I woke up on Thursday, November 8th to anything but my usual Thursday morning, day-off routine. My phone was blowing up with the news of a mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill, which is only about five minutes from our home and right smack in the middle of our church context. My wife and I frantically began tracking down people that we knew would have been there, hoping and praying that we would receive word that they were still alive.
What does a new church that does not own property or have a building do to gather people in response to tragedy? I knew right away that waiting until a Sunday would not do.
We did know people that were there that night who survived, while many others, friends of friends, did not survive. After a few hours on the phone with families that were dealing directly with this crisis and with people all over the country who were concerned, I had a moment of panic. What does a new church that does not own property or have a building do to gather people in response to tragedy? I knew right away that waiting until a Sunday would not do.
I grabbed my phone and reached out to Dave Rhode of Westminster Presbyterian Church, Westlake Village. Westminster is my home church and Lightshine’s parent church; I hoped that we could work together to support our community. Before I could even ask, Dave said, “Let’s partner and do something together.” Dave and I, with the help of other staff from both churches, put together a beautiful vigil at WPC that evening. It was without a doubt the most difficult ministry day of my life as the fires had also begun, which precipitated mass evacuations and gridlock on our streets.
Somehow, I barely made it to WPC by 5:00 pm that evening. We hosted people from both our congregations and probably some from the community as well. We prayed together, sang together, and shared together. We began to grieve together. The key word here for me is together.
…it’s better to have good partners than a building.
I was asked to write this brief article to show how our existing churches and new churches can partner together for the work that God has called us to in our community. What a gift a good ministry partnership is! I left this experience thinking, it’s better to have good partners than a building. I am grateful for Dave, for his leadership his friendship, and for his willingness to be in this together.
PCUSA is a connectional church, something that most us genuinely value. Dave and I are also partnering with other PCUSA churches from our neighboring friends in the Santa Barbara Presbytery (Emmanuel, Monte Vista, and Moorpark). It’s good to know that we are not alone when facing tragedy, but the Spirit and our churches walk with us. Priceless!
Written by Rob Douglas, pastor of Lightshine Church in Westlake Village, CA.