He seems like a man normally filled with joy and blissful calm. But these days, there are other, all-too-human emotions very near the surface of Rev. David Worth. After 23 years as pastor at Malibu Presbyterian Church, he will preach his last Malibu sermon Sunday. He says the parting is bittersweet.
He leaves for First Presbyterian Church of River Forest, in Illinois, July 1. “I’m going back to where I started,” he says.
It was where he served as youth director, then as assistant pastor. It was where he and his wife of 33 years, Nancy, were married, where he was ordained, where his sons were baptized. It is where God is now calling him, he says.
“It is not even going home. It is a strong sense that God wanted me there. And for my wife and I, it has been a decision we thought and prayed a lot about before we made it. I’m a hundred percent sure.
“Of course, you walk into any new situation and there’s a sense of humility. I have a big challenge ahead.”
That challenge is to do what he did for his church in Malibu: “To help the congregation reverse its membership decline and to bring a higher percentage of young adults into the life of the church.”
He says he did so in Malibu through contemporary music. “That’s where it starts. What is the music of the heart? The language of the community. That for me is one of the keys to the church’s ability to reach the younger generation.”
The median age of his congregation in Malibu is 37, he estimates. In River Forest, it is 63.
He came to Malibu Presbyterian as one of 463 applicants. “I wanted to be the pastor of a 500-member church in a somewhat rural community with a college nearby. And I said, if I have my dream it will be with the ocean nearby. So God gave me the desire of my heart.”
In his 23 years here, he estimates he preached 1800 services and performed 341 weddings, 380 baptisms and 140 memorial services. He performed the wedding of a woman he baptized as a baby.
He says he’s nervous every Sunday, no more so when President Bill Clinton was among the congregants in a surprise visit. “As a pastor,” Worth says, “when you realize you’re standing in front of people helping them make contact with almighty God, it’s an awesome responsibility.”
Inspiration for those 1800 sermons come from “a lot of thinking, a lot of praying, being with people and trying to listen to the issues of life.”
Worth was born and raised on a vegetable farm in southern New Jersey, to Christian parents. He wanted to be a math teacher but between his freshman and sophomore years at college, he says, “God said, ‘I want you to be a pastor.'” He attended divinity and graduate school in Chicago, where he met Nancy. “Saw her,” he says simply of how they met. It was October 1966; they were married in June.
They have two sons and two grandchildren. Doug, now an electrical engineer, is married to Darci, and they live in San Jose with their children Gretchen, 4, and Emmett, 2-1/2. Jay “is continuing his entrepreneurial work,” dad notes.”We were a five hour car ride away, now we’re a five hour plane ride.”
He also served as a member of the Malibu Optimists, Pepperdine’s Crest Associates executive and advisory boards and Keep Christ in Christmas. He chaired the Greater Malibu Disaster Recovery Project, winning a 1994 Dolphin Award as a citizen of the year.
“For us, it’s just been a phenomenal experience to raise a family here, to be an integral part not only of the church but of the community,” he says. “And it’s been a privilege to share not only the joys but the trials of life in this community.”
His prayer as he leaves Malibu is, “That people would honor and discover the possibilities of a relationship with a God who created all the beauty we enjoy and not take for granted or ignore the spiritual dimension of their being.”
His more secular hope for Malibu is, “That people maintain mutual respect and seek to discover common values and goals — so that everyone wins. When the chips are down, this place can get it done.”
He says he may come back for his retirement. “God knows the future. If I had my way, I’d love to retire back here. I’m a California kid. But we’ll see.” So far, it seems, his prayers have been answered.
While the church seeks to fill the full-time pastor position, Associate Pastors Roger Newquist and Karen Greschel will lead the congregation. “I have real confidence in both,” says Worth, “and in the lay leadership of this church. I leave really believing this is the strongest staff and the strongest lay leadership this church has ever had.”
Rev. Worth leads his last service Sunday morning, at 9 and 10:30. A coffee-and-cake reception will be held between services at 10 a.m. All are welcome. The church is located at 3324 Malibu Canyon Road.