Kurrasch says 'new beginnings' require courage

DOWNEY - While an undergraduate at UC Riverside, Dr. Richard Kurrasch, senior minister at Downey Memorial Christian Church since January of 2006, immersed himself in social science and literature, emerging with a bachelor's in psychology. He then attended Bethany Theological Seminary of the graduate school of religion, Church of the Brethren (at the time located in suburban Chicago and now in Richmond, Indiana), for his master of divinity degree.His bio continues: "He has served Congregational churches in the Great Lakes area, which included a 15-year pastorate in suburban Detroit, and in California where he had the opportunity to study at the Claremont School of Theology and earn his Doctor of Ministry degree" in 1987. He was also 'on loan', he says, "for a memorable two-year period" to a United Methodist congregation on Maui. He was born in Watertown, South Dakota but was raised in the Los Angeles suburb of Westchester. Downey Memorial Christian Church, located at 8441 E. Florence Ave. just west of Brookshire Avenue, is affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), one of a number of mainline Protestant denominations which include the Evangelical/Lutheran Church, the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the United Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Episcopal Church. Downey Memorial Christian Church was established in Downey in 1958 as part of the flowering of a host of institutions - housing units, commerce, culture, schools, churches, and more - that catered to an exploding population spawned by the aerospace industry. "It was a time of prosperity. Downey was a mecca. People came in droves," said Kurrasch, whose engineer dad worked here. "I came to California as a kid, in 1954. At the time, people in Downey could live on one paycheck. A huge cadre of moms provided a pool of volunteers at every imaginable level. There were women's groups, outreach programs, Bible study programs. It was incredible. Today, when families became dependent on two incomes, the volunteer pool, for one, began to shrink." Also, church attendance in general is on the decline, along with a marked demographic shift, noticeable in the schools, in the local government complement, everywhere one looks. "We've had to seriously assess the local situation," he says. "We called our project 'new beginnings.' It's really a church revitalization program. Downey is now 65 percent Latino. Since it's our responsibility to respond to the challenges implicit in this cultural change, we've had to figure out what changes were needed to take place for a church to continue in a different context." The obvious course of action? "Add a full-time Latino pastor to serve as associate minister," Kurrasch says. "I have been, and will continue to be, resident theologian, resource person, worship leader, and, in keeping with our covenantal relationship with the church community, help in going in the direction the collective church teaches us to go. We hope we'll have our assistant minister by the summer." "The demographic shift first surfaced about 35 year ago," he says. "It became increasingly noticeable within the last ten years. Many of the local churches have not adjusted to their changed ministry. The step we are taking takes a lot of courage." He has had a lot of exposure to these dynamic issues. Kurrasch has held numerous regional, national, and international offices that included chairing his denomination's executive committee and moderating an international fellowship which included a quadrennial meeting in Seoul, South Korea. At the local level, he has also worked with school district committees and other social service agencies that focus on the needs of children and youth and with coalitions that, he says, "work cross-culturally to address ethnic and racial issues." He has been a member of the Rotary Club for two years. He was sponsored by dentist Dr. Wayne Wilcox. He says his other pastoral interests include "explorations in desert and wilderness spirituality," and the intersection between religion and the arts, particularly in contemporary American novels. Among his favorite authors are John Updike (who died recently), Walker Percy, and Gore Vidal. He also acknowledged the heavy influence of Mark Twain on the development of his literary tastes. Of German-Swedish ancestry, Kurrasch, whose wife Ann is a musician and composer (she holds a master of music degree in music composition; they have two children and two grandsons) also enjoys photography and writing. Here are excerpts from one of his messages featured in the Dec. 14, 2008 issue of The Chalice, his church's Sunday newsletter, and the bases for his weekly sermons: "Luther put it that when God wants to communicate with humankind, he speaks in baby talk…As it turns out, baby talk-the basic language of goo, goo, ga, ga, and cootchie, cootchie, coo-is a critical building block that connects infants with the world they so recently entered. Words are connectors in general, of course, but Erik Erikson has pointed out that trust is developed in a child during the very first weeks of life and it all happens in those very rituals of greeting for which the words are goo, goo, ga, ga. No goo, goo, no trust, or at least a deficiency in the ability to trust, for baby talk is that language of love, and love confirms that we can trust one another and a benevolent world beyond… Words nourish the soul and shape the ever-emerging self. "According to the Story, when God wanted to address the human condition, a Child appeared… "So has God spoken to us, in a Word, a Word we can understand [because it's a kind of baby talk], a Word that nourishes the soul and shapes the ever-emerging self. Like the infant just beginning to make the connection with the universe, baby talk is what we need and so baby talk is what we get. The power of love, the ability to love, the foundation of trust, the reason to hope, the wherewithal to continue along the Way-all this follows from the words that connect us to one another and the wider world on which we ultimately depend." Pretty powerful stuff. In these turbulent, trying times, Kurrasch, with his pragmatic, nuanced take on things sacred and profane due to his wide culture, is one to reckon with. Would that his voice be heard far and wide and his ministry flourish. ********** Published: February 13, 2009 - Volume 7 - Issue 43