The Force is With New Principal Rich Gregory

At Ascension Lutheran School, one of the favorite activities is God Spotting – singling out those breathtaking times that reveal God’s presence in our lives. The perfect alignment of timing and events that led to the arrival of our new principal, Rich Gregory, makes for a God Spotting item to cheer.

Mr. Gregory is already well known to many at Ascension. A former contemporary worship leader here, he did his undergraduate studies at Cal Lutheran, where one of his classmates was our Early Childhood Center director, Jenni McCoy. He had none other than Pastor Julie McCain in his youth group when he was youth director at Resurrection Lutheran in Redondo Beach, and later, when he was an associate director of Lutheran Retreats, Camps and Conferences at El Camino Pines, she was on his camp staff.

If you were at chapel for Mr. Gregory’s installation last month, you heard Pastor Chamie’s account of Mr. Gregory riding for Jude Delkeskamp in a 100-mile bike ride for diabetes research, along with Pastor Tim.

“We’ve been the best of friends for a long time,” he says of our senior pastor. “He is one of the best people I know. I met him when he and I were in a Bible study, studying Dallas Willard together, in the early 2000s at First Lutheran in Northridge. I was so impressed with him.” Subsequently, he hired Pastor Tim to speak at a youth retreat at El Camino Pines.

It’s a beautiful sunny afternoon out at the school lunch tables and Mr. Gregory is speaking above the loud chatter of an energetic cluster of children with cute little faces and blue uniforms — third graders enjoying their midday repast. He remains unruffled despite kids continually coming to him with questions and reports. Someone is sharing their lunch, a no-no in this time of Covid.

“No sharing food please, thank you,” announces Mr. Gregory.

“Mr. Gregory, are we in trouble?”

“No, you are not.”

To begin at the beginning, Mr. Gregory was born in Mississippi. He was raised in Ipswich, England, from age three to 11, during “my dad’s 30 years in the Air Force. He married a Brit. My sister’s Korean; they adopted her when he was stationed in Korea,” he notes.

“Mr. Gregory!” He stops talking for another alert. One of the girls is pointing at a boy standing between the tables. “He’s eating a whole packet of mustard!”

“That’s good stuff,” observes Mr. Gregory. “It’s hard to ketchup.”

He is on lunch monitor duty, having volunteered to spell the teacher who was here without a break on a short-staffed day. Three teachers and two aides are out with situations ranging from a death in someone’s family to a positive Covid test. It’s obvious that Mr. Gregory is enjoying these children, and vice versa.

“I love them. I love them. It has been a breath of fresh air,” he says.

Mr. Gregory comes to Ascension after seven years at Oaks Christian School, where he taught middle school and high school Bible classes, mentored numerous young worship leaders, and was part of the leadership team. He is an ordained pastor himself — Pastor Rich, to his flock at Lifesong Christian Communities in Newbury Park.

It was at El Camino Pines that Mr. Gregory felt the call to become a pastor.

“Many of the visiting pastors during the summers would say things like, ‘You really should go into the ministry,’” he recalls. “So, after a couple of years there, and after discovering Dallas Willard, I wanted to spend my life preaching the Gospel in a way I now understood.”

He went on to earn his Masters in Divinity at Fuller Seminary. Now he is completing doctoral studies at Azusa Pacific University.

While serving as contemporary worship leader at Ascension, he was approached by “a rag-tag group of six people who wanted to start a church in Newbury Park, and through them, the Lord spoke and said, ‘You have to start pastoring.’ So, Tim gave me his blessing, and we went and planted that church, Lifesong.”

This was not a traditional, full-time pastorship, however. Thus, Mr. Gregory branched out and became a teacher — like his mom and his wife, Kristin.

He and Kristin met at CLU. They’ve now been married more than 20 years. Their children are Noah, 8; Corinne, who is a freshman at Oaks Christian School (and a former Ascension student); and Nate, a senior at Oaks.

In case you missed the lively infographics and videos announcing Mr. Gregory’s arrival on Ascension Lutheran School‘s social media, he and his kids love to paddleboard. Another tantalizing factoid: Mr. Gregory loves “Star Wars” and he built his own light saber.

Can we see it?

“I actually shipped it to my brother in Wisconsin. He is the keeper of it,” says Mr. Gregory with a laugh. “I choreographed a light saber duel with my son when he was 10 for a school talent show. It was super fun.”

Asked to cite a favorite passage of scripture, he says, “Matthew 11:28-30 — especially The Message version. It says ‘Experience the unforced rhythms of grace.’ Yeah, that’s my hope for every kid here, that they’d experience unforced rhythms of grace.”

There are steep challenges facing all schools these days, what with pandemic burn-out and stress. How does Mr. Gregory feel about taking on his new post at such a time?

“I feel like we have an amazing team who are pulling together to get us through,” he says. “They have been kind and gracious and ready to accept my leadership.”

His watchwords for this time are Healing, Stability and Joy, with increased enrollment part of the planned stabilizing influence. “This is such a special place; people need to know,” he says. “To be honest, the sky’s the limit.”

He adds, “I feel that everything I’ve done so far has been preparing me for this. It’s a real blessing.”