THE BEACON: CELEBRATING OUR PAST 150 YEARS...IGNITING THE FUTURE
"This is the Lord's Table and ALL are Welcome!'
"TWO LIVES LIVED IN ONE LIFE TIME" -- You should have been in Cleaver Hall on Saturday night. Jubilee Homes hosted its Annual Christmas Dinner, and the Hall was completely filled with residents, their families and members of the Board. When we walked in a little after 6:00, there was hardly a seat to be had. The Hall had been decorated by Sara Dooley, Linda Goluskin and Will Dumain and the flowers were contributed by Lindsey De Leon. For the third year in a row, a delicious and abundant ham and turkey dinner was prepared over a three day period by former resident Marcus Mendoza, assisted by Marissa Amy and Evan Allen. I doubt 100 people have ever been more well fed in Cleaver Hall!!!
However, for most of those in attendance and certainly for Sue and me the highlight was the featured speaker -- Ken Hinge speaking on "A Vision for Recovery". Ken has been involved with Deacon Bill Doulos and deceased Bill Morgan for decades in working to bring "The Big Book Comes Alive" to literally thousands of people in the West San Gabriel Valley. It is no exaggeration to characterize each of them as iconic figures in the Recovery Community. In fact, I would compare listening to Ken with what I have experienced when hearing Fr. Greg Boyle from Homeboy Industries. Mesmerizing, compelling, life changing!!!
The most gratifying part of his presentation for me was his effusive praise of the contributions COS continues to make to people in recovery, most particularly through our 13 year support of Jubilee Housing. He went on and on about what COS's support has meant to alcoholics and addicts, and each and everyone of you would have been proud to hear his praise of this ministry. In fact, we shed a tear at the end of his talk when he said that COS has been responsible for blessing hundreds of people with "two lives in one life time -- one before sobriety and then a life in recovery."
THREE EXAMPLES OF JOURNEYS WHOSE TRAJECTORIES COS HAS CHANGED DRAMATICALLY -- Saturday at our table were two guests who have benefited immensely from this ministry. One has been a resident for three years, the other an alumnus from eight years ago.
No. 1 -- "Paul" was released from prison three years ago with absolutely no possessions. All he had was the name of one person who might be helpful, and that was Chaplain Dennis Gibbs who had befriended him in jail. As "Paul" tells it, not only did Dennis pick him up, but he also had clothes in his car which were made available to him. As noted, that was three years ago, and "Paul" now is employed by a Charter School originally established in the Bay Area. This non-profit has a program which assists people in jail to complete their high school degrees and has a follow up program for those who have more work to do but have been released before finishing. If I heard "Paul" correctly, he also works with ex-prisoners to find jobs, and he currently has 80 people whom he mentors. He said over and over again that Br. Dennis' kindness and the availability of a bed in El Nido saved his life.
No. 2 -- "Joe" came to Jubilee in desperation because he needed to get sober if he was going to be able to gain custody of his newly born daughter. He explained that once she turned 1 1/2, she would be institutionalized, and his chances of re-gaining custody would be very difficult. However, because of his love for her AND the availability of a room and a structured AA Program at Jubilee, he did indeed get sober; and after nine months he was able to rent a place for himself and his infant daughter. She was in attendance with her father, and during the evening she won a raffle gift. Deacon Bill recognized that "Joe" and his daughter had attended every Christmas Party since she was born nine years ago. As with "Paul", he thanked COS again and again for supporting Jubilee Housing and "saving his life".
No. 3 -- At the recent PRISM Restorative Justice Fund Raiser, we sat at table with "Pedro", another one of Jubilee's residents. During the course of the evening he became more talkative and most especially after Fr. Greg Boyle acknowledged him during his presentation. "Pedro" could not stop talking about how important a "bed" at one of the Jubilee residences had been for him after exiting jail. However, then he told us his next challenge was to find a job, and this did not happen until he applied for one at Homeboy Industries. His problem, aside from his 'priors', in getting any job was the fact that he had tattoos all over his head. So, at his interview with Fr. Boyle, the first question Boyle asked him was what he was going to do about the 'ink'. Well, he entered the Homeboy Tattoo Removal Program, and after 36 painful sessions you can not tell he ever had a tattoo on his face. He has been with Homeboy since that interview, and he continues to have a secure place to come home to every night in Pasadena.
A COMMON THREAD -- As gentrification continues to eliminate AFFORDABLE housing in Pasadena, two of these three men have been able to sustain themselves in safe and welcoming environments while seeking gainful employment. This is also true for 48 other residents in recovery, and this is all possible because Deacon Bill Doulos gifted COS with four recovery houses in 2003. If you are as moved as we are with his generosity and the great work being done by him, Ken Hinge and his House Managers, please consider Jubilee Housing in your year-end giving.
THE KILIANS 'KILL' AGAIN!!! -- With all due respect, there are Forums and there are Forums; but no one invests more time and produces more relevant information about the music of Christmas than do Paul and Gloria Kilian. This year their Christmas Carol Forum was entitled Three Carols of Christmas Myth and Metaphors, and it was yet again such a wonderful gift in this Advent Season. Thank you, Paul and Gloria AND Kathleen Kilian Wainscott, The Hon. Clifford H. Woosley and Sean Kilian.
ADVENT IN THE GALILEE -- While many of us are missing the spirit of Advent because of events impacting us in the secular world, the Palestinian Christians across Israel, the West Bank and Gaza began the Season in their usual gloriously celebratory way. From Bethlehem to East Jerusalem to the Galilee, everywhere there is a Christian church, the skies exploded in fireworks on Saturday night, December 3, as Christmas Trees came alive with thousands of lights.
No where was the celebration more joyful than in Shefa 'Amr where St. Paul's, our Sister Parish, is located. Thanks to Canon Fuad Dagher's creative use of Facebook, all of his 3,700 friends were able to view thefestivities. For us, two things stood out. First of all was a wonderful picture of Canon Fuad walking hand in hand with his fellow Christian priests from the Marontie, Melkite, Latin and Orthodox parishes in Shefa 'Amr. What a fantastic example of ecumenical cooperation and mutual respect!!! Actually, Fr. Fuad will not say it, but we will. He was recently named Canon of Inter-Faith Reconciliation at St. George's Cathedral in Jerusalem because of his work not only with his Christian counter parts but also with the leaderships of the Druze, Muslim and Secular communities. Contrast this to how the Christian denominations function in the West San Gabriel Valley. The Episcopal parishes don't even converse with each other, let alone with the leaders of other Christian and non-Christian communities.
The other incredible view from Shefa 'Amr was the remarkable picture a drone produced of the celebration. First of all, the aerial views of the lightings of the Christmas Trees at each parish were wonderful, BUT the best views of all were those of the THOUSANDS of citizens of Shefa 'Amr who jammed the streets around the town square where the biggest tree of all was lighted. Yes, Christianity is under siege in the Middle East and elsewhere, but there is an indomitable spirit extant in segregated Shefa 'Amr which testifies to just how valuable a unified Community is in re-enforcing the collective Journey. Much has been written about the exodus of Christians from the Holy Land, but in the 12 years we have been visiting St. Paul's and the Daghers, we are unaware of any such immigration by ANY member of that parish.
Another thing you should know about Advent in the Holy Land is that it is not celebrated on only one or two days leading up to Christmas. Rather, the Christian churches seem to offer some activity or worship opportunity every single moment. In fact, the Friday after the Lighting Fr. Fuad and his wife Han'a hosted over 100 women from Episcopal parishes in the northern West Bank and the Galilee. By our count this included six parishes, and pictures posted on Facebook showed every seat in St. Paul's occupied. The importance of this gathering was highlighted by the appearance of Shafeeqa Dawani and her husband Archbishop Suheil Dawani who delivered the Sermon during the Service. To conclude the meetings, St. Paul's hosted 25 musicians who performed for the women and the Community in the Cultural Center which COS helped to develop. As you can see, Advent is taken very seriously by our Christian Sisters and Brothers in the Holy Land.
BLESSING THE CHILDREN OF EL MONTE -- Yet again Facebook provided graphic evidence of just how incredibly supportive parishioners of COS are of the ministry of Our Saviour Center. Monday night an array of pictures showing Santa's Helpers in Cleaver Hall wrapping gifts appeared on Facebook. What a festive occasion it looked to be!!! I could name names, but then I would miss someone; and that wouldn't be fair. Suffice to say that a large group of loyal parishioners yet again guaranteed a huge success next Saturday. By the way, there was one picture of Cleaver Hall taken from the north end which really showed off the Hall. What a gorgeous facility!!! I doubt there is another parish in the diocese with a facility as beautiful as ours.
WE SAT IN CIRCLE AND TALKED -- In response to the challenges many of us are facing as 2016 comes to a close, Sr. Greta Ronningen decided to organize a gathering of parishioners and clergy who would sit down and discuss our hopes and fears as we move forward into 2017. A handout described this as a Community of Christ searching for understanding while not compromising to reach a common middle ground. It is about focusing on values and concerns that the group shares.
A dozen people showed up, and we sat in a circle in Grace Chapel. Sr. Greta stated that she and others (me) were deeply concerned by the increasing polarization we were seeing within our communities, and she hoped that the establishment of a safe place to express different points of view might go a long way towards this re-establishing a standard of civility in our conversations. Probably the main requirement she imposed on the 12 of us was to speak our hearts when we chose to but otherwise to remain silent and LISTEN. I found this very difficult, but it resulted in an extremely rewarding evening. Yet again I was impressed by the incredible and depth and breadth of the people who lead and attend COS. Given how therapeutic this session was for Sue and me, hopefully it was just the first of many future gatherings.