Response to Shooting at Sal Castro Middle School

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the students, parents and teachers at Sal Castro Middle School and the adjacent Belmont High School after the unfortunate shooting on Thursday morning that left four students and one staff injured.  Sal Castro Middle School shares a campus with Belmont High School in the Westlake District of L.A. Both were under lock-down as police made initial investigation and took one 12-year-old middle school girl into custody. No one was killed, fortunately.

One of our SGPUMC members, George Shafer works at Belmont and was a part of the LAUSD team that assisted the wounded students. According to news reports, police consider the shooting to have been accidental. The middle school student brought a hand gun to school in her backpack, which was accidentally dropped and the weapon fired, inflicting the injuries.

This raises multiple questions, such as how a 12 year old could possibly acquire a live firearm and bring it to a school campus. Further questions and likely incriminations will follow. In the meantime, according to reports, the police have advised parents and students to be vigilant. As well, gun safety and safe-keeping should be the highest priorities for families that have guns in the home. Children should not have access to loaded guns. We must also continue to talk about our society’s obsession with guns and how both new legislation and enforcement of existing laws can prevent us from killing ourselves.

While police are still investigating why the student had a gun, we need to address some possible reasons. Was she being bullied? We need to help children and adults to find ways of safeguarding their dignity from bullying without resorting to violence or the threatened use of violence, like bringing a gun to school.

After an event like this there will be psychological as well as physical scars. So let us pray for this school, its students, teachers and parents to recover from this senseless violence. Let us pray for all our schools, preschools, religious schools and organizations that they might be places of safety, peace and hope.

Given the potential for such events at schools, businesses and churches, we do need to be prepared. Sage Granada Park UMC will be hosting a Situational Awareness Training by the Alhambra Police Department on Wednesday, February 21, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon. For more information please email

The Lights of Christmas

It’s always fun this time of year to drive through neighborhoods brightly lit with extravagant lights and Christmas decorations. Sadly, many of our southland neighborhoods, from San Diego to Ventura Counties, face a more fearsome extravaganza with massive fires fueled by dry bush and extreme Santa Ana winds. Christmas for many southlanders will not be so merry this year, as families assess the loss of homes and cherished valuables

One of the lectionary texts for the second Sunday of Advent recognizes the urgency of fire: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire…” (2 Peter 3:10). As always there are those who are quick to say that the fires are God’s judgment on some sinful act. I don’t think it is appropriate to make such claims. I think there will be enough self-recrimination among those who have lost homes: If only we had been more prepared when we were told to leave. If only we’d had a bigger buffer from the wildlands or the neighbors. If only we had bought in a safer location. If only…

The event of tragedy is not a good time to point blaming fingers, whether at others or ourselves. When calamity happens it’s time to do what we can to pick up the pieces. And we know who are neighbors are by the way they reach out to offer a hand.

Of course neighbors should also know when to stay out of the way. Save your lookie loos for Christmas decorations, not destroyed homes. Give room for emergency crews and those connected with the properties to do what they need to do.

There are practical ways to help. Unless you know someone who will take specific items, there are appropriate organizations that can turn your money into assistance.   Contribute through your church, work or civic organization. You can give online to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) U.S. Disaster Response #901670 Fund; or the Red Cross, or the United Way of Ventura County which has set up a Thomas Fire Fund, to name a few.

Sage Granada Park United Methodist Church encourages acts of mercy and justice, especially as we consider God’s gracious gift of Jesus Christ on Christmas day. We are in the midst of Advent, the period of anticipation. We are called to make our lives, our households and our world ready for the Lord’s coming. Remember those who suffer locally. Also remember those who seek justice and mercy in the Middle East.

On December 24 we will observe the 4th Sunday of Advent during our morning worship, 9:30 a.m. That night at 5 p.m. we will observe our Christmas Eve Candle Light service, a joyful time of music and reflection as we light the Christ candle. This year find yourself at home in a faith community.

You will be welcome at Sage Granada Park United Methodist Church, 1850 W. Hellman in Alhambra.

Racism is Sin

SGPUMC web Aug 26, 2017
George R Martzen

Racism is Sin

The resurgence of hate speech and racist motivated groups in our society are reminders that we have work to do as a nation, as a church and as a human race. The alarming clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the likelihood of more to come, demonstrate, sadly, that racism against African Americans was not washed away by the blood of the Civil War 160 years ago. And while we have moved away from the old exclusionary laws against Japanese and Chinese, along with racist attitudes against toward Latinos and others, we are still a nation that harbors white supremacist groups. We have a long ways to go before the fulfillment of the dream in which children can grow up in “a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin.”

