View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Baker Road, Sausalito, California.

Photo by Ben Harritt on Unsplash

Sausalito Morning Church

December 27, 2022
Over seven years ago, I retired from full-time paid ministry, but I haven’t retired from ministry at all. I have gone around saying that “There’s no such thing as retirement in the Bible. Look at how old Abraham and Sarah were!”

One of the challenges of getting older is finding a daily exercise routine that won’t put you at any physical risk. It’s been a while since I rode my street bicycle since there are no designated bike lanes in Sausalito, where I have lived for 24 years. One time a truck came so dangerously close to me that I could just reach out and touch its doors.

To keep and maintain this aging body moving, I started to walk every morning after eating a bowl of cereal with a ripe banana and making my freshly ground pour-over coffee. Before drinking my coffee, I usually walk before sunrise into the touristy area of Sausalito. My brisk walk is about 3 miles in about one hour. My reward is to enjoy my coffee when I come home from my walk.

Photo by Donald Ng.

I began to see the same people every morning. These people started seeing me every morning too. After exchanging many “morning!” greetings, I initiated conversations, finding out the persons’ names. I now know over 15 people who have become my Sausalito friends. During our chats, I inevitably will share that I am a retired pastor. Once I accepted my call to Christian ministry and became ordained, I am always a minister whether I am in a paid position or not (and even though I try not to dress like a pastor anymore!)

In the Gospels, the writers recorded how Jesus ministered to people as he and his disciples were traveling from town to town. They stopped where they saw that someone needed to hear a good word. They applied balm when healing brought wholeness. They exhorted in situations when sharing truth corrected misinformation. Like Jesus and the disciples, I have in so many walks, formed a community. My community can be called “Sausalito Morning Church.”

Jeannette and Wolf like to sit at a bakery shop drinking coffee, and often give into their temptation for a sweet roll. They drive luxury cars and drive over from an even more tony town. Wolf wears shorts because he plays golf every Thursday. Jeannette is very caring and asks where my next travel adventure will take me. We share similar political positions and sincerely care about where the world is going. When I miss a morning, they notice. When I returned from my first Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, I brought them prayer cards that I received when I visited churches in Spain.

Henry lives on a boat out on the bay and is known as one of Sausalito’s nearly 100 “anchor-out” residents. The city is trying to move all those who are living on boats because of the risk of contaminating the bay, as well as because it is illegal. But the city also has a tourist slogan, “Keep Sausalito Salty” that features an old sailor with hat and pipe. Henry is one of our tourist attractions. He sits on a park bench facing east to experience the warm sunrise. He rides a bike when he comes on shore with his guitar. He strums his guitar and often speaks about how bad the government is; perhaps it has something to do with his illegal boat on the bay.

When pastors retire from full-time paid ministries, they often feel lost or unanchored. But for me, my daily walk has become a ministry, where I have formed a community that can be called “Sausalito Morning Church.”
Peter and Dennis are Jehovah’s Witnesses who set up their tract rack right in the middle of town in front of the Yee Tock Chee Park, a small area recognizing a merchant who established the Marin Fruit & Grocery in the early 1900s. Yee was known for his generosity and honesty because when people did not have enough to pay him, he would still give them food. The inscription on the bronze plaque reads, “To know him was to love him.” Peter and Dennis are good at what they do. They are not shy to approach me and invite me to come over to talk. At first, I brushed them aside. But after several times, I decided that I would give them some of my morning time. When they learned I was a retired pastor, we immediately engaged in discussions of the Trinity and healthcare. I told them that we can talk, but they will not convince me of their theology. I told them to not waste their time on me when there are so many out on a tourist visit to Sausalito who still need to hear about the love of God. Peter and Dennis became ministry colleagues since we are still all on the same team.

Photo by Donald Ng.

Fin is a large and strong trash collector. After the tourists leave every day, there is a lot of trash to pick up. In addition to emptying the full containers on the sidewalk into a noisy yellow garbage truck, I saw Fin carrying a large aluminum barrel on his back going into homes situated up the hill. I asked him why. I learned that some of the Sausalito residents pay extra to have someone come up to their houses to pick up their trash. After that, Fin and I have had chats about the inequities in the world and particularly the vast chasm between those who are more privileged and others. Now when we see each other, we raise our fists for solidarity. When he sees me walking and he’s in his garbage truck, he toots his horn.

There are many others. Juan sweeps the sidewalk. Mary Elle worked at Macy’s. Sharon has two St. Bernard dogs. Larry sports a white beard and carries his cup of coffee while walking. Greg drives a street sweeper and has lost over 50 pounds as mandated by his doctor. Marina, a Canadian, works at Levi’s in San Francisco and goes into the city three times a week in this post-pandemic season. And if I would walk at a different time of the day, there would be more people for me to meet and find out their names.

When pastors retire from full-time paid ministries, they often feel lost or unanchored, sometimes feeling so unmoored that they return to ministry where they feel needed. Doing interim or transitional ministries is greatly needed to fill pulpits while churches are searching for their next pastors. But for me, my daily walk has become one of my ministries that I do today. Meeting people who are neither Baptists nor churchgoers has given me another perspective that I didn’t always have before.

I discovered that all people are God’s people, even if they don’t necessarily affirm that for themselves. But I can do that for them. On my Apple Watch that tracks my daily walk, I can see that my life is not limited to my house but goes beyond to the highways and byways of life. I hope and pray that as I walk every day and meet people every day, that I might be seen as God’s ambassador of peace and love. If I can be someone who walks with Christ, perhaps others will walk with Christ too.

All are welcome to Sausalito Morning Church!

Rev. Donald Ng was president, American Baptist Churches, USA, 2014-15, the first Asian American to serve in this elected position. For 17 years, he was senior pastor of the historic First Chinese Baptist Church in San Francisco. He retired from full-time ministry in 2015.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

Don't Miss What's Next

Get early access to the newest stories from Christian Citizen writers, receive contextual stories which support Christian Citizen content from the world's top publications and join a community sharing the latest in justice, mercy and faith.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This