There's a special moment in the gospel narratives when the Lord Jesus turns to his disciples. He tells them that he loves them. And he calls them his friends (John 15).
One of the things we learn from this is that the Lord Jesus considers his people, who follow him in faith, to be something very special — his friends. What an encouragement!
Think now for a moment. When was the last time someone in Burbank or Los Angeles told you that they loved you and considered you a dear friend? It has probably been some time, am I right? It's hard to make true friends here.
But Covenant Church can change that. Forming deep friendships with people happens naturally when you share a close mutual friend already. Those in Covenant Church who are following Jesus, thereby growing closer to him, are automatically developing relationships and friendships with fellow believers in the church as all move in one direction towards the Lord Jesus in faith.
Below, I show a possible example of community. It's impossible, of course, to capture every aspect of what makes "community" in a short story, as it's something better lived than said. But a group of people who are loved by the Lord and thereby love and support one another can and do make real differences in their own lives and in the lives of others. Here's one possible example, out of an infinite number of possibilities for which the Covenant Church community can be a blessing and a joy to people in Burbank and Los Angeles.
Imagine please that it's the year 2028. At the time of writing, that's five years from now. And Karla, a single mother, has just moved to Burbank to work in production.
The early morning sun illuminated Burbank streets that were already abuzz with activity. Under tree-lined avenues, decked-out joggers trotted up the mountain toward the morning late April light. Small groups of senior citizens strolled the sidewalks side-by-side, speaking languages from lands far away, and laughing together. Teenagers in too-large sweatshirts meandered behind their leashed dogs; the glow of that season's social media app lighting up groggy faces. In a small but wonderfully decorated apartment, the sun came now creeping along the windowsill and into the kitchen where Karla stood still. Her mind, however, was electric, sparking with memories of the many difficulties she had recently encountered. Though she intended to be making breakfast, the electricity in her mind took all of her strength and seemed to paralyze the rest of her movement. Not that she noticed, as she was lost in thought.
“No!” Karla's nose suddenly recognized a sense from the present that didn't belong.
Opening the toaster oven and fanning her hands quickly, Karla worked with futility to clear away the smoke that was coming off of a bagel that now more closely resembled the color of a truck tire than it did of the wheat grains from which it came. Fanning quickly, Karla abruptly dropped plate and bagel together. They landed with a bang on the linoleum, and the bagel mercifully disappeared under the fridge, taking with it any idea of scraping, butter and jamming, and trying to pretend that the smoke added a needed Unami flavor. Now the smell of smoke was wafting through the whole apartment.
“Mommy, what’s wrong?” Karla’s son, Jaden, appeared in the doorway from his bedroom, wearing pajamas and looking concerned.
“No!” Karla yelled and then covered her mouth. “You’re not dressed yet?” Jaden slowly shook his head side-to-side. “Son, Mommy has to be on set in twenty-five minutes and it’s a ten-minute drive. I just burned your bagel so now we’re going to have to grab breakfast on the way. Go - get dressed!”
Ten minutes later, Karla dashed out of her car, leaving it running with the blinkers flashing in what she considered a meaningful apology to those stuck behind her in the shopping plaza driveway. She hustled into Starbucks, returning moments later with a breakfast sandwich for Jaden who was in the back seat. With a toss of the sandwich, the car sprang to life across the parking lot, apologizing no more.
Outside of Jaden’s school, the car drop-off line seemed to stretch a mile in the distance. Karla looked at the dash clock and tapped her feet impatiently.
Turning back to Jaden, Karla said “Sorry honey, you’re going to have to walk a little today. Get those steps in!” She feigned a wide smile.
“But mom,” Jaden started to object.
“No buts,” Karla said firmly. “I’ve already been late multiple times this year; once more and I’ll be in real trouble. Now go!”
With a sigh of frustration, Jaden grabbed his bag and hopped down out of the car. He stumble-walked, as if he needed to drag his unwilling body toward the school. His face showed resilience, but Karla could tell that he was upset at needing to walk while all around him his friends experienced a door-to-door service. Jaden walked away slowly and Karla hoped he only forgot to give his mom a kiss goodbye.
“Oh well!” Karla said to herself as she punched the accelerator towards work. When she arrived to the set, parking signage was a mess. When she finally found the right place to park, she turned off the engine and left her keys in the ignition, half turned. Karla gripped the steering wheel tighter and tighter until her knuckles changed color and she closed her eyes. For just a moment, one second, maybe two — the car, and the set, and the world disappeared and she enjoyed a moment's break. But then her mind's electricity sparked again and she remembered she was late. Slowly she opened her right eye a crack, as if a full glance at the clock would overwhelm. The dashboard clock blinked 8:31 AM. Karla was twenty-one minutes late.
