The Beacon

"We who are many are One Body, because we all share one bread and one cup." 

THE WEEK OF JULY 22 - 29: I HAVE BEEN OVERWHELMED BY A SERIES OF EPIPHANIES & REVELATIONS -- As I have expressed on numerous occasions, COS occupies the entire Second Ring of our Concentric Circle of focus, after our family. In fact, Sue might suggest that 'obsessed' would be a more descriptive verb for our allegiance to this parish. In any event, last week I was impacted more than I usually am by a series of church related events, meetings and readings which either filled me with joy or new knowledge. I'm blessed to have made it to 81 so I could witness a week like July 22 - 29!!!

TOM SHENK: THE CATALYST  MAN-- I'm not a 'process' person, so I was a little skeptical that the preparation of a Parish Profile was a necessary step before we called our next priest. I also will admit that being 81 impacted my thinking; time is not my friend! However, the last two weeks have proved that I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

In spite of all that I have learned in my 81 years, Fr. Honeychurch's "Sharing Our Story" session was a real eye opener. As I commented last week, Sue and I realized during those three hours with him that our views of the history of COS, even of more recent times, differed from those of many others. What a revelation! Perhaps COS wasn't as ready to move forward as quickly as we had thought.

A week later, Tom Shenk REALLY brought the Process into focus with three REALLY insightful questions. My main take aways from listening to the six people at my table and the comments made during the open comment times are two fold: COS has been in a holding pattern for the last several years since Fr.Gary Bradley first joined us and "calmed the waters"; AND because of the many different reasons parishioners attend church, the Profile Committee will have a challenging task clearly defining what our Vision going forward will be.

For what it's worth, in spite of what I have heard and with all due respect to the 40 committed parishioners who have 40 different frames of reference, Sue and I believe COS's future in this rapidly changing world will rest on how well we address and articulate the Visions for each of our six Outreach Ministries. Aside from differentiating and separating us from all other parishes in the Diocese, the services each of these offers are what the "market" out there needs and wants. We've got the "products"; will we be able to "package" them effectively?

TO THIS END, I ASKED OUR DAUGHTER MOLLY WHAT SHE IS HEARING OUT THERE THAT MIGHT BE HELPFUL IN FRAMING A NEW COS VISION  -- Molly is a licensed family therapist whose practice is concentrated on assisting younger families who are facing, and often times overwhelmed by, the challenges of surviving in 2018. In spite of the level of the stock market and the reported growth in GNP, these folks are struggling to just keep their heads above water. In addition, many are coping with divorces, addictions of various types, learning disabilities, domestic abuse, housing affordability, job insecurity, loneliness, depression, etc. The tragedy is that her chosen profession is a GROWTH INDUSTRY!

Given what she is experiencing every single day in her practice, she believes it is possible that faith based communities in general and COS in particular could make huge differences if they offered programs to address some of the above problems and anxieties facing their own congregations and their adjacent neighbors. In support of her view, I would point out just how important Deacon Bill Doulos's Jubilee Homes Ministry has been in serving the needs of people in recovery over the years. Talk about a RELEVANT MINISTRY!!!

Then, on Sunday as if someone(?)  had wanted to make sure that we had heard Molly's message clearly, we were introduced to Dr. Marie Poulsen, Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. She works at Children's Hospital focusing on infant and early childhood mental health issues and children with special needs. It is her professional opinion that faith based communities could play an important role in elevating the visibility of the mental health issues impacting 1) children and 2) mothers suffering from maternal depression. She has dedicated her professional life to advocating on behalf of these two constituencies, and she hopes institutions like COS will factor in the possibility of participating in some way in elevating awareness of these two illnesses in their Vision Statements.

WHAT ABOUT OUR NEXT PRIEST? Motivated by Tom Shenk's Session, I was filling out Question # 22 (What Characteristics, qualities, abilities and focus would you like in our new Rector?), and I had what I can only characterize as an Epiphany. Given the uniqueness of this parish AND the uniqueness of the Diocese of Los Angeles and Southern California, I have come to think that IN DEPTH FAMILIARITY with the latter two areas is the primary qualification we should be looking for. No other region of the country is as diverse across the board as this one is, no matter what the issue or area of interest. That also makes us one of the most complex areas in the U.S. so calling someone from outside of the region seems to me to ignore one of the great advantages we have if we call a knowledgeable local.

In fact, we have a current example of just how important and beneficial this can be in the person of our new Bishop John Taylor. Because he "knew the territory" already, there was almost no learning curve; and he was on the job networking immediately. No time was lost.           

COS CONNECTIONS -- The parishioners of COS continue to bring joy to us, by facebook, email and texting, and this week in particular was very special.

Joan & Dick Biersch: As many of you know, they moved to Sonoma to be closer to their family, one of those being Lisa Biersch Cole, their older daughter. Well, after a number of years working to become a priest in The Episcopal Church, she has completed all of the rigorous requirements necessary to be ordained. On August 3 at 6:00 she will be ordained at Trinity Episcopal Church, the Biersch's new parish, by The Rt. Rev. Barry L. Beisner, Bishop of the Diocese of Northern California. Congratulations, Lisa and Joan and Dick.

Sally & Harry Baldwin: If you are a 'friend' of Sally's, you know both she and Harry have been dealing with some severe health problems. In fact, there was a time when Sally expressed concern that she ever would be able to walk again. However, I am here to testify that I was privileged to share a blessing with her Sunday before last in church, and she was able to walk up to Fr. Bob Honeychurch without assistance. Now, I know the healing is complete because she and her family have just completed what appears to be an over the top week in Avalon, her "heaven on earth!" I don't know about you, but we need Sally and Harry in our parish Journey. Welcome back!

Janey Odell Cutting: Speaking of "heaven on earth", we know from facebook that this is where Janey is spending her vacation. In her case, this is Northpoint in Michigan, and we have been there! Some years ago Gordy and Janey Odell, who have a marvelous vacation home there, urged their Community Council to invite The Rev. Canon Denis O'Pray to serve as Northpoint's Resident Priest for the month of July. This he and Lyn did over several different years, and Jim and Sally Porter and we were invited to spend a week with them during one of those months. What a magnificent place it is, and the rock and natural wood chapel on a knoll in the center of Norhtpoint is beyond description. So is the Odell home which apparently is large enough to host the 25 extended clan members shown in Janey's recent posting on facebook.

Vera Hoalim: I got to sit with Vera at the Sunday Forum, and it was great to see her back on campus. Unfortunately, she will not be with us for long because she will be headed back to London to help take care of her sister. One thing I do know, though, is that whenever she is in town, she will be involved in some major aspect of the life of COS. In fact, I thanked her for serving as our Stewardship Chairman for the last two years and noted that the new Annual Giving Committee needed five people to replace her. She smiled, sort of. Hurry home, Vera. We need you!

Kaori Cooke: Kaori, our former Assistant Organist, her husband and their two children visited us Sunday from Japan. They are here in California on vacation, but they will be heading back soon. In the mean time, there is a wonderful picture on Canon Phil Smith's facebook page of the four of them in the sanctuary with him, Patti Teele, Harriette Nagata and Ronnie Nagata.

Cynthia Juvinall: Cynthia made a comment at Sunday's Forum which has stuck with me, and not in a good way. If I heard her correctly, she said that almost 50% of the children in the San Gabriel School System are on the Free Lunch Program. This raises for me the question of why we Americans feel so compelled to travel to far away places like Mexico, Haiti or Ethiopia to help the less fortunate when we have so many people trying to exist right here in our immediate communities? This is one reason I believe the L.A. City Pilgrimage which Gabe Vazquez-Reyes reported on recently is so significant.     

Charlotte Van Fleet & Tracy Van Fleet: Tracy is Charlotte's daughter and a former member of our Choir. Now, in addition to her own professional career (, she is a member of the Los Angeles Master Chorale as a Mezzo Soprano. Last Saturday the Chorale organized and offered at Disney Hall BIG SING CALIFORNIA, a gathering which included in addition to the Chorale 2,000 singers from around Los Angeles in the audience and another 7,000 people who joined them from hubs in San Diego, Fresno, Berkeley, Riverside and Sacramento. We were fortunate enough to have been made aware of this event by Tracy; and although we missed the live broadcast, we did view it on the internet. All we can say is "WOW"!!! What a diverse program! Where else could you hear so many wonderful voices singing everything from the "Star Spangled Banner" to "This Land Is Your Land" to "Hey, Jude"?

The performance was best summarized in an op-ed column in the L.A. Times by one of the participants: "Harmonizing with thousands of strangers was a deeply felt, primitive refresher course in community. We experienced the fundamental urge to just get along. We were reminded of our human obligation to ensure a safe space for singing, metaphorically and literally, all together." Unfortunately, the Master Chorale is only planning to keep the performance on the internet until August 2, but perhaps they will change their mind as people like me continue to write in praise about it.

As we watched the performance, we were overcome not only by the beauty of the music but also by the fact that Los Angeles has this talented concentration of professional singers who also have this incredible venue in which to perform. This made me feel very proud that I'm an Angelino, and this got me to thinking about how REALLY special and unique Southern California is. This is why we need to be sure whomever we "CALL" truly appreciates and understands what Los Angeles has to offer. L.A. is a world class city AND the role model for the 21st century. As you know, I also believe COS has the potential to achieve the same role model in The Episcopal Church nationally.                                 

PILGRIMAGE MADE THE GOSPEL SO MEANINGFUL TO US -- The week ended with a Gospel reading from John 6:1 - 21. This passage chronicled the feeding of the five thousand on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. This was quite moving for Sue and me because we have been on Pilgrimage in Capernaum and the place where tradition believes Jesus actually fed the people many, many times. In fact, the last time we made Pilgrimage in 2013 with 24 COS Pilgrims and friends, our guide Iyad Qumri had Von Vine read the relevant scripture passage from a small indentation in the hill above the Sea. Even with the noise created by passing tourist buses, we all could hear Von loud and clear. Jesus could actually have stood and been heard by all. What an experience!

Another thing one learns from making Pilgrimage to Galilee and the Sea is how close the distances are in this area of the Holy Land. It is easy to see that Jesus could readily travel from Capernaum up and down the shore on easy day trips. In fact, when traveling from Nazareth to the Sea, you can even trace the way He would have walked, including entering the shore by passing down through Wadi Hamam below the cliffs of Mt. Arbel.

One other memory brought back by the Reading was the experience of the Apostles as they were attempting to travel to Capernaum by boat. Suddenly, a storm came up, and their boat was tossed about violently. For those who doubt this event. we are here to tell you that we had this same experience in 1998 when we made our first Pilgrimage organized by COS's Choir Director Jim Person. One of the obligatory experiences is a ride on the Sea of Galilee on one of the boats sacrilegiously referred to as a Jesus Boat. Actually, these are much, much bigger than the Apostles had access to; but when the storm came up suddenly, the captain wasted no time heading for shore at maximum speed. From a clear, beautiful day to high winds and a rough sea in a matter of minutes. Quite an experience!

When our Pilgrimages to the Holy Land were over, we had been there 16 times since we first went with in 1998. We remember each one fondly, and each contributed greatly to our Spiritual Journey. We miss not being able to go again, but we urge anyone who can to make Pilgrimage. Like us, you will find it life changing, AND the Gospel Readings will add a dimension to the Sunday Service which you will never have experienced prior to your Pilgrimage. Although we can go no more, we know how to organize Pilgrimages; so if one is in your future, please don't hesitate to contact us for assistance. Going to the Holy Land vicariously is better than not going at all.

IN CONCLUSION: After reading this BEACON, perhaps some of you are wondering why I have made such a big deal of the week of July 22 - 29. All I can say is to reiterate that after our family, COS IS THE CENTER of our 62 year Journey together. It is our community, it provides vehicles for two 80 year olds to try to make a difference, it frankly is the one institution that gives us hope that constructive change is possible in the future. Last week provided us with ALL of the above.

I should also let you know that reading Parker Palmer's new book is re-enforcing our Journey, too. The title says it all -- "ON the BRINK of EVERYTHING: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old".