“Presbyterian” comes from the ancient Greek word “presbuteros,” which simply means “elder, alluding to the way in which we govern ourselves. Thus, Westwood First is led by ruling elders and teaching elders (also called Ministers of the Word and Sacrament). Ruling elders are so named not because they “lord it over” the congregation, but because they are chosen by the congregation to discern and guide in its fidelity to the Word of God, strengthening and nurturing its faith and life. Teaching Elders are committed in all their work to teaching the faith in word and in deed and equipping the people of God for their ministry and witness. While each has a role in governance, Jesus Christ alone is head of the church.
Westwood First’s life and mission are a joyful participation in Christ’s ongoing life and work, affording us the opportunity to “glorify God and enjoy God forever. Christ calls our church into being, giving it all that is necessary for its mission in the world, for its sanctification, and for its service to God. Christ is present with us in both Spirit and Word. Christ gives us our faith and life, our unity and mission, our order and discipline. In Christ’s name, therefore, we are sent out to bear witness to the good news of reconciliation with God, with others, and with all creation. In Christ the Church receives its truth and appeal, its holiness¸ and its unity.
The good news of the Gospel is that the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—creates, redeems, sustains, rules, and transforms all things and all people. This one living God, the Scriptures say, liberated the people of Israel from oppression and covenanted to be their God. By the power of the Spirit, this one living God is incarnate in Jesus Christ, who came to live in the world, die for the world, and be raised again to new life. The Gospel of Jesus Christ announces the nearness of God’s kingdom, bringing good news to all who are impoverished, sight to all who are blind, freedom to all who are oppressed, and proclaiming the Lord’s favor upon all creation. The mission of God in Christ gives shape and substance to the life and work of Westwood First, as we participate in God’s mission for the transformation of creation and humanity by proclaiming to all people the good news of God’s love, offering to all people the grace of God at font and table, and calling all people to discipleship in Christ. We are a part of the body of Christ, given what we need for this work, mindful that “God doesn’t call the equipped, God equips the called.”
The Church strives to be faithful to the good news it has received and accountable to the standards of the confessions. The Church seeks to present the claims of Jesus Christ, leading persons to repentance, acceptance of Christ alone as Savior and Lord, and new life as his disciples.
We strive to demonstrate this in our life as a community in the world: a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life; a community of hope, rejoicing in the knowledge that, in Christ, God is making all things new; a community of love, where sin is forgiven, reconciliation is fostered and the dividing walls of hostility, things like sexism, racism are torn down; a community of witness, pointing beyond itself through word and work to the good news of God’s amazing and transformative grace.
Westwood First strives to be faithful to the good news we have received, taking seriously Christ Great Commission to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” We strive to share our deep life of worship, prayer, fellowship, and service; participate in God’s mission to care for the needs of others; work toward the creation of a reality where justice rolls on like a river, and righteousness like a never-failing stream.
Since the Reformation, we believe that we at Westwood First are faithful whenever we: proclaim and hear the Word of God, responding to the promise of God’s new creation in Christ, and inviting all people to participate in that new creation; administer and receive the Sacraments,
welcoming those who are being engrafted into Christ, bearing witness to Christ’s saving death and resurrection, anticipating the heavenly banquet that is to come, and committing itself in the present to solidarity with the marginalized and forgotten; and nurture a covenant community of disciples of Christ, living in the strength of God’s promise and giving itself in service to God’s mission.
At Westwood First, we strive to fulfill the Great Ends of the Church: 1) The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind; 2) the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; 3) the maintenance of divine worship; 4) the preservation of the truth; 5) the promotion of social righteousness; and 6) the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.
Westwood First strives to become a church whose membership reflects in the rich diversity of our community and the wider Church. As Paul told the Galatians: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:27–29). In Christ, by the power of the Spirit, God unites persons through baptism regardless of race, ethnicity, age, sex, disability, geography, or theological conviction. There is therefore no place in the life of the Church for any kind discrimination against any person for any reason. Period. At Westwood First, we shall guarantee full participation and representation in its worship, governance, and emerging life to all persons or groups. No member shall be denied participation or representation for any reason.