On set, Karla had a hard time concentrating on her actual work as her new full time job was to avoid the eyes of her production supervisor. And the electricity didn't stop. Thoughts swirled, even during the most intensive moments of production. Karla felt sorry for herself and sorry for Jaden. It seemed as if she had not had any time recently that was dedicated only to him, as the minutes that she did spend with him felt ever rushed and not put together. She thought on the morning - and she thought of herself now as someone who couldn't even provide breakfast. Karla looked forward to getting home - but she had another nine hours of filming. And would be back on set tomorrow, and hopefully for many days after, if she's able to do a good job.
Lunch appeared and Karla was glad to find an unoccupied table. She sat down and opened the catering tray. As she was tearing the utensils from their plastic, out of the corner of her eye, Karla saw someone starting to walk her way.
“It’s the production supervisor," Karla thought to herself. She looked down at her food, trying to keep tabs but also to avoid eye contact. Karla thought on how best to explain the bagel incident as an excuse for running late, but no good story, outside of simply burning a bagel, was coming to mind. After a moment, looking up slowly, Karla was relieved to see not the production supervisor, but a camera operator, about 35 years old, named Caroline. Caroline smiled brightly.
"Can I join you for lunch?" Caroline asked.
“Of course,” Karla said. Caroline took a seat at the table and for a while the two chatted about the show they were working on that day, the weather, and the catering. Suddenly, Caroline interjected with a question.
“Karla, are you alright?”
There was a long moment's pause.
“Do I not look alright?” Karla asked, with a look that Karla hoped conveyed her annoyance at the audacity of such a question. Caroline seemed not to notice.
“No, quite frankly you don’t," said Caroline. "I've seen you on a lot of shows, and lately I’ve noticed that you seem unfocused — distracted.”
“That’s mighty bold of you to say to someone you don’t even know,” said Karla.
Caroline continued undeterred. “You’re right - I don’t know you. Not well, anyway. And I certainly don't intend to pry. But you’re a crew member with me, and so that means I care about you. And you’re my friend on set.”
“Oh, so now we’re friends?” Karla asked with a shocked smile of incredulity.
Caroline smiled back and said, “I’d like to think so."
Karla paused. And then said, “Well, I did have an unfortunate incident with a bagel this morning.”
And then for some reason Karla found herself telling Caroline about her recent troubles, feelings of anxiety and being overwhelmed. Caroline was a great listener — and they discovered that they live close to one another. Karla's apartment was in Burbank and Caroline's in North Hollywood. As cries of "we're back" sounded around the lunch, they made plans to grab coffee the next week.
Karla was encouraged to have made a friend and getting some things off her chest, but the feeling didn’t last. Later that night, as she settled down on the couch, after putting Jaden to bed, she couldn't shake off feeling more than a little down on herself and lonely.
Karla looked forward to her coffee with Caroline. As the day drew near, every text message took on a new element of surprise as not one message was Caroline canceling, as was normal in Los Angeles. In fact, Karla didn’t hear from her at all.
On the day, Karla dropped Jaden off at school and the car crept to the coffee shop.
“Oh - she must’ve forgot,” Karla thought to herself. “That’s why I haven’t heard from her.” Karla parked and saw that the coffee shop was busy with people coming and going from outside tables. Caroline wasn't at any of these tables, so Karla stepped inside to order while she waited for her.
“Hey,” a voice said to her left. Inside the coffee shop, there was Caroline, saving a table. The pair ordered coffees and, sitting down, enjoyed chatting about recent productions and directors they hoped to work with. Before long, the conversation changed to Karla and troubles she faced. Karla explained to Caroline about the mistakes she'd made in life, her regrets, and the difficulties that came with being a single mom who worked long hours.
“Karla, it sounds to me like you’re trying to do a lot on your own - and you’re doing a great job,” Caroline said. “But for this to be sustainable in the long term, you need a community around you who works to support you.”
“That sounds great - but all of my family, except for Jaden, are on the East Coast. I thought when I moved out here to work that it would be easy to make friends and community like it was back home, but I've had real trouble and no solutions.”
“You need to come to my church,” said Caroline. I know it sounds cliche, but my church is where I've found true community. People who love me and support me, and who cheer me on in good and bad. They’re my family out here.”
“Interesting,” said Karla. “What’s this church called?”
“Covenant - because God has made covenant promises to love his people in all circumstances.” Caroline told Karla about the worship times and opportunities to gather with her community group.
