Church Family Voices

community websiteReflections from our members of what it means to belong to our church family.


Jane Terry

Jane Terry

One of the perks of being a school librarian is that I get to read good children’s books which go unnoticed by most adult readers. For example, several years ago I read Greetings from Planet Earth by Barbara Kerley, which you will not find on the New York Times Best Seller List. The story is set in 1977 when the Voyager space probes are about to be launched. Each probe is carrying messages from the people of Earth to any extraterrestrials who might find it.

Inspired by this mission, Theo’s science teacher devises a project. Everyone in Theo’s class must identify the most important thing for someone from another planet to know about the Earth. Now, Theo’s assignment is somewhat similar to what I have been asked to do. That is: Identify what I think is special about St. Luke’s and share it with you today.

Just like Theo, I began my assignment by looking around my environment for ideas— we have, not one, but two scholarly and creative pastors; our music director and our choir rock the house; our view out there reminds us of Eden; and, as shown by our prayer wreath, we are a caring and supportive church family.

Going deeper, however, just like Theo, I thought next, about my most meaningful, personal experiences here at St. Luke’s. First, I thought about teaching Sunday school and our youth who want to know:  “What is the purpose of my life?” “How do I pray?” and “What DO I believe?”

Next, I thought about our meetings with a rabbi, sharing a meal at a local Mosque, and reading the Koran to explore: “What can we learn from other faiths?” ”What do we all share as children of Abraham?” and “How can we replace hate with understanding?”

And then, I realized that Theo and I have the same answer. Now, since most of you probably won’t read this book, I am going to break the librarian’s golden rule about never divulging the ending of a book. But I just have to!

So, what did Theo identify as the most important thing about Earth?
And what do I think is so special about St. Luke’s? —  We ask questions.
Yes, indeed, here at St. Luke’s to reflect upon and deepen our faith, we, both young and older, ask questions. And that means and matters a lot to me.

Dave Sargent

I have to start 25 years ago, well before I ever attended St. Luke’s.  On May 3, 1985 our son, Jonathan committed suicide.  We held a memorial service at the church I was then attending.  The people were wonderful and supportive.  However, in one important aspect the service was very disappointing – the minister had no idea how to deal with suicide.  Just below the surface he was concerned with sin and guilt.

Fast forward several years.  My wife and I attended another memorial service for another teenager, this time at St. Luke’s.  Charlie Kothe officiated and he spoke on the frailty of we humans and of the human mind in particular.  He reminded those in attendance that he had had a mental breakdown several years earlier and that the St. Luke’s congregation had been supportive.  He understood the pain and anguish of mental frailty.  I determined that St. Luke’s did compassion pretty well.  And as St. Luke’s former pastor liked to say, “We don’t do guilt here at St. Luke’s.”

Sometime thereafter, I started attending St. Luke’s.  I remember that first Sunday very well.  Don Gales noticed me, a newcomer, sat down next to me, introduced himself and helped me understand the liturgy.  Very warm.  Very friendly.  Very nice.

As time went on I got more involved with St. Luke’s activities – and for me that is very important because it gives me opportunities to do something useful.  Now that I’ve been retired several years filling my time doing something useful is more important still.  Out of that activity have come friendships – with Session members, with members of buildings and grounds, with the new building committee, with other members here at St. Luke’s.

I don’t mean to leave it as an afterthought but there are also the Worship services.  If I’m truthful I’m not always moved by every piece of music or every sermon BUT I can say that it is a rare day when I’m not moved by something and often I’m moved by much.


60th Anniversary Tributes

Marilyn Barr, member since 1956:   A small sign on Palos Verdes Drive North caught our eyes as we explored the area around our new home.  “Presbyterian Church service, Sundays -10 a.m.- Dapplegray School” and our lives were forever enriched.  From 1956 until we moved to Monterey County in 2000 we experienced in many dimensions the meaning of a faithful Christian community. Words that express the gifts of St. Luke’s are enduring =  leadership, Biblical scholarship, thoughtful preaching, liturgical worship, multiple choirs, brass band, contemporary band, marimba band, hand bells, a pipe organ, art, drama ( J.B. and Death of a Salesman), adult and children’s education, Sign of Jonah magazine, dialogue, innovation, outreach, fellowship, life-time friendships.  It was all there!  My husband, George, and our children, Eric, Donna, and Mary, and grandchildren Jason Mitchell, Georgette, and Keoni shared in it abundantly Thanks be to God!!!

