Sunday Steeplechase: “Recognizing Blessedness” – First Presbyterian Church of San Leandro (California)

First Presbyterian Church, San Leandro, California (Laurie Snyder, ©2011).

First Presbyterian Church, San Leandro, California (Laurie Snyder, ©2011).

And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him. And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying:

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
  • Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
  • Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
  • Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
  • Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
  • Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
  • Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

– Matthew 5:1-12 (King James Version)

“We are called to bear one another’s burdens – to bind each other’s wounds and to meet each other’s needs,” said the Rev. Dr. Anne Swanson during a recent February morning at the First Presbyterian Church of San Leandro in California. Her sermon that day, “Recognizing Blessedness,” was infused not just with the poignant “need Beatitudes,” a portion of the Bible which starkly conveys the painful vulnerability experienced daily by men, women and children worldwide, but the compelling “help Beatitudes” – the teachings of Matthew which remind us that we each have it within us to make our communities and world kinder and more just.

Rev. Dr. Swanson and her flock are members of a reformed branch of the Protestant tradition. Their church, which was organized in 1866, opened its sanctuary in 1926 and still towers over one of the main thoroughfares in the city of San Leandro. It is governed by 12 elders and 24 deacons, who were elected to their terms of service by their fellow congregants and are responsible for preparing the elements for communion, delivering flowers and providing to services and special events.

A youth center and educational wing were added in 1953 and 1955, respectively. Today, attendees benefit from a robust array of fellowship activities from breakfast clubs to a Young at Heart group for senior citizens and monthly prayer shawl gathering. As part of its music ministry, the church offers Chancel and Children’s Choir programs and a summer camp for handbell enthusiasts.

But it is the individual and collective social justice activities of members which deliver the greatest insight into the soul of First Presbyterian’s congregation. Whether housing visiting university students who volunteer with Habitat for Humanity projects, or fighting domestic violence and sex trafficking through their support of Building Futures and San Francisco Safe House, helping terminally ill children and their families find comfort at the George Mark Children’s House, or easing suffering on a global scale through their support of Compassion International, Heifer International and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, First Presbyterian congregants banish darkness with warmth and compassion.

“Ye are the light of the world,” wrote Matthew. “And it giveth light unto all that are in the house.” Indeed.

If You Go:

First Presbyterian Church of San Leandro
180 Estudillo Avenue
San Leandro, California
(510) 483-2772

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