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A Calm and Steady Force Leads the Way

By Susan Jakubowski-Weiner, Connecting Voices Editor

     “Self-aware,” “at-peace” and “appreciative” might be three starter words to describe the Rev. Lewis Leon.  Lewis, a Presbyterian minister since 1975 is currently serving as the called minister at California’s Highland Congregational Church.  He is seeking dual standing within UCC and is in the discernment process to do so.

     How did Lewis’s journey begin?  As a southern California native born to a Roman Catholic father and Methodist mom, he and his older sister didn’t begin life with a heavy dose of religion.  A calling was there, but not in a way that Lewis came to know until after he began “church shopping” in Lakewood, California around the age of 16.  There was a clicking moment when Lewis found himself at a local Presbyterian church with a minster who made great sense to him.  That minister, the Rev. Arthur Sueltz, went on to become one of the greatest influences in Lewis’s life, but first things first. 

     Lewis found that the church youth group he joined had an appreciation for mission work.  Its members maintained a deep partnership with a Native American Reservation, the Cocopahs, in Yuma, Arizona.  The relationship started with visits to the reservation, building basketball courts and the like, and evolved into one where the tribe’s children and their parents come to California to visit the youth group and their church here.  This experience stayed with Lewis after he graduated from high school and eventually journeyed to UCLA.  While there, Rev. Sueltz came calling; would Lewis mind returning on Wednesdays to lead a junior high youth group?  Lewis readily agreed, travelling a distance between full class days, and maintained ties with the church and Rev. Sueltz during the remainder of his college years.  Upon graduation, Lewis entertained thoughts of law school.  Rev. Sueltz suggested a theological education, maybe even at his alma mater, Princeton Theological Seminary.  Lewis wasn’t too sure about this ministry thing, but knew a theological education held his interest.  He was accepted to Princeton, and off to New Jersey he went.  While there, Lewis had a chaplaincy experience at a training school (like a reform school), and it felt like a good match.  Before his senior year in seminary, Lewis accepted a chaplain position at Rutgers University.

     Many life stories have an interesting sidetrack of enchanted love, and Lewis’s was no exception!  He had met Terri early in his college education.  There was enough of a connection to make it all the way through seminary, with Lewis and Terri marrying during his senior year, after Terri willingly left a good job in southern California to come to Princeton.  Lewis had the blessing of three callings upon graduation, and accepted one that drew him following a summer internship-in Taos, New Mexico.  That area was where his mom had her roots, Terri enjoyed it, and a successful, romantic four years followed.  The Leon’s first of three children- a son- was born there.  Since the Presbyterian Church had been a great match for Lewis, they then journeyed to Scottsdale, where the Presbytery was developing a new startup church.  The time was 1979-80.  But, a housing standstill followed and although Lewis was successful in growing the church from 0 to 100 members in three years, the economy had taken its toll on the church in terms of growing further.  It was time to move on, and a nearby church with 2,500 members and a pastor who was a friend became a next stop.  This second Scottsdale church would provide a 17 year commitment and a most meaningful pastoring experience.  Lewis was able to focus on family life ministry, and later added the church’s administration and finances to his duties.  The congregation, in supporting Lewis’s strengths, enabled him to receive his Doctorate in Ministry, writing his dissertation on the issue of grief, from Fuller Theological Seminary during his stay.  Their family grew to a party of five during this great time in Lewis and Terri’s life.

     Following Scottsdale, a new far-away journey was in order, so Lewis accepted a senior pastor position in Oceanside in 2000.  It was a joyful congregation states Lewis, only ending when Lewis’s own father needed late-in-life care.  Lewis took off 1 ½ years to lovingly care for his dad until he passed.  This period of time and the subsequent time after his dad’s passing allowed Lewis and Terri to visit a number of area churches.   In March, 2011 they found comfort at Pilgrim UCC Church in Carlsbad, where they had been residing.  Lewis was impressed with the minister, the Rev. Madison Shockley, and the church’s ONA stance.  A call to our Conference Minister Félix Villanueva followed, a discussion ensued about dual standing, and Lewis landed at Highland Congregational Church on March1 of this year!  Lewis is most impressed with how this current congregation is able to renew and revitalize itself, while going through all the processes it requires.  Although there are not a large number of youth at Highland UCC, a number of college-age students have already been involved, and they, with Lewis are developing a college ministry for area students. 

     In his “spare” time Lewis continues with his life-long love of the outdoors.  He and Terri have traveled extensively, both in the U.S. and abroad.  Lewis loves hiking both in Yosemite and in many areas of Europe, particularly in the area surrounding the Matterhorn.

     His goals in pastoring to Highland Congregational?  To walk together in sharing the Good News among worshipers and in the greater community.  It is no surprise that this pastor’s favorite word is grace, which Rev. Lewis Leon describes as “the driving power of our church.”  And Lewis’s favorite Bible verse?  That would be Philippians 4: 4, where Mark states, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!”

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