In The Episcopal Church, deacons lead by example, and here’s one. When its beloved longtime rector left five years ago, and St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, its extraordinary diversity by no means limited to its historic Japanese American and more recently arrived Oaxacan members, began a long transitional season, the Rev. Dr. Joanne Leslie called me and said she thought she could help as parish deacon. And so she did, keeping focus on outreach ministry while just being herself — a peerless pastor and quietly insistent prophet for justice.
With the gracious Rev. Joy Magala now serving ably as priest in charge, new work awaits Joanne in her family and diocese. So on Sunday, she stood before the St. Mary’s congregation and asked to be released from her deacon duties. It was a chance to give thanks for all of her gifts — as a former adjunct professor of public health at UCLA, a medical missionary, a peace and justice advocate with her late husband, Walter, and a former Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles archdeacon who assisted in the formation of a generation of deacons.
With a gospel quartet of those very deacons listening in the congregation, Joanne’s successor, the Ven. Laura Eustis Siriani, preached an eloquent sermon. The former rector, the Rev. Anna Olson, sent a moving letter to be read out. The Rev. Jennifer Guitierrez, executive director of CLUE: Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, paid tribute to Joanne’s advocