On the fifth Sunday in Lent, millions of Christians, and all those in church in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, including at St Thomas Episcopal Church, Hacienda Heights, CA, heard the story about Mary anointing Jesus’s feet when his Nazareth peeps held a dinner in his honor in Bethany. “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume,” John’s gospel recounts.
At coffee hour, St. Thomas’ young people showed me pouches of perfume they’d made in Sunday school, a lesson devised by longtime Christian education volunteer Phoebe Pao. They recounted the story of Judas rebuking Mary and Jesus for their seeming extravagance.
But I kept thinking of that pleasing odor. Thirty years ago, the English-speaking congregation began sharing their church with a Taiwanese church. Nine years later, they became a church of two languages in one liturgy, and in 2005, the two institutions merged. This immensely delicate ecumenical innovation was the work of many hands under a series of devoted vicars – Dean Farrar, Betsy Hooper, the late Deborah Dunn, and Joshua Ng.
The seventh vicar, the Rev. Dr. Fennie Hsin-Fen Chang, instituted in 2018, diligently, energetically, and lovingly tends the garden the pioneers planted. She’s a great pastor, teacher, and preacher who caught the Episcopal bug when, as a doctoral student at the University of Toronto, she visited Hacienda Heights and met Mo. Deborah.
Her deft pastoral leadership is vital. Hard to believe, but it isn’t easy for a church to pull off bilingual ministry. We Christians pledge to sacrifice for one another in the name and manner of Christ yet by and large grow impatient when the Lord’s Prayer is said in a language other than our own, even when our own language is used as well. But St. Thomas’ does it Sunday after Sunday – and I know our God in Christ reckons the effort as a pleasing odor indeed, an anticipation of the unity and peace of heaven.
This morning I was along to preach (with Mo. Fennie translating into Mandarin) and celebrate and join the congregation in inviting the Holy Spirit to confirm Alex Zhong, 16, who has worshiped at St. Thomas’ since he was six and served as an acolyte since age nine. Antao Chien (a Los Angeles-based logistician who makes magical things happen in the supply chain) was my gracious chaplain.
After church and a wonderful coffee hour, Mo. Fennie introduced me to more ecumenical colleagues — lay leaders from St Peters CSI Church Los Angeles (Church of South India), affiliated with the CSI Madhya Kerala Diocese. They’ve been worshiping at St. Thomas’ since 2015. The Episcopal Church is in communion with the CSI, so the Holy Spirit is continuing to do wonderful things in this place where Christian unity is both talked about and undertaken. I hope to meet with the Rt. Rev. Dr. Rt Rev Dr Malayil Sabu Koshy Cherian when he visits his LA flock in July.