With a long “laundry list” of what Pastor David Sebastian has contributed to the community, Jackie Mallouf told a crowd gathered for his retirement, “David championed the public church services for Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. One time, after a service, I mentioned to him that our attendance at Veteran’s Day wasn’t what we expected. I said maybe we shouldn’t continue the tradition. David told me that as long as he lived in Oakhurst and was able, there would be a Veteran’s Day service even if no one came ... I want to thank David for his years of service, for his patience and humor. And I want to thank Debbie and David their endearing friendship.”
Sebastian was honored at a special community event last Saturday, where about 200 came to join in the retirement celebration, wish him well and thank him for a job well done over the past 34 years.
In appreciation, Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler presented Sebastian with a special Proclamation from the board of supervisors, recognizing his selfless, tireless dedication to the people of Madera County.
After serving half his life as the pastor, Sebastian gave his final sermon standing at the pulpit before the Oakhurst Lutheran Church (OLC) congregation on Oct. 8. The decades have been filled with joy, satisfaction, kindness and love in a church he takes some credit for founding.
In the beginning
Sebastian began his pastoral career as a worker-priest at Trinity in Chowchilla, and while serving the vacancy at St. Paul’s Lutheran in Merced, he was asked by one of the members if there was any chance of a Lutheran church coming to Mariposa. He did some digging, and it was determined that both Oakhurst and Mariposa would make ideal locations. And so, on Easter 1978, Sebastian began a preaching station in Mariposa, while Pastor Paul Hansen of Our Savior in Fresno began a preaching station in Oakhurst.
“After OLC built its original building, Hansen resigned and went to Mariposa Lutheran, and I was called and installed as OLC’s pastor on Nov. 23, 1983,” Sebastian said. “I can honestly say my years here have been full, rich and a blessing - not just for me but for my wife, Debbie, and my children Rebecca and Matt, and now my grandchildren Elsa and Jonah.”
Sebastian recalls many proud accomplishments when it comes to his church and congregation.
With an OLC preschool recognized as one of the best and a wonderful ministry for Mountain Area families, current attendees have grandparents who attended the preschool in younger days. In every YHS graduation the valedictorians and salutatorians are children who attended the OLC preschool. Sebastian has baptized children of couples he has joined in marriage, as well as children of children he has baptized.
“I take pride that OLC is a church of service. In the 18 years we have participated in Eastern Madera County’s Relay for Life, our team has been the top fundraisers for 13 of the 18 years, raising more than $266,000 in the fight against cancer. Can there be any greater service to a community than to help erase the loss and pain of cancer?”
The one pastoral experience that gives Sebastian the greatest satisfaction, yet to many may seem the most difficult, is ministering to those grieving or bereaved.
“It’s then that I can share a message that no one else can share,” Sebastian added. “It’s a message that the loved one doesn’t merely live on in the mind hearts or memory of their family and friends, but they have the life God gives in the Resurrection. It’s the message that nothing - not sin, not Satan, not even death -can separate us from our loving heavenly Father. That message gives the comfort and consolation that allows the grieving to celebrate even in the midst of loss and sorrow.”
Along with his ministry responsibilities, Sebastian has somehow found the time and energy for staying active in the community. Over the decades, he has chaired the Manna House board and was instrumental in incorporating it as Shared Ministries, beginning a Safe House program for a domestic violence program. He served on a countywide Task Force on Self Esteem with the late Judge Paul Moffatt.
For 27 years, he has served on the Little Church Foundation, sometimes as president, but usually as vice president to Mallouf. He served a term on the Bass Lake Unified School District Board, and said one of the efforts that he took the greatest satisfaction in was helping Angelo Pizelo in getting pre-International Baccalaureate classes at the junior high level. Its subsequent effect was Yosemite High becoming certified as an International Baccalaureate high school.
Sebastian served on the Oakhurst Community Center board in the 1990s and worked on renovating the main hall and creating a meeting room there. He is a charter member of the Sierra-Oakhurst Kiwanis Club, and received one of the club’s most prestigious recognitions, a Dunlap Award in 2016. He was also recognized by the Mountain Bear Fan Club with an Angels and Heroes Amongst Us award.
One of the first things he plans on doing upon retirement is spending more time with family.
“Half my life has been spent being blessed by the people of Oakhurst Lutheran Church,” Sebastian said, “for which I am thankful. And as I enter retirement, I’m proud to say that I have served such a great congregation that has served the Lord so well by serving its community.
“I give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters .... because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing,” Sebastian quoted 2 Thessalonians 1:3. “Therefore, I myself boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith.”
“From the day I walked into Oakhurst Lutheran Church, Pastor David made me feel welcome and every day after that,” said church member Kathy Swanson. “Somehow he has the uncanny ability to hear someone’s name once and then always remembers the name and face that goes with it. (That is something I admire because I have difficulty with that.) The more I got to know Pastor David, the more I liked him. I certainly enjoy this church and its community involvement. It is unlike any I’ve ever experienced before. I think this is in large part due to Pastor David and his big heart in this little church.”
Jason Johnsen was formally installed as the new church pastor last October.