Genevieve “Gen” Muller, member since 4/3/1960:   Hugh and I first attended St. Luke’s when it was still at Dapplegray Elementary School as the result of an invitation from Marilyn and George Barr. We became part of a group called Mariners, and both sang in the choir, which was Hugh’s great love.  He would sometimes be the soloist.  Even when he got ill, he would enjoy listening to the requiems that Don Clay sent him.  During Rev. Dr. Dana Smith’s ministry, an after-school program was started, and I remember fondly making “macaroni and cheese” for the kids!  One year I attended a Presbyterian Women Conference at Purdue University, then reported on it to the congregation. Of our many experiences at St. Luke’s, I’d say Rev. Charlie Kothe and the music program remain the most memorable!

Pearl Kim member, since 3/26/1961:   On a Saturday in mid-February, 1961, my late husband Rev. Lester Kim, I and our two young sons moved from Los Angeles to Rolling Hills Estates. The next day, we worshipped at St. Luke’s, then meeting at Dapplegray School.  Although we knew the Rev. Kenneth Reeves and his wife well, we chose to attend St. Luke’s which was only a mile from our new home and not far from Neighborhood Church, where Lester’s pastoral counseling office was. The reason for our move was simple. We were expecting a third child and our house only had two bedrooms.

We found St. Luke’s community very warm, friendly, and forward-looking. I remember being invited almost immediately by Ella Smillie to a Mariner’s Dinner, a couple’s group.  Best of all, for a small startup church, Pastor Tom Gibson persuaded an excellent, experienced, inspiring musician to lead the choir: Barbara Mabin, founder/director of the choral group Los Cancioneros, and we found many musical families with whom we became very close.

Pastors come and go. So do members. There were times when I was not able to attend St. Luke’s, such as when Lester served as interim minister and later called pastor elsewhere, and when I was the organist at a local Baptist church.  Our daughter, born and baptized at St. Luke’s , kept our connection. My loyalty is to God through Christ but having a church “home and family” are added blessings!

Virginia Collett, member since 3/22/1964:   Back in the late seventies or early eighties there was an amusing saying floating around concerning our church —“there’s St. Peters by the Sea, but we have St. Luke’s by the Feed store.” The Feed store is long gone and St. Luke’s still stands. St. Luke’s, indeed, spiritually feeds its congregation and anyone who wishes  to attend.

A church is not just a place, nor a building, but  people who look after  one another  and care for each other.  I feel less alone for having seen all my fellow-strugglers in  the  same place seeking  help.  I make better decisions because my conscience has been sharpened by good sermons.  And when I walk out the front door of the church, I feel pounds lighter because I have left my anxieties and sins in the hands of a merciful GOD.

Paula and Vince Di Fiore, members since 12/15/1966:  St. Luke’s has meant a lot to the Di Fiore Family for the 50 years that we have lived in Rolling Hills Estates. We raised 5 children and they all attended as they were growing up. Diane and Denise were married here by Charlie Kothe and Paul Strand. Dean was the student rep to the Presbytery Convention in Houston Texas and  received a Masters Degree from San Francisco Theological Seminary in Values. Pastor Sunny married Dean and Ester May 15,2015. Donna moved to Seattle when Charlie Kothe left for the Burien Presbyterian Church.  She helped on Session there, and when Charlie retired even bought and still lives in his house.

Vince and I have always sung in the choir. I have directed the Handbell Choir and Children’s Choir. I am now Worship Chair on Session, and in previous years Vince and I have served on Session.  I was on the Pastor Search Committee for Charlie Kothe.  So I guess you can say that St.Luke’s has meant a lot to our Family for 50 years.

