First Presbyterian Church

of Hemet


The Rev. Kent Leyden

 
 I was born in Mt. Pleasant, IA where my father owned and operated a service station. That is where I spent my years growing up – pumping gas, washing windshields, changing oil and repairing flat tires. My love for cars and, more importantly, my attention to people were engrained into me during those years. 
 
Through my family’s tradition of military service, I joined the Army National Guard.  I served in Combat Engineer units. I remained in the Guard for 21 years retiring as Sergeant First Class. 
 
I was the first in my immediate family to attend college. I received a B.A. in English  with a minor in Linguistics in 1980 from Central College, Pella, IA. I continued my studies in English Composition and Rhetoric at Emporia State University, Emporia, KS from 1981 – 1983. 
 
Prior to seminary, along with my service in the National Guard, I worked for Rockwell-Collins Avionics Division as a Technical Writer and Environmental Effects Engineer for 12 years. 
 
In 1997, when I left that career and I sold my home in Cedar Rapids, IA, to attend the 
University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, those who knew me best said, “It’s about 
time.” Those affirmations for me in ministry have continued through the years. 
 
My primary calling in ministry has been to help congregations in redevelopment and revitalization. Before coming to Hemet, I served congregations in Iowa, Virginia and New Mexico. I have remained very active in the presbyteries everywhere I have served. 
 
I am also a Spiritual Director. I completed my training from the Stillpoint Center for 
Christian Spirituality at Ghost Ranch in 2016. 
 
I love Christ’s Church and seek its peace, unity and purity. I live and work today in a  
contemplative life-style, following the axiom, “faith seeking understanding”.(Anselm of 
Canterbury 12c).


Rev. Jim Karcher

I was born in Canton, China of missionary parents of the United Presbyterian Church, USA. My first language was Cantonese and learned English during my parents’ first furlough home to the U.S. between the ages of 3 and 4. When my family returned to live in the U.S. we settled in the Mt. Lebanon surburb of Pittsburgh where I graduated from high school, University of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary then known as Western Theological Seminary. 
 
My first call out of seminary was as assistant minister in Canton, Ohio in 1953. Two years later I went to Scotland to study in Edinburgh where I met my wife Eileen who is a native of Scotland. Together we returned to the U.S. where I served three years as assistant minister at the Presbyterian Church in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania. Then followed ten years as solo pastor at Hebron Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, ten years as solo pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Duquesne also in Pittsburgh, six years as associate pastor in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania at the Bethel Presbyterian Church and finally retired as associate pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Valparaiso, Indiana after six years of service.  
 
My wife and I moved to Hemet to be near family, brother Joe Karcher and his wife the Reverend Sylvia Karcher, former associate pastor at First Presbyterian, Hemet. My responsibilities at First Presbyterian are to visit the sick and shut-in, sing in the choir, lead the pastoral prayer at the 10:30 Sanctuary Service, lead an adult discussion group on Sunday mornings and assist the deacons in their care ministries. For hobbies, I enjoy playing tennis and golf as well as spending time
with our son and daughter who live elsewhere in California.

Saw Lah Shein, Director of Music 
 
I was born in Rangoon, Burma, now called Myanmar. My name is Saw Lah Shein. It is a very unusual name. One can call me Saw. I belong to a "Karen" ethnic, a minority ethnic group in Burma. Raised in a Christian family I fell in love and made connection with all genres of music. I've been playing piano since I was 5 years old and for the church since  
I was 12 years old. 
 
My undergraduate studies was in economics and I continued my education in Seminary focusing on church music and earned my Master of Divinity Degree. I taught at Burma Institute of  
Theology for two years and I came to the United States in 1985 studying at the Divinity School, Yale  
University, New Haven, CT. I received Master of Sacred Theology degree and moved to Claremont,  
California to continue my education in Theology at Claremont Graduate School. 
 
As a graduate student I worked at Claremont Graduate School as a senior secretary and a research associate. Then in 2000 I worked as an accompanist at Northkirk Presbyterian Church till 2006 when I became part time music director. Then in 2009 under the direction of the late pastor Karen Greschel I was offered a full time position of director of worship and arts. 
 
Over the past years I have had fun teaching music and directing vocal and bell choirs, leading the adult and youth praise band, teaching piano and voice, writing original musicals, designing stage sets and organizing musical events. Music, the divine gift, inspires me personally. I cry and laugh through music. I thrive through music. I worship through music. And now I am so blessed to be a part of First Presbyterian Church, Hemet.


Joe Smayda - Accompanist I was raised in a small coal-mining town in western Pennsylvania. My family regularly attended the only Protestant Church, the Evangelical United Brethren Church (EUB) where I played the piano for Sunday school and was the only teen in the Adult Choir. I began college at Penn State in 1953, sang in the local EUB church. They were planning a new Sanctuary, so during the four years I organized benefit concerts by students I solicited from the campus. 
 
Arriving in Los Angeles in 1957, I joined the Immanuel Presbyterian Church on Wilshire because it was next to my workplace. I was active with the choir there and the Los Angeles Master Chorale for over 25 years before moving to Denver in 1984.In Denver I attend the Central Presbyterian Church and joined the Wellshire Presbyterian Church Choir taking two trips with them overseas. I also sang with the Opera Colorado chorus and Denver Symphony Orchestra chorus.  
 
I retired to California in 1992 and immediately joined the First Presbyterian Church of Hemet choir but kept active with larger groups to bring back ideas to our choir. Among these have been the Pacific Chorale in Orange County, Inland Master Chorale in Redlands, and presently Raincross Chorale in Riverside. I have been involved with church choirs and choral music for over 60 years.


Chris Ellison - Office Administrator 

I was born in Los Angeles, CA, but was raised in Wyoming due my father’s work in the oil industry. After I married my high school sweetheart, we moved to California where my husband was attending college. Later on, we returned to Wyoming where we were delighted to welcome our first child, Lisa, into our family. Following my mother’s death, we returned to Los Angeles where I was employed in the medical field. Our second child, Greg, was born in Inglewood, CA. My husband worked with Peter Kiewit Sons’ Co. in building freeways, dams, bridges, etc. and we moved fairly frequently. During those years, I continued to work in the medical field, but after our children were grown, my husband and I both changed careers. He worked for Penhall Co. (concrete breaking & removal) and I began working in the homebuilding industry. During these years, we attended various churches and were members of First Baptist Church of Basin, WY and Valley Christian Center of Dublin, CA. Following my husband’s retirement, we moved to the Hemet area to be closer to family members. At that time, we joined Hemet Valley Baptist Church where I teach Sunday School (3rd & 4th Grades) and we both sing in our church choir. We both love to play golf, fish and travel and enjoy spending time with our five grandchildren. I began working for the First Presbyterian Church of Hemet as their Office Administrator in 2011 and have enjoyed meeting and getting to know the wonderful members of this church.


Javier Gamon - Facilities Manager

I was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and came to the United States on July 4, 1984. In October of 1999 I became a U.S. citizen. My wife Margarita and I have three children, Maria, Hector and David. For 15 years I was the custodian at Villa Del Sol Mobile Home Park in Hemet and came to First Presbyterian in January of 2005. On Saturdays I do home maintenance jobs, tile work, reset toilets, replace windows and small carpentry jobs. My family and I attend the Roman Catholic Church and I’m glad to serve our Lord at the First Presbyterian Church.