And Methodism, one of North America’s largest Christian movements, is right in the middle of the racist fermentation. Methodists haven’t always agreed with each other on how to name racism. But we are on good footing if we recall how our founder, John Wesley, viewed the racism of slavery. A priest in the Church of England, he personally witnessed some of the worst of slavery during his years as a missionary in Georgia in the 1730s. He opposed slavery, not just the violence of the slave trade, but in principle: “Long and serious reflections upon the nature and consequences of slavery have convinced me, that it is a violation both of justice and religion” (John Wesley, Thoughts upon Slavery, 1774). Slavery was obviously harmful for the enslaved person, but it also destroyed the character and society of the slave master as well. Wesley was part of the growing English abolitionist movement, which would include William Wilberforce, a Member of Parliament. Wesley corresponded with him in him until 1791, encouraging him to oppose the “execrable villany” of slavery, in the hope that “even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away” (John Wesley’s Letters – February 24,1791).

England did ban the slave trade in 1807, but in America it continued to flourish with the demand for slaves. Methodist opposition to African slavery was not clear-cut. In 1784 the founding meeting of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, stated that slavery was “contrary to the Golden Law of God.” Unfortunately, many church leaders kept slaves anyway, especially in southern states where farming depended on cheap labor. In 1844 southern Methodist conferences split from the denomination over the issue of slavery, a schism that was not mended until 1939.

Since then, our views have been more clear-cut. The United Methodist Social Principals call racism a sin in both its personal and institutional manifestation, being “antithetical to the gospel, opposing… Therefore, we recognize racism as sin and affirm the ultimate and temporal worth of all persons. We rejoice in the gifts that particular ethnic histories and cultures bring to our total life” (The United Methodist Social Principles: Social Community).

But even naming racism for what it is only begins to get rid of it. We must also find the way forward. One way to move forward is by taking seriously our weekly worship gatherings, to confess our sins and our complicity with racism, and to take seriously what it means to be the body of Christ. When the church sees itself as the body of Christ there is the possibility of unity in diversity. No one is more or less valuable because of skin color, ethnicity or gender. The ethos that we seek to embody in our gatherings and wherever we go is the self-giving love of Jesus Christ. In that there is no room for racism.


Easter has been the most significant event in the Christian calendar for nearly 2000 years.

The holiday comes with lots of fun activities and traditions, including stories of Easter egg hunts, bunnies and chocolate eggs. However, the central Christian message of Easter is that Jesus Christ rose victorious from the dead. The event of Jesus’ resurrection is so central to the confessions of the early Church that even today, 2000 years later, most Christians continue to worship on Sunday, the weekly anniversary of that resurrection.

The background of Easter is a story of great expectation, intrigue and treachery.   Jesus of Nazareth became known throughout Roman occupied Palestine for his compassion, authentic preaching and miracles, as well as his prophetic challenge to the leaders of his people. By his life and testimony he was recognized by many as the Messiah, the Jewish term for a divinely appointed king. But he was tragically betrayed by one of his own disciples, falsely accused, tried, and then handed over to the civil authorities as a criminal. On a gloomy Friday he was executed by a method the Romans used to crush insurrections, crucifixion. As a result most of his disciples fled in fear.

However, three days later, by Jewish reckoning, Jesus rose from the dead. Some of his followers found his tomb empty. Soon others reported various encounters, seeing him, conversing with him and even eating with him. Just as important they discovered even in his physical absence a new capacity and fervor share the good news of the kingdom of God that Jesus had spoken of.

His disciples spread the news of his life, death and resurrection through the network of Jewish synagogues, but many refused to accept the claims. The Jesus movement soon spread west into Greek and Latin speaking communities, as well as toward the east, south and north. As Christianity spread it took on the diverse flavors the cultures where it was planted, but held together by a common witness to the resurrection, as expressed in the faithful witness:

“Christ is risen.

          He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”

At Sage Granada Park United Methodist Church we seek to continue this witness through word and action, not only on Easter Sunday, but throughout the year. Come join us at 9:30 on Sunday morning, our weekly anniversary of the resurrection of Jesus.