New Minister Settles in at Congregational Church

Seeking a new minister, La Cañada Flintridge’s oldest church found the right fit in a 6-foot-6-inch scholar who didn’t grow up going to church but who felt God’s calling at 16 and has followed it all the way from east Texas to Southern California.
The Rev. Kyle Sears launched his tenure with La Cañada Congregational Church last weekend, appropriately, on Launch Sunday, the day the church traditionally celebrates a new Sunday School year with the ceremonial release of doves.
The former church planter whose previous experience was mostly establishing new churches is now taking the lead at a church that was organized in 1897. He’ll attempt to blend lasting customs with fresh ideas, and to pull it off as deftly as he dealt with both grief and celebration Sunday, when he accepted a warm welcome and asked the congregation for a moment of silence on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“Today, across our land, and across the world, there are thousands of families who are in mourning as they remember,” Sears, 36, said. “Lord, you have commanded your saints to mourn with those who mourn, so, Lord, this morning, as we lament the loss of innocent life and the repercussions of war and violence that continue to this day, God, we look to you as the one who is peace and reconciliation, who is justice and goodness to be our comforter, and to comfort those who mourn. May we, in our small way, in lifting up prayers, show the presence of God.”
Sears also was eloquent in offering extemporaneous prayers, at the request of church-goers, for a family who lost a son on 9/11, for a colleague who’d been diagnosed with lung cancer, for a daughter swamped with homework, for earthquake and flood victims, for a grandson who’d recently lost a maternal grandmother, and for the ever-painful loss of a mother and father 10 years earlier.
“I love a church that prays,” Sears said Sunday, when his sermon focused on subversive imagination as a way to explore possible alternative futures and see different points of view.
His debut was well-received.
“I like him so much!” gushed Sylvia Simison, a longtime church member and great-grandmother of 18 who’s been living in LCF since 1949. “I’m so happy to have someone who’s young and with children!”
Together with his wife, Erika, a 3rd-grade teacher at Pasadena’s Mayfield Junior School, Sears is raising three children: Kylie, 12; Kathryn, 9; and YoSeb, 6.
“We’re outnumbered,” joked Sears, who needed only three years to graduate from Mt. Pleasant High School and three more to finish at Baylor University.
He is currently an ordained Baptist minister and is finishing his Master of Divinity degree at Fuller Theological Seminary. He’s also working toward meeting all the requirements for ordination and installation in the United Church of Christ. He hopes to complete that process in about a year’s time.
“There are certainly differences in the way [the churches] are governed and the way they think about the faith, even,” said Sears, whose temporary title with LCCC is that of designated sustaining minister.
“But I found that because I didn’t grow up in the church, I’ve had interactions with Episcopal churches and Lutheran churches and Baptist churches and you name it. I’m kind of a religious mutt in that way, and I’ve found that the UCC really creates a place of welcome for the people who may not have the pedigrees that other denominations want.”
To his point, the La Cañada Congregational search committee cast a wide net while looking for a minister to replace the good-natured Skip Lindeman, who departed this summer after serving the church since 2002.
“We decided to branch out into the philosophical schools in the area, and post [the position] there,” said Priscilla Garcia, the church’s moderator. “And that’s how we ended up with a Baptist minister.”
Pat Anderson, whose late husband, the Rev. Philip Longfellow Anderson, led the congregation for 22 years, helped in the search.
“One thing that impressed me right away was the way he conducts a sermon is very reminiscent of how my husband styled his sermons,” said Anderson, who said she also got positive feedback from fellow churchgoers following Sears’ sermon, as a “substitute,” earlier this year.
“The congregation loved him, and they didn’t know he was a candidate,” she said. “They thought he was one of the substitutes and many of them told me, ‘We have to get him! Put him on your list! Is he on your list?’ I told them I couldn’t discuss that, but I could assure them we would give it every consideration.”
The decision, Garcia said, was unanimous.
As he began settling into his office at the church (a change after years spent dodging Legos in home offices), Sears said he’s eager to get going, promising that he won’t be hard to spot around town.
“I’m wanting to close the distance between the church and the community, because someone closed the distance for me,” said Sears, whose experiences include having served on a planning and zoning commission in Texas.
“I find that there is an overlap between a lot of the heartbeats of people in the community and what the church is called to do. Ages ago, there was this concept of parish ministry, where the local minister was sort of a pastor to everyone, whether they came to church on Sunday or not. … I’m here to serve the community, and this church is here to serve the community.”

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