based on three tenets: That “meaning” essentially enriches our lives; that faith in God is our primary source of meaning; and that worshiping together shapes that faith. Thus, the installation of Rev. Steve Sweet as senior pastor for Laguna Presbyterian Church last Saturday carries unusual meaning. Here are a few reasons.
First, the history of Laguna Presbyterian Church is the history of Laguna itself. The Riverside orange growers who built the first beach cottages brought their faith with them. They first met in the Ferris home, then funded a town hall, the Pavilion, where our Art Association later got its start. When the church was formally organized in 1917, Joe Thurston, the original resident who never left, and noted artist Anna Hills, the force behind our museum, were founders. Today, the restored campus graces our downtown, reflecting the hope of Hills in the beginning that commercialism not dominate. An early idea worth preserving today.
Second, the congregation is unusual for its tradition of support to their pastors. Across the country, pastors tend to wear out their welcome around the seven-year mark. But Laguna Presbyterian has had just three senior pastors in nearly a century: Rev. Raymond Brahms in 1925, Rev. Dallas Turner, 1949, and Rev. Jerry Tankersley, called in 1972. Sweet was called last December, his installation delayed by the pandemic.
Third, the calling is meaningful because the pandemic has kept us all from worshipping together for over a year. As noted in last week’s column, though we have not been able to worship in public during the pandemic, many have found a spiritual awakening in private. Thus, the pandemic offers a reset opportunity for our churches, a chance for new inspiration in how we worship, and to build on this increased devotion.
Finally, there’s a love story. Pastor Sweet grew up without a religious tradition. In high school, often a time of spiritual awakening, his girlfriend invited him to attend church with her family. He did, and it changed his life. The change was enough that during college the idea of a life of service in the ministry began to grow on him. Sweet attended the noted Fuller Seminary in Pasadena. Upon graduation, now married, he was invited to come to Laguna Presbyterian as director of youth outreach. So, he and his new wife came to Laguna in 1992 and have never left. All who know Sweet know his wife and partner—Jennifer, the high school sweetheart who first invited him to church.
An interesting idea arises from this story: That young kids in love invite their sweetheart to attend church with them. Making worship part of their relationship changed the lives of Steve and Jennifer, and it could for many others too.
When I returned from the installation service and interview with Pastor Sweet I told the Beautiful Wife he seemed more shepherd than pastor. A phrase from the service has lingered, that in his new calling, Pastor Sweet “guide in the ways of the Lord.” There’s meaning in that.
Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email: [email protected]
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