“We are a part of something bigger than ourselves—much, much bigger than Mountainside Communion,” Josh reminded us a recent Sunday in his sermon. It is so easy for us to become myopic, focusing intensely on our tiny, short existence, and our immediate individual and communal struggles. We are willing to give our lives to God and to serve others, but we become frustrated when we don’t see the impact of our noble intentions or a clear path forward. Yet, God is working before us and beyond us. Yes, He does work through us as individuals and as a community in our daily lives, but I believe that to a greater extent He is working before us and beyond us and through generations.
In 1975, my mother, Jan, decreased her workload as a nurse because she had two young children at home. However, always one to keep herself busy and challenged, she asked her pastor at Bresee Church of the Nazarene in Pasadena, “What can I do to help out?”
He said, “We need someone to start our church preschool.”
“Okay, I’ll do it,” she replied. Jan later recounted how naïve she was to jump into this project. She had no experience in education, and no idea what she was doing, but she launched into the work anyway.
She set out to hire a Director for the preschool. Eventually she received a call from a woman named Robin who was curious about the position. From the point of the initial conversation on the phone, Jan knew for sure that Robin was a woman of God, and that she was the right person for the job. Robin was hesitant because she had never heard of the Church of the Nazarene and wondered if she could work within it. She was also hesitant because she was pregnant with her first child (Josh), and was concerned about working too many hours with a newborn at home.
Jan convinced her. Robin set out on faith, took the job, and began attending the Nazarene church. She developed a successful preschool and she and Jan, along with their husbands Len and Warren, became very close friends. For forty years they worked in the church together, worshiped together, had fun together, and supported each other’s families. They developed an even larger network of loving friends in the church. Their kids grew up together. Josh (our pastor) and I, and our siblings, and the many other kids in these families, were blessed to feel held and loved and supported by all the strong, consistent, Christian adults who were our parents’ friends.
Robin found more than a new home in the Nazarene Church. She continued in ministry within the church, became ordained, and is still a gifted leader and pastor. Although she has dealt with much frustration and many hindrances in ministry related to a lack of support for women pastors within the denomination, Robin views her story and her ministry as God doing more than she could have asked or imagined. Especially since Josh, the child she was so concerned about when she became the preschool Director, also became an ordained minister. By God’s grace, he felt drawn to start a church in Monrovia, the community where he lived, and Mountainside Communion was born.
This is how Robin now playfully describes the story: “It was in May of 1975 that I made that fateful call that changed my life, and secured the foundation for my then unborn child, that I was so worried about in taking on a full time job, with a church I knew nothing about! Oh my . . . God is so incredibly good.”
Because of the deep trust I have for Robin, seeing her and knowing her consistently throughout my life, she has become a mentor to me as I have struggled with my own frustrations and hindrances within my career in medicine. One day, when talking with her about questions and circumstances, she said a very direct, profound and important thing to me. It has changed the way I view life, my role, and the way I see God and the church.
She said, “Charise, it’s not about you. I have learned that our circumstances are never just about us. There is a bigger story being written, and in fact you may never even know what God is doing. What God was doing in my life back then was not about me. It was about my children. It was about women having a place in ministry. It was about Mountainside Communion.”
As I am getting older, I can see a bit of the larger story. God was working through Jan and Robin in what was going on in their lives at the time they met. But He was also working beyond them. At the beginning of their friendship back in 1975, and even before them through previous generations, God was working toward a small, quirky, and edgy church in Monrovia called Mountainside Communion. It was something they had no idea about, and something they could not possibly have understood at the time. God was present in their naiveté, their intentions, their work, their frustrations, and their families.
My parents, Jan and Warren, were founding members of Mountainside Communion ten years ago because they supported and believed in Josh, the boy they had known his entire life—their friends’ son. Jan has recently passed away, but her presence continues to be felt in Mountainside Communion. She was particularly gifted at welcoming new people, almost all of who were significantly younger and different than her. She offered love, prayer, and wisdom to all of us. Her influence in the church and in the lives of others is impossible to completely know or describe. It was the rippling effect of God’s love beyond her.
Robin, Len, and Warren continue to be a consistent and stable presence in Mountainside Communion. They offer wisdom, teaching, work, and support for the church and the many people who have come.
My husband Josh I. and I also joined in to the founding of Mountainside because we knew and liked and trusted Josh, my childhood friend, and his wife Ari. Ten years later they are our closest friends, as are others in the church who have come together alongside Josh and Ari in their ministry. God has brought many people together in life through Mountainside Communion. There is a generation of adults loving each other and helping one another navigate life.
And now the next generation of children in the story are growing up together. There are currently about seventy children who are part of the larger story of Mountainside Communion. Imagine the ripple effect of all of our lives! I wonder what God has in store?
Mountainside Communion is a church that God is using to nourish and challenge and change all of us who come. We develop relationships through our shared work, and God is using our work and working through our relationships and in our families today. But even still, what God is doing is not about us. It is not even about Mountainside Communion. It is much bigger. It is before us and beyond us and through generations.