Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Church of Fresno

Fr. Dale Matson

I seem to live a life of contrasts. Last weekend we were in San Francisco for the wedding of our youngest son. It is a beautiful city with world class views, top drawer hotels and great places to dine. The air is good in this white collar town but this is not about San Francisco.

This is my 20th year in Fresno, a city of half a million people. When I first arrived from the Midwest, two things were immediately apparent. Most of the homes had burglar alarms and graffiti was pervasive. Things seemed to turn around when an ecumenical group of clergy who named themselves, “The No Name Fellowship” gathered together to regularly pray for Fresno. There is also an annual clergy prayer summit. Some clergy even took up residence in some of the worst areas in the city. In the year 2,000 Fresno was named an “All American City.” Fresno is a city of faith. When so much is said about the post Christian society and Godless government, Fresno is a city of prayer. Fresno’s clergy and parishioners have gathered together regularly to pray for their city. It is a church city. It is the Church of Fresno.

I was at the annual memorial ceremony for fallen peace officers in Courthouse Park today. As a civilian member of our Fresno County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team, our twenty six blaze orange shirts stood out against the dress uniforms of other departments around the state of California. It was a small town event in a large California city.

It began with a helicopter fly over and a drum and bagpipe group that preceded the state and national flags. Our hands were on our hearts as the flags went by. A school choir sang the National Anthem, an Episcopal Hymn, “Author of Majesty, Love and Grace” and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”. There were also two solos by peace officers, “To Make You Feel My Love” and “Believe”. Two Judges gave brief speeches honoring the families followed by the Roll Call of Fallen Officers. There was a prayer from the chaplain for the Sheriff’s Department who concluded with, “…. in the name of Jesus Christ”. Then “Amazing Grace”, a 21 gun salute and “Taps”. All of the participants, families and guests were invited to a buffet following the event.

This was not really a Memorial Ceremony. It was more of a church service, in the center of a city in the center of California. Our Mayor, Police Chief, and County Sheriff are Christians. They don’t make a big show of it but they don’t hide it either. Fresno is a city that is not ashamed of Christ. It is diverse as any California city but the churches here are attended by a great many of its citizens and respected by most of those who don’t attend.

This is where a mix of agrarian, blue collar and white collar Christianity still thrives alongside of each other and cynicism, postmodernism, and relativism have not taken root. Our Sikh volunteer officer Nick was at my right shoulder with his hand over his heart as our flag went by and his head was bowed as we prayed. Fresno is a place of compassion, mercy and hope. May God continue to bless His Church of Fresno. Amen

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