Before long, the topic of conversation changed and soon after, they parted ways, promising to meet again soon. And they did. Caroline was a faithful friend.
Karla, for the most part, forgot about Covenant Church until one Sunday evening a couple of months later. Karla had just sat down on the couch at around 9:00 PM when suddenly she heard a noise in the hallway.
“Mommy, my pillow is wet,” Jaden said as he rubbed sleep out of his eyes.
“Jaden. Honey, go back to bed. We both have early days tomorrow.”
“But Mommy, my pillow is all wet. I can't sleep.”
“That's probably just a dream.”
“No, my hair is wet too.” Karla looked closely. She realized now that Jaden looked as if he had just stepped out of a shower. Karla jumped up and felt his hair - it was soaked.
“Honey, what happened?” “How did you get so wet?”
“I don’t know. I was sleeping and woke up like this.” Karla stepped into Jaden’s room and flicked on the light. Above his bed, along the wall, close to Jaden’s pillow came a steady stream of water. It was as if the whole of the wall where his headboard rested had been repainted in liquid, and now the carpet was turning into soaking mess. Karla gasped.
“A pipe must have burst!” Looking up, Karla noticed a small portion of the ceiling had collapsed into Jaden’s room. She flicked on the light and saw now a large wet piece of ceiling drywall at the start of his bed - mere inches from where Jaden's head had rested only moments before.
Karla didn’t know what to do. Her landlord, she knew, was out of town on vacation. She tried calling her anyway but there was no answer. Water poured into Jaden’s room. So Karla called the person who recently had been there for her most — Caroline.
“Hey girl,” Caroline answered.
“Hey I’ve got a huge problem. There’s a leak in Jaden’s room and I don’t know how to stop it. Worse, I’m on an early showing tomorrow and Jaden needs to get some rest before school.” Karla was on the edge of tears. These last several months felt as if they combined their weight and sorrows and heaviness and collapsed on her all at once. “Caroline, what do I do?”
“First, let me pray for you.” Karla didn’t like the idea of taking time from action steps as she watched the water come down Jaden’s wall. But Caroline was her friend and she didn’t know what else to do.
“Heavenly father, we thank you for your love for us. I pray for Karla, that you’ll give wisdom and ability and resources to resolve this situation quickly to your glory. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
“Now, thinking about it, Mike in my community group is a plumber — let me call him and I bet he’ll get the water shut off fast.”
“He’ll be ok with you calling him this late?”
“Sure, Mike’s a sweetheart. He won’t mind. Now, the Christi family has a big house and a granny suite. They were just saying at evening worship that the college student they were housing just went home for the summer. You pack, I’ll give them a call.” Karla sopped through the wet carpet and grabbed some clothes and a backpack for Jaden. Then she grabbed some clothes for herself.
It wasn’t long before there was a knock on the door. Karla answered it to find a gruff looking short older man in coveralls who was carrying a large tool bag.
“I’m here to fix your pipe,” he said. “And I’ll need your keys.”
“Yes,” said Caroline, who appeared suddenly behind him. “Mike will need them to lock up because you two are coming with me.”
“We are?” asked Jaden.
“Hi Aunt Caroline.”
“Yes, I have a great place ready for you and your mommy to stay tonight. It’ll be fun!”
“Thanks, Caroline, for handling all this.” Already she could hear the flow of water slowing as Mike worked.
“This church is my family. I’m glad you’ll get to experience the love of these people - though, of course, I wish it were different circumstances.”
“Well, you’re here when I needed you. I’m ready when you are.”
This was Karla’s introduction to the rest of Covenant Church. She experienced their love as she and Jaden stayed in the granny suite. She enjoyed meals that Covenant families cooked while her apartment was being repaired, and there were new friendships formed. It wasn’t long before Karla looked forward to the Sunday and community group gatherings. And then Karla began to pay attention to the message, and she longed to know Jesus. She soon was a Christian believer. Karla gained joy in knowing the Lord Jesus and she had now a community who loved her and supported both her and Jaden.
On a surprisingly cool morning in late July, the sun crept over the Verdugos. The streets were still and quiet. But Karla was making noise, hustling down the stairs from her apartment to the garage. She was running late, as she often does. But she was joyful and excited for her morning. She was meeting a new friend at a coffee shop. And it wasn't long, that very morning, before Karla was surprised to hear herself inviting this new friend to come, and be a part of her community, where she had found peace and joy, at Covenant Church.
Come, join the start of a new community in Burbank. Come and gather with Covenant Church.