8964 Magnolia Avenue, Santee
Santee United Methodist Church
Pastor: Christian DeMent
Born: La Mesa
Formation: San Diego State; Claremont School of Theology, Claremont
Years Ordained: 10
San Diego Reader: Why did you become a minister?
Pastor Christian DeMent: My call to ministry came to me when I was called to help build the United Methodist Church’s presence in Vladivostok, Russia, which is the sister city of San Diego. When things changed in the Soviet Union, the doors gradually opened to churches that had a presence there previous to the USSR, churches which included the United Methodist Church. We were working with people to plant United Methodist churches in the far eastern part of Russia. While there, a group of college students we met took us out to a farm in the region. These students weren’t Christians and they wanted to show us the farmland in Vladivostok. At some point, we sat down for a picnic on this visit and one of the pastors who went on the trip with us shared communion with all of these young people who had never been offered that gift of that sacrament, God’s grace through communion. Quite a few of them said that was a transformative experience; that they had never been invited to the table before. I remember my heart being warmed — that’s a John Wesley expression — to realize this is what I want to do. I wanted to be someone who can offer that gift of God’s grace to someone who has never experienced it before, and to help open that door to God’s love in a unique and special way. In that moment, it affirmed my gradual call to ministry. That moment I said, “Yes, this is it!” So I came back to the U.S. with that spirit and dug deeper to become a pastor.
SDR: What is the mission of your church?
PD: We’re a 105-year-old church. We’ve been in the community and serving the community for a long time. I’ve only been here for 14 months and we’re experiencing a revitalization. I’ve been appointed here to create more stability and to cast a vision for the future. We’ve already seen it become fruitful with an increased spirit of engagement of those already here and an increase in numbers with quite a few new members — about 25, which is a 10 percent increase — joining us in the last 14 months. I want to create an environment where everyone knows they are loved and know they belong.
SDR: Where do you go when you die?
PD: I do hold the traditional Christian view that those who have a relationship with God will share eternal life and joy with God in heaven. Our Methodist theology informs us that those who refuse God’s love suffer endless separation from God. Indeed, that would be what some would call hell, which is much different from the mythical “fiery place with cold coffee” I remember seeing from an old Far Side comic. Methodists don’t have a theology of hell. I do believe though, that God is constantly working on our redemption and salvation, and that may even extend beyond our life on Earth. This could be one of God’s great mysteries; that we can be redeemed and saved beyond our death and that God continues to make God’s love available eternally. This may stretch traditional theology, but it is something I personally hold. I don’t believe God ever gives up on us.