Originally published November 3, 2009, the week before the first services were held in the temporary sprung sanctuary.
A church is not a building. And members of Malibu Presbyterian understand that idea perhaps better than most. After losing their building to the 2007 Malibu wildfires, the church found a growing identity in their relationships and in embracing the community and outreach as a way of being a church without a home.
This Sunday, Malibu Presbyterian returns home, but not without a greater sense of direction and focus, something the adversity of loss and hardship brought from out of smoldering ashes. "The fire has resulted in a miracle!" member Michael Guillen recently shared. "It is a truism of human history that out of great hardship comes greatness - witness the adversity that led to the founding of our country. The exile that Malibu Pres has endured for the past two years has brought our congregation closer to God, to one another, and to our community. Our homecoming might be the end of our exile, but it is only the beginning of our renewed sense of mission."
Rather than focusing on its loss, the church immediately focused on others. Three weeks after losing their own building, members built homes in Baja, Mexico for impoverished families. Two months after the fire, members of Malibu Pres came alongside devastated home-owners in the second 2007 fire in Latigo and Corral Canyons, praying with them as they measured the extent of their own loss to fire.
The church not only embraced the community, but the community embraced the church.
For the last two years, Malibu Presbyterian became more integrated into the community. They held weekly services at Webster Elementary, Dads danced with their daughters at the annual Father-Daughter Valentine Dance at the Malibu Inn and Bible studies met in private homes. The Malibu Pres Preschool was graciously offered a home at the Malibu Jewish Center for eight months until a temporary preschool could be built. Cindy Ludwig, Director of the Preschool reflects, "We had no place and needed classrooms for 85 wonderful children, and we were welcomed in as part of the family. What a beautiful picture of a community that cares for another."
While the church prepares to return to the easily identifiable white tent on the hill, the church will celebrate 60 years of service and life with new-found insight into what it means to be a people of God.
As anyone who has been touched by adversity knows, the church is not the same as it was two years ago.
They are a refined-by-fire community. "We all experience pain, hardship and loss in this life," says Senior Pastor Greg Hughes. "...but in every trial there is an opportunity, a blessing to seize. Just as fire refines gold and strengthens metal, so too has our church family been enriched by the loss of our buildings. Athletes are heard to say, 'No pain, no gain.' I'd like to say it a little differently for Malibu Pres, 'Burned down, but fired up!' We could have fractured under the strain and stress of our loss, but it brought our congregation together with greater purpose and resolve. Our love for one another has increased and our commitment has grown to leave a lasting legacy, as the Christmas carol goes, of 'peace on earth and goodwill towards men.' We are a resurrection people, like Christ, we can't stay down."
"Now that we are 'going home,' the real challenge begins," member Michael Guillen warned. "We must not become comfortable and grow apathetic; not allow materialism to pass for meaning; but instead, we must always remember that the focus of the Gospel is on people, not on bricks and mortar."
Pastor Greg concludes, "We have a new base camp. And we pray it will not only glorify God but will continue to serve our families and our wonderful community. It's only a means to an end. We are a blessed people. We are a thankful people. And we couldn't be more excited."