In Jesus Christ, we seek a new openness to God’s mission in the world. In Christ, the triune God tends the least among us, suffers the curse of human sinfulness, raises up a new humanity, and promises a new future for all creation. We recognize that we are all made in God’s image, sharing with all people, sinfulness, brokenness, and suffering, as well as the future toward which God is drawing them. The mission of God pertains not only to the Church but also to people everywhere and to all creation. As it participates in God’s mission, Westwood First, as a church in PC(USA), seeks a new openness: 1) to the sovereign activity of God in the Church and in the world, 2) to a more radical obedience to Christ, and to a more joyous celebration in worship and work; 3) in its own membership, becoming in fact as well as in faith a community of women and men of all ages, races, ethnicities, and worldly conditions; 4) to see both the possibilities and perils of its institutional forms in order to ensure the faithfulness and usefulness of these forms to God’s activity; 5) to God’s continuing reformation of the Church ecumenical, that it might be more effective in its mission.
In a day when commitment is a rare commodity, it should come as no surprise that church membership is such a low priority to so many believers. Sadly, it is not uncommon for Christians to move from church to church, never committing themselves to a group of fellow believers. You do not need to be a member of the Westwood First to worship with us or to participate in our life and ministry. We recognize that you may not have had a good experience elsewhere. As Mark Twain once noted, “Most people don’t go to church because they’ve been there.” We get that. Most of us have full plates and don’t need yet another commitment. Still, to not join a church as a formal member, can reflect a misunderstanding of the believer’s responsibility to the Body of Christ and thereby cut oneself off from the many blessings and opportunities that flow from this commitment. It is essential for every Christian to understand what church membership is and why it matters. To become a member of a church is to formally commit oneself to an identifiable, local body of believers who have joined together for specific, divinely ordained purposes. It isn’t necessarily about having the exact same beliefs as everyone else, but about learning together, sharing experiences, bearing one another’s burdens, spurring one another on to love and bearing good fruit that lasts, abiding in Christ together and bearing with one another in love, exhorting and encouraging one another, and so forth. To do this, it seems we need to be together in the same place. It’s the people sitting next to you, across from you, two aisles up, four aisles back—the local people—that are the most likely beneficiaries of your love. Local church membership says, These are the particular saints I’m going to prioritize in my discipling and love—warts and all. At Westwood First, it’s not about religion—it’s about relationship. It’s about community.
ALL are welcome here for worship, fellowship and our other activities. Yet “belonging” means much more. It means that commitment made first to Jesus Christ is lived in a greater commitment to His people—the family of God—here at Westwood First. With this larger commitment, you offer your fuller participation, leadership and sharing or your gifts and talents. You commit to sharing of your time, energy and financial support. You offer to serve and lead alongside other Christians.
Our logo is a sailboat. In Jesus’ time, there were two ways to power a boat on open water. One was by rowing, the other was to harness the power of the wind. The first Christians experienced the Spirit of God moving them along as the wind moves a sailboat. On the day of Pentecost, with “a sound like a rushing wind,” Jesus’ promise of power became a reality. Believers found what they had been missing, the gift of spiritual resources to participate with Jesus in his transformation of the world. As they felt the wind of the Spirit begin to blow around them that day, they raised their sails, and began the process of learning how to become sailors.
The power of the Holy Spirit is just as available to us now as it was to the early church. We can sail like they did or we can choose to keep rowing. The difference between a rowboat and sailboat church? In a rowboat church, God has provided a basic agenda and then left it up to them to get on with it. The attitude is either “We can do this.” or “We can’t do this,” focusing on things like the money it has or can raise, the availability of volunteers, the charisma/skill of the leaders, and the demographics of its community. The success or failure of a rowboat congregation depends solely on its own strength, wisdom and resources–how long and well people are willing to row.
In contrast, a sailboat church believes that “God can do more than we can ask or imagine.” It knows that what they have or lack in human/material resources is not the decisive factor in what they can accomplish as a church. They look on church as a continuing adventure with a God who guides and empowers them to do more than they could ever have dreamed. Those in a sailboat church do not assume they know the Lord’s agenda. Rather they ask, “What is God leading us to be and do now in the place where we find ourselves?” They are willing to spend considerable time and energy on discerning where the Spirit is moving and inviting them to invest themselves in his work. They believe that God is both the one who calls and the one who provides what is needed to do the work.
A sailboat church is not only more effective, it’s more faithful. As we let go of the oars, and let the Holy Spirit fill our sails, God only knows where we’ll go from here.
A Little History for Westwood First Presbyterian Church
Here is an excellent article offering the “WFPC Story” that appeared in the September 2021 Westwood Historical Society newsletter. The article can be found on page three. Many thanks to WHS president Liz Kissel and its members!