Search for homegrown pastor pays off for local church

first_imgCarlson, retired from a banking career, has been happily surprised that Smith has raised the bar on Christian learning. “There are a lot of us who have never learned some of the things he’s brought up, even me, after 65 years as a Presbyterian,” Carlson said. One of the goals for the congregation is to attract younger members and families. St. James Presbyterian was founded in 1952 and enjoyed the golden age of church membership in the San Fernando Valley through the 1960s. But nowadays, could the denomination’s name be a drawback? “Presbyterian comes from the root of a Greek word meaning elder and elder, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean old,” said Smith. “The word refers to people who are elected to govern and make the critical decisions at the church. We are a representative democracy. “Traditionally, also, Presbyterians value education. For generations, you would have encountered pastors who were particularly well-read and informed on issues of the day.” The “frozen chosen” is a mocking term for Presbyterians that longtime member and elder Marianne Willard thinks is funny but not accurate – at least in her case. “People have said to me, `You go to church? You’re so much fun!’ My personal evangelism is to teach Sunday school and tell a joke at the same time,” said Willard, a special-education assistant at Fullbright Avenue Elementary School. “We are a very traditional church but if I want to raise my arm up to praise the Lord – and I usually sit up in front – I do it even if someone’s jaw might be dropping behind me.” Fellowship runs a close second to prayer at St. James Presbyterian Church. “What gets me to church every Sunday? It’s the fellowship. To be with fellow Christians is very important to me,” Carlson said. “If we miss a Sunday, there’s a hole in the week. I don’t know if I could ever do without going.” The fellowship and Christian learning that goes on in small groups is one of the goals Smith is encouraging because it creates a sense of community. The men’s ministry at St. James Presbyterian Church, for example, is very strong. Carlson has been attending for more than a decade, and now leads the 6:15 a.m. Wednesday men’s Bible study meeting. There is also a monthly breakfast fellowship where men gather to cook, eat and talk. “My challenge as a pastor is helping people to recognize that there is something more to what they would expect at church,” Smith said. “I think many people are looking for a power beyond themselves. I think they want to live their lives with satisfaction, fulfillment and purpose. I’d like people to learn that Jesus is it. Jesus is the key to life.” The congregation at St. James Presbyterian Church is proud of its longevity and stability. Both have been tested over the years but especially when the 1994 Northridge Earthquake resulted in Sunday service tent meetings until a new building was completed in 1998. “If you come on a Sunday, maybe you are thinking that you don’t know much about being a Christian. But actually, we’re all searching and growing toward that,” said Willard. “The best way to get to know St. James is to come three Sundays in a row. Just come, eat, listen and pray. Join in for the search for a better life.” The Rev. Steven R. Smith will lead the 10:30 a.m. Sunday service, St. James Presbyterian Church, 19414 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana. Dial-a-prayer, (818) 345-1953. Call (818) 345-2057. (818) 713-3708160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Meanwhile, the Rev. Steven Smith was with a church in Illinois and not pushing his resume. And the St. James Presbyterian Church’s pastor search committee was seeking a candidate living in Southern California – mainly so there wouldn’t be housing sticker shock. “God was in the thing. It wasn’t supposed to happen. My goodness, they were praying for me. I found that impressive,” said Smith, a native Californian who accepted the post in July 2006. “What attracted me to them was they’re serious about prayer. Prayer is the engine that drives this church.” Smith’s dry humor and intellectual style of sermon delivery is a perfect match for the congregation that includes many who are in, or retired from, white-collar professions. TARZANA – They pray before and after church committee meetings. They pray that people have a good vacation. They pray for people’s safety. They especially prayed for a new pastor. “We prayed our legs off to find someone. We are very prayer-based,” said Paul Carlson, a member of last year’s pastor search committee at St. James Presbyterian Church in Tarzana. “We wanted a Bible-based preacher whose sermons were based on Bible verses, not current events. We prayed for a teacher-administrator and a confidante for the congregation.” last_img