When I came to ABC as pastor in 1972, a particularly rowdy crowd of high school kids set the tone for the youth group. Their totally tasteless “Bum’s Banquet” was the highlight of their spring season, and as their young, “with it” new pastor, I participated with my phony magician act. Afterward, indulgent adults congratulated the kids and youth leaders. I met senior citizen Lawrence Juleen on the way out. He wasn’t smiling, and he didn’t offer me a handshake. He just said, “What are you, some kind of comedian?”
That interaction became a symbol to me of how difficult it is for a church congregation to pass the faith on from one generation to another. The memory of Lawrence Juleen’s frowning face came to my mind whenever I would consider some new youth activity or outreach or community engagement. “What would Lawrence say?” became an unconscious test of the limits I was under.
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This week I received an email from a man who was trying to do some research on his grandfather, the Rev. Johan Amandus Carlson, the founding pastor in 1920 of the First Swedish Baptist Church of Pasadena, which in 1966 merged with Altadena Baptist Church. I went to our church’s archives, where we have early documents from both congregations. I had no trouble locating Pastor Carlson and learning some interesting facts from a financial ledger: for instance, that on August 6, 1922, he was reimbursed $5.82 for “paint, etc.” But the most wonderful book, the record of minutes of church business meetings during its first eight years, was closed to me, because every word was in Swedish. I could pick out “Pastor Carlson” every once in a while, but I had no idea what was being said about him.
Fortunately, there was another book, containing the minutes of “The Swedish Baptist Young People’s Society.” Being young and more daring, members of this group boldly took their minutes in English. There I found Pastor Carlson mentioned a few times, but not as particularly close to the young people. Do you know what name kept popping up as one of the more energetic leaders of the group? Yup, Lawrence Juleen! My Lawrence Juleen, the one who was perpetually frowning in my young-pastor’s mind. He had once been part of the youthful growing edge of the church.
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This year’s “Summer Salad Suppers,” sponsored by ACTS*, are focusing on the young people in our various congregations. The July 17 session will be entitled “Passing the Baton.” Jewish and Catholic traditions, of how one generation passes its faith on to the next, have been developed over many centuries, so we have set up a panel discussion on how this is done. Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater and a young man who has experienced his Bar Mitzvah procedure will represent Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center. Father Modesto Perez and a young woman who has gone through her Confirmation classes and ceremony will represent St. Elizabeth Roman Catholic Church. I will have the pleasure of moderating the panel. I think it will be very interesting.
I believe the “passing the baton” process is especially challenging for us old-timers in this day. We don’t seem to understand how differently young people look at the world, the meaning of life and the faith of their parents in an age of rapidly unfolding social media and other edgy technology. We really worry about what they will do with our faith tradition.
In my mind Lawrence Juleen is smiling, saying, “See, now you know how I felt.”
— Pastor George Van Alstine
*Altadena Congregations Together Serving.