Moderator’s Comments

2023 Moderator Report

Welcome to 2024! Vista Grande (aka The Little Church That Could–and Does) is boldly moving into a new year once again. This past year has been one of tremendous transformation and growing into what it means to BE AND DO church!

I view myself and Denise as fairly “new” members of Vista, and 2023 represents my first term as Moderator (our UCC word for what other churches call “council president”). I can only presume that, in the absence of any brewing Articles of Impeachment 🙂 that we did ok? Thanks to all, especially my fellow council members, for tolerating the learning curve and unique Dave-isms that have come along the way through this amazing year.

Where to even begin in summarizing 2023? I’m sure I will miss some things, but let me try, and hopefully, I will spur memories in your mind as well. My overarching theme is this: we have openly expressed a willingness and desire to be working for and with those who are on the margins; this year seems to fully embody the idea of “ask and ye shall receive” (or maybe “OK, put your money where your mouth is”?).

Amazingly, it seems like with every topic I can think of, amazing helpers, resources and partners seem to have almost miraculously appeared right in concert with the area that we are stepping into. Some examples below may help explain what I mean.

First and foremost in my mind is our continuing and growing partnership with Hope COS. This started when Melissa Oskin, the Hope COS director, got in touch with Vista and we agreed we could have our building be a resource for their winter warming shelter initiative for unhoused persons, a mission she was starting up with her new organization, Hope COS.

Both Hope and Vista quickly began realizing how value-aligned we were. If our interaction had been confined simply to warming shelters, that alone would be amazing, Vista is contributing directly to DOZENS OF PEOPLE NOT FREEZING TO DEATH, thanks to the hard work of Melissa and all the Hope COS volunteers, volunteers from Vista, and our willingness to be open and be a resource. But, it did not stop there.

The relationship then grew into their interest in our vacant South Hall…they were looking for a home base from which to carry out their overall mission, and we were looking for tenants, most basically because our basic operating budget counted on some rental income.

It has been amazing to see how these connections grew and blossomed into where we are today. HopeCOS/Hope House is a valued partner that has helped Vista walk into what it means to reach out and be of service to the marginalized in our community…and Hope COS has been a dream tenant: They have transformed South Hall (now Hope House) into an amazing asset for their mission of helping and transitioning and counseling unhoused folks. I was especially pleased when Melissa and Aja gave us a Lunch-and-Learn session this year on the topic of serving the unhoused.

The theme of reaching out has continued, and the next area of note that pops into my mind as I write this is related to our Open and Affirming stance. We stand strong as Kayan, Ethan, and I have had to go out to the flagpole to replace Pride flags that get torn down, or reset our Marquee sign as it gets knocked around, or as I note the “hate mail” we get in our google reviews. The fact that we get hit by some of the same disdain as the folks that we want to stand beside is, to me, a hopeful, if unpleasant, sign that we are at least somewhat on the real “what would Jesus do?” track.

Along these lines, in relation to memorializing the Club Q tragedy and Mallory’s intensive work in this arena, most of us will recall that a major American news media organization, Good Morning America, recorded a video news segment focusing on Mallory and Vista (check it out in case you missed it… ).

I also hit a personal milestone, thanks to Vista being the kind of place that it is, that led to a quote that ties this piece of my report together. I’d always wanted to find an opportunity to go to some sort of Drag Show, I’d always heard what amazing and joyous experiences they were. (Spoiler: I’m a boring bald suburban dad who doesn’t get out much…).

Thanks to Mallory’s connection-ability, we got into a connection with Tiara Latrice who is an organizer of gospel and family drag brunches and shows, and Vista had the good fortune to host 2 such events at our building this year…let me say the reputation of drag shows as being amazing holds up! And Tiara said something that really stuck with me at the end of the show we hosted a short while ago…note that we were hosting a Hope House warming shelter for dozens of folks in our basement at literally the same time as we hosted an evening drag show in our sanctuary. Tiara said in relation to these two events happening together: “This is what church looks like!” All anyone can say to that is “Amen”!

Another note that goes along with the theme of Standing with the Marginalized: recall that in 2023 we got to see the fruits of being one of the few congregations to participate in Rev. Nancy Niero’s Doctoral research–we got an early look at her (spoiler alert: successful!) dissertation defense presentation. Her research was focused on dismantling white silence in the face of racial injustice, where she studied and held up prominent (or not-so-prominent) historical examples of people who had the courage to speak out, as exemplars for us to have the courage to do the same.

The next major item that comes to my mind takes me back to a major factor in our joining VGCC back in early 2020…right before the COVID pandemic exploded. I’m sure we all noted back then the great societal conflicts about things like holding church services during a respiratory virus pandemic, or wearing masks in general, and so on and so forth. I was impressed way back then how Vista didn’t even seem to flinch: **Of course** our church acted so as to reduce the real risk of people dying. 
Fast-forward (or maybe not so fast?) to 2023, as the pandemic (sort of) began to abate, we here at Vista started the year still uniformly wearing masks at church service, and committing to continuing a hybrid-online option. We held a thoughtful, high-communication and dialog-driven process with you all to come up with our approach to worship life “post-pandemic”.

Again, I have the good feeling that comes from one of our watch-words… *integrity*. By “integrity”, I mean that we almost always seem to default to operating in alignment with our core values when things get complicated or confusing…that’s what Jesus followers do! Instead of the false “either-or” choice, we came up with a “both-and” approach to worship in the building, masking, and committed to continuing our online option, which has turned out to be very handy sometimes. 
I’m very happy with the idea that we in Vista seem very committed to living out the idea of never forgetting what church is for…we are not a social club that exists solely for the purpose of having fancy and flawless worship services, we gather instead to strengthen and fortify and continually re-commit ourselves to being followers of Jesus out in the real world, where people are hurting and struggling and dealing with awfulness.

May it ever be so!

I know there are plenty of things I have omitted from this summary of 2023, but I’m hoping these few examples serve to inspire and motivate us to continue to “go and do likewise” (and even more and better) again in 2024!

Dave Lee