George Patton, member since 3/8/1970:  I’ve been a member of St. Luke’s since 1970, less than a year after moving to the Peninsula.  Having come from a Presbyterian church in La Mirada, I began visiting the closest congregations of the denomination without notable success.  Searching a little farther, I found a vital and theologically sound church, where the Gospel of Christ was shared by friendly worshippers.  Perhaps St. Luke’s has not grown in numbers, but we have matured to become “an open and affirming community of faith” as a More Light Church.  Through former years of service and more recent infirmities, my faith and affiliation with St. Luke’s remain intact.

Beth and Berkeley Eichel, members since 4/26/1970: We don’t remember the exact date, but believe we joined St. Luke’s in 1970-71.  I was on the session and nominating  committee to select Charlie Kothe.  I have happily worn many hats, as director of Sunday School, Women’s Assoc. Chair, designed flowers for the sanctuary and hosted the Women’s  Christmas Luncheon.

For many years  Don Clay, Director of Music, inspired me to share my hymns as I played the piano with the Combo.   Rev. Lester Kim produced Louise Midget’s and my musical Porches, and I did a musical benefit for Help the Homeless.   Our daughter Leslie was also a deacon. We have been loved here at St. Luke’s!

Bertie and Wistar Wood, members since 7/20/1970 — Bertie:  Since 1970, St. Luke’s has been for me a place to strengthen my faith through sharing worship and other personal experiences with good people.  It has been a fountain of the refreshing water of local friendship.  My recognition of this fact was a strong factor dictating where we should live when we left the Chadwick School campus in 1983.  Wistar:  St. Luke’s has meant a reservoir of friendships, putting what talents I have for groundskeeping into action, and music that I enjoy.

Delores “Dee” Braden, member since 6/72:   June 1972 found our family of four, Fred, Elisa, Mark, and myself  involved in various worship activities and committees at St. Luke’s.  From 1972-92 Fred was part of the Buildings & Grounds Team that oversaw the design, construction, and planting of the beautiful garden from an open field.  Meanwhile I was one of the early Art Editors of the newsletter “Sign of Jonah,” “choir mom,” banner designer, Chadwick Handbell ringer, elder, pastor search committee member for Rev. Charlie Kothe, and  afterschool program MAD (Music, Art, Drama) volunteer.  One year the kids in MAD produced “Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”  A funny incident that occurred during Rev. Prom Smith’s years was the discovery of M&M’s on the communion plate one Sunday morning instead of the bread!

The largest of the bells in the Handbell set was dedicated to our daughter Elisa, who has passed away.  Our son Mark and his wife Linda, St. Luke’s current accountant, were married by Rev. Kothe at St. Luke’s.  What I treasure most about St. Luke’s are the friendships formed in an atmosphere of asking questions, which was encouraged.  I now attend a Methodist church and things are just not the same!!

Evelyn Chidsey, member since 10/29/1972: I feel very blessed to be part of a nurturing, caring Christian community.  Life is full of challenges and worshiping at St. Luke’s helps me stay focused and moving in a positive direction.  While I know that God is working through me, I also know that sometimes I forget to stop and listen.  Sometimes I think I know best and forget that things will happen in God’s time and not my time.  I have been inspired, spiritually challenged and constantly growing in understanding of God’s will for me.  My faith has matured from a simplistic view of Christianity to a much more complex faith that asks more questions than anyone on earth can answer.  The one element of worship that moves me the most is the music.  Singing together, listening to the choir and either listening or playing the handbells, have all played a very important part in nurturing my spirit.  Thank you to all of my St. Luke’s brothers and sisters for sharing my spiritual journey with me over the last 40 years.

Gail Kim Wopschall, member since 6/24/1973:   I was baptized by pastor #1, Rev. Dr. Tom Gibson (at Dapplegray, so that tells you just how “back in the day” that was!) * Confirmed by pastor #2, Rev. Dr. Dana Prom Smith. * Married by #3, Rev. Dr. Charlie Kothe (my father assisted, by Charlie’s name is one on the license). Also, Charlie dedicated my first daughter, Kyra. * Number 2 daughter, Liana was dedicated by pastor #4a, Rev. Dr. Laura Krauss (on Mother’s Day. Laura suggested having a female elder to assist, which I thought was a nice touch). * My father’s memorial service was conducted by pastor #4b, Rev. Dr. Reinhard Krauss. * Pastor #5, Rev. Dr. Sunny Kang is currently helping Liana with the college application process, and we will see what opportunity he will have to make his mark on my family in liturgical fashion, (in good and decent order.) I may be one of the few people around who remember when the area behind Westminster House/ Building was a lawn, with a rolling dip. That is, the kids would roll on it. Okay, not only remember when but also rolled on it! It became over run with ivy before I was in double digits and remained so until sometime in the 1980s, I think.

Art Auerbach, member since 11/23/1975:  What St. Luke’s means to me?  I have been member of St. Luke’s since coming to Palos Verdes in 1970.  At age 7, my parents (Esther and Tom Koulax) decided to join the church, and I have been here ever since.  When I reflect on St. Luke’s, I describe this church in one word, “family.”  St. Luke’s has helped form the person that I am today.  The priorities of this church have always included working to help others in need, avoiding the judgment of some in society simply because they are different and striving to make the world a better place for all.  No matter the stage of life that I have been (child, young adult or parent), St. Luke’s has always been a constant support in my life and for that I am grateful.

Don Clay member, since 2/16/1981:

Nearly 40 years ago,

I found a church more than “a show”

 Good people seeking faith to grow…

Always reaching out “to know”…

Expanding faith, not drawing in,

Seeking different ways – new “kin”

Defining concepts: Hope, Joy, Love, Sin

That those “outside” might enter in.

Climate, homelessness, gangs, guns, and “Sage”

become the foci of our age…

Dawn Unity, Interfaith, Kaleidoscope

Are now true vessels of new hope.

Chadwick, Kirk, organ, combo, brass:

A singing liturgy we thought would last.

Scholarship: Fox, Smedes, Borg, Spong

Bonhoeffer, Myers, Crossan move us along.

Lazarus, Katrina build, March Million Moms,

Habitat for Humanity, Navajo songs…

Backpacks, picnics, fellowship…

Garden concerts, potlucks, rafting trips…

“Sign of Jonah” and Village Voice write new scripts,

Now “online” photos and quips…

Caring pastors who light our way…

Leading us to our new day.

Prayer: God grant that I may not take this all for granted.

God grant me help, that I may bloom where planted.

Jane and Bob Terry, members since 11/21/1982:   What first drew us to St. Luke’s in the early 80’s was the Kothe family — Charlie’s engaging sermons; Jane’s friendship with Jeannie, a librarian colleague at Chadwick School; and Lisa, a forever friend for the Terry girls. St. Luke’s small size allowed us to expand our meaningful participation in worship, scholarship, leadership, and fellowship. Don Clay encouraged Bob to join the choir, and Marie Smith encouraged him to join the predominately female bell-choir. Through Sunday school lessons and adult education programs, we have been biblical scholars seeking to learn and understand what it means to be a Christian. Although sometimes challenged by difficult situations that required difficult decisions, we have felt honored to be called on to serve as leaders of the church. And, of course, the multi-generational fellowship at St. Luke’s has provided a plethora of memories – teaching Sunday school to, going on Big Bear retreats with, and following Wendy, Susan and Johnny Reid on Facebook; being serenaded outside our tent on our wedding anniversary during a backpacking trip; developing friendships while doing mission work at a gay-pride event or in a backyard picking spare fruit; and now, being Sam Ceja’s godparents, ready to guide and love the next generation at St. Luke’s.

Robert  Saurer, member since 12/7/1986:   My memories extend 30 years back. And I love St Luke’s.  But my love is not for the buildings. It is for the people I have known here, all of them, each and every one of them that I love. They make St. Luke’s what it is. My love for them is because they are who they are and do what they do to make St. Luke’s such a special place. That love won’t change.