As the neighborhood around 110-year-old St. James’ in the City in the Wilshire District of Los Angeles has changed, so its manifestation of the face of God, with members representing many nations and cultures. A Korean church within a church has thrived since the nineties, having gotten its start in the seventies at St. Stephen’s Hollywood.
Besides Anglican comprehensiveness, St. James’ anchors are its gorgeous church and grounds, a legendary music program under the direction of Canon James Buonemani, and the superb St. James’ Episcopal School, whose head of school, Peter Reinke, is my friend and counselor. The Rt. Rev. Franklin Brookhart, retired bishop of Montana, hangs his crozier at St. James’, preaching and teaching regularly. One of its distinguished former rectors, Kirk Smith, served as bishop of Arizona.
St. James’ rector since mid-2018, the Rev. Kate Cress oversees the whole operation with calm skill, wisdom, and an innate kindness, well informed by her prior vocation as a teacher and educational researcher in South Africa (as a Fulbright scholar), Uganda, and Korea. She was my gracious host for a busy Sunday afternoon on Oct. 24 along with the Rev. Jon Feuss, my attentive chaplain for the day, who when not running with Jesus at St. James’ is running HR for the NFL. The Rev. Susan Stanton, our new director of finance at St. Paul’s Commons, Echo Park, joyfully assists at St. James’. Master liturgist Canon John Charles Thies, with a lifetime of stores to tell about this wonderful church, including his marriage to fellow minister Sara J. Thies, was minister of ceremonies.
I was along to celebrate and preach at 8 a.m. and 10:45 a.m., which gave me plenty of time to bask in the place’s spirit of welcome. Bagel sandwiches and coffee fueled rich conversation with the eight o’clockers about eucharistic practice during COVID. Steve Yeazell, a UCLA law professor emeritus and senior warden when the church called Kate, took a good-natured victory lap. His wise successor, Arnold Blanshard, and I talked turkey about parish and diocesan finances.
Other officers and vestry members drifted in as well, including Canon for Common Life Bob Williams. You can’t turn around without running into someone amazing. Mary Nichols, 20-year chair of the California Air Resources Board and our diocesan convention keynoter on Nov. 13, arrived for the 10:45 with her son Nick, like her a Yale-trained attorney. Recent arrival Laura Holt is former professor of theology at Notre Dame, Phil Musra a jazz saxophonist who lends his gifts to the church. Our ecclesiastically peripatetic volunteer treasurer, Canon Andy Tomat, was also aboard.
And church continued at 12:30 p.m., when about sixty were present for a service in English and Korean where Kate, the Rev. John Dongjin Kim, and I joined as celebrants and I preached. Priest-in-charge at St. Anselm’s in Garden Grove, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Lee, drove up to assist.
In the midst of the service, Steven Y. Rim, one of the founders of the congregation, gave me the gift of a thumbnail history, with special focus on Fr. John’s prophetic work as a street preacher and, these days, senior associate for Korean ministries, a portfolio that includes ministry, often at his own expense, to homeless neighbors, many of whom sing in the St. James’ Korean language choir. What an honor to meet and thank his spouse, Eun Ju, and their daughter, Aletheia, after church, when even more fellowship was enjoyed and bread broken.
For we are one body, and we all partake of the one bread. During our 12:30 service, Korean choir director David Sang-Ryul Lee offered a deeply moving anthem in Korean. Moments later, at the beginning of Holy Eucharist, it was just as moving to hear the music the Rev. Canon Rob Bethancourt composed many years ago for the folk mass for which Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Fullerton became famous. In the center of the city, crossroads of too many cultures to count, we sang our homegrown music together, bonded in Christ’s love. #OneintheSpirit indeed!
Read more about St. James’ here.