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The Russell Family

By Diane Leggewie on
Diane Leggewie
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Nov 16 in Uncategorized
“The kingdom of God is at hand.” These were some of the first words we heard at Hollywood Pres in the 1990s – heading towards 3 decades ago now! – coming as young singles for a series taught by Dallas Willard (head of USC’s philosophy department, who also wrote many books on spiritual formation).
Joel was in a men’s readers group, and Rebecca in a women’s Bible study that were both affiliated with Act One and InterMission, film and arts mentoring ministries hosted by FPCH. As we spent more time with these friends, and at FPCH, the loving welcome and vision for action rather than passive pew-sitting drew us in. Joel had moved from Boston for American Film Institute’s MFA program, Rebecca was a journalist and book editor, and we grew as a couple and as Christians through the many programs and experiences Hollywood Pres offered: Brick (young adults) hosted a monthly Undergrounds music, art gallery and coffeehouse in the Cellar; after we married, Couples Garden brought amazing workshops and speakers on marriage, offering childcare and a chance to go out for dinner afterward to talk about our own marriage and hopes and dreams…. All these church activities pointed to the reality that yes, the kingdom of God IS at hand, and FPCH offered a place we could grow and learn and love in midst of it all.

When our oldest, Blake, was born, we joined the membership class and then the church, wanting to make a true spiritual home for our little family, in a large and mobile city where friends, jobs, and even housing could be very short-term. We attended the Partners Sunday School class, enjoying the teaching, the annual camping trips, the lifelong friends whose generous, fun-loving lives embodied that, yes, the kingdom of God is at hand! When our daughter Susanna was born, and then Benjamin, our kids grew up in the nursery, born into a family of friendships and godly mentors who taught them and us how to walk and talk with Jesus along life’s journeys. We built memories and our hearts at Forest Home camps. Our kids begged to be part of Sonshine Choir (Thank you, Terry Walsh, for these early lessons in worship as a gift – to us, and from us back to God and our church family. Terry recently posted a 20-year-old photo on Facebook, with 5-year-old Blake in the choir with children who are still singing in this church!). Through years of Sunday School, playing with the ideas and metaphors of Scripture, talking through the ancient stories of men and women who needed God long before us, then later learning to memorize verses and apply them, FPCH taught us how to be disciples, along with our children. All 3 kids learned how to play guitar in Sunday School – 3rd and 4th grade group classes, then helping out in older classes, led by teachers who encouraged them to not be fearful or passive, but to “lean in” to worship. Through high school, Nick Barrett and his team of youth leaders invested in our kids and their hopes, modeling how to give from your whole life.

During some of these years, our beloved church experienced brokenness and not just blessings. Sometimes, we felt spiritually parched. But we learned we needed to keep growing and to give more than we had in the past – to become more invested because we had been given so very, very much. When Pastor Dan & Anne Baumgartner came, it was like water – living water after some desert years. We love them enormously for the sacrifices they made to come to LA, and for all the teaching and leadership gifts they bring to FPCH, and for how they embody Jesus’ gospel in their lives and point our eyes farther along the pilgrim road to the kingdom of God, at hand, at FPCH!

We have grown older (even old!) in this beloved old church in the middle of Hollywood. We’ve come to treasure the Judson stained glass windows in the church sanctuary that tell the history of the worldwide church, from the Scriptures and through the Reformation – reminding us every Sunday that we are part of that history, here, now. In adult Sunday School, Dale Bruner and then Michael Mears Bruner became not just teachers, but life guides on a great adventure into deeper faith commitment and understandings of God’s great story. As we get nearer to our 60s, and to the legacy years of our life’s journeys, we want to invest in things that last, that change lives as ours have been changed here in this church family, in things that count for eternity. Our small business provides income that varies drastically from month to month and year to year. We have seasons of plenty, and seasons of loss and want. We now carry responsibility of other families’ incomes as well, so we have to be good stewards, and cautious rather than rash. But what giving and tithing have taught us through the years is that EVERYTHING we have comes from God – it never belonged to us alone, and it all goes back to Him eventually, one way or another. So why not be generous when we can? We may or may not have as much to give tomorrow. Here at Hollywood Pres, God has always been generous to us, in time and in love and in finances. God does not need our money. We have the privilege to give back a fraction of what we’ve been given, to show our deep thanks, to share gratefully in the work and in the future of what God longs to do among us all. Sisters and brothers, the kingdom of God is at hand!
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