Marin’s Best Kept Secret

Lesson: Matthew 5:14-16

If you google “Marin’s best kept secret” you’ll find lists of things you’ve probably already heard of, especially if you’ve been in Marin a few years. Things like the statues of Yoda and Indiana Jones in Imagination Park, and Phoenix Lake. The one thing I came across I actually hadn’t heard of was “the hippie tree” in Tiburon. It’s a big eucalyptus up the hill from St. Hillary’s School, with a wooden swing. How does a swing turn a tree on a hillside into a “hippie tree”? Beats me. Maybe that’s the part that’s the secret.

There are, in fact, bigger secrets in Marin than the hippie tree or Phoenix Lake. Like this congregation, for instance. Oh, I know we’re not literally secret. We’re right here on the corner of Kensington at Ross and Mariposa big as life. Although – I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but you have to be standing right on Kensington looking at the front of the sanctuary to know this is First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo. There are no signs on Ross or Mariposa that would give you a clue what we are – or welcome you in – and we need to fix that. And you’ve probably noticed that we’re tucked away back here in this sleepy neighborhood. I’ve told people who’ve been in Marin for years what church I pastor, and they have no clue where it is until I say, “You know those castle-like buildings on the hill in San Anselmo? Well, down the hill from that.”

Even more secret is what we do, what’s going on here. We are doing better at getting the news out in this wired world, and I can’t thank Martha Olsen-Joyce enough for giving us her professional best at volunteer prices – by which I mean, for free. The music community in Marin knows we’re here, thanks to Marin Baroque, the Echo Chamber Orchestra and many of our choir members. The environmentalist community knows we’re here thanks to our Green Chautauqua speaker series. And some of the folks who come to those events get a whiff of what we’re about. A concert patron recently checked in here on Facebook, with this message, “I’m at a church in San Anselmo because my father is in a concert, and they have a rainbow flag and a Black Lives Matter banner. How cool is that?”

How cool is that? Or, to go with the biblical metaphor in the Matthew passage, that is what you call letting our light shine.

Today we launch a capital campaign, and, in a nutshell, that’s the goal of the campaign. To let our light shine. In today’s passage, Jesus isn’t commanding us to be light for the world. He says we are, we already are, but we need to let that light shine. So we seek not only to let our light shine better and more brightly today, but also next year, and in the next decade, and for as long as God is working through us here on this corner.

We have been doing good ministry here – better than good – we’ve been doing great ministry here. I’m going to show you a video in a moment that describes this and the light that we are beautifully, but there are a couple of things I want to add to it.

Every week, every Sunday morning, we say something along the lines of, “We build our community around the truth that all people, without exception, are God’s beloved children, and together we strive to grow in love for God’s people and God’s creation, and not only grow in it but be transformed by it.” My friends, that is our light. We claim that identity and purpose better than any church I know, and that is what’s behind our service, our caring community, our joyful worship. And we need to share it. It is light that the world needs desperately right now. In the current political and cultural climate, people long for refuge, for mooring, for grounding in something hopeful and something bigger than themselves. Just this past Easter, the New York Times published not one but two op-eds about people returning to church because of the chaos around us.[1] These people aren’t looking for more division, more judgment, more us-verses-them, and for the most part, they respect honest doubt more than simple answers. They are looking for that light – the light that says we’re connected, valued, loved.

Our capital campaign aims to make us better able to welcome them. We want to welcome people more warmly, hospitably, and safely whether they come to worship or to one of the many other ministries we offer here because we have been blessed with these buildings. We learned last week that, on average, over 80% of the people who cross the threshold of a church are there not for “church,” the way we think about church, and that is probably pretty close to true here at First Presbyterian. This is the calendar that our office administrator Kathleen McCalla prepares each month showing room use. You can’t see this from where you are, but the thing is, I can barely see it even up close, because every single day is filled with tiny print showing twelve step groups, support groups, fitness classes, Spanish classes, music lessons and rehearsals and more. And this calendar doesn’t even include the preschool or the Cedars, the program for developmentally disabled adults that gathers here. Our buildings are a huge part of our ministry to the community around us. Our community needs us.

Just imagine if we could become even more open, accessible and welcoming. Imagine a picnic table and some benches out on the lawn under the trees. Imagine an outdoor labyrinth where our spiritual-but-not-religious neighbors get to experience our loving welcome. Imagine coffee hour on the front patio where people can see us! Imagine a video system that didn’t block the aisle and take 15 people to set up! You know, I cringe at the idea of church as a consumer product. Church is not a consumer product. And yet the reality is that all of us are consumers, you, me, all of us, and we know the difference between sub-standard and adequate, and the difference between adequate and “wow!” Imagine if we could offer something closer to “wow!”

None of the ideas I mentioned are set in stone – we’re still in the imagining stage. Imagining is what’s behind this capital campaign. The capital campaign team put together this video we’re about to watch, largely through the energies and efforts of new member Ernie Hubbard. Sit back, enjoy the video, and begin to imagine. [SHOW VIDEO]

We are writing the next history. What will it say? Just as important: Who will see it? Theologian Stanley Hauerwas wrote, “God’s truth is credible to the world only when it sees a community shaped by the truth… If the gospel is to be heard, it must also be seen.”

We’ve seen it. Now it needs to come out from under the bushel. It’s time we quit being Marin’s best-kept secret.

May it be so for you, and for me. Amen.

© Joanne Whitt 2017 all rights reserved.

(You may watch the video here:

[1] Sandra Tsing Loh, “After the Election, a ‘Whole Foods Democrat’ Returns to Church,” April 15, 2017,; Ross Douthat, “Save the Mainline,” April 15, 2017,


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