St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, known as St. Mary’s Mariposa, first served Japanese immigrants in the early years of the last century. It was darkly ironic that the United States chose this place of welcome as a staging area for Japanese Americans whom President Roosevelt sent to concentration camps during World War II. Their belongings were stacked on the church steps. The church’s first vicar, the Rev. John Yamazaki, held regular Holy Eucharist services for internees.
Glenn Nishibayashi, whose parents were held prisoner, graciously served as my chaplain when I visited St. Mary’s on Sunday to preach and celebrate. Glenn showed me the altar Fr. John used in one of the camps as well as the notice ordering U.S. citizens (as 60% of internees were) to report to St. Mary’s.
The founding vicar’s son, also John, was named in 1946, as St. Mary’s welcomed its core families back. They waited over 40 years for their country to apologize and pay reparations. Meanwhile families flourished and grew while remaining attached to this pretty church in the heart of the city. These days they drive from all over our region for services.
Welcoming neighbors for worship in Spanish has been a priority at St. Mary’s for years. During the rectorship of the Rev. Anna Olson, St. Mary’s became home to members of the Los Angeles Oaxacan community. While many still say they’re Roman Catholic, they feel connected to St. Mary’s because of its spirit of Bienvenido, including the music and dance groups that practice on campus. La Banda San Cristubal LA offered anthems and accompaniments on Sunday for our bilingual service as the Holy Spirit came down and baptized three school-age children and confirmed four young people, all members of the Oaxacan community.
With the music and all the young people, grace abounded. The church was full, the sun bright, the mood festive. Glenn’s brother, Canon Steve Nishibayashi, Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles secretary of convention, was also aboard. The energetic senior warden, Gayle Verma, a professor of Spanish at USC, showed me a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, an Eagle Scout project many years ago. Late last year it was badly defaced. Before a replacement could be installed, someone in the neighborhood, they don’t know who, had fixed it, displaying the fine hand of an art restorer.
After church, St. Mary’s laid on a delicious lunch. Then I had the blessing of sitting with its exceptionally devoted priest-in-charge, the Rev. Joy Magala, and its wardens and vestry. They have a rector search underway, and it’s not easy. The ideal candidate is multiculturally competent and bilingual, with a prophetic spark. Our church needs to do a better job forming the kinds of leaders churches like St. Mary’s deserve.
In the meantime, Joy (who also serves two other congregations) is magnificently preaching the triune gospel of love, trusting the Holy Spirit, and staying the course in both word and action. My work Sunday was just to say that they have already done the hard part, by actually putting the often enunciated ideal of Christian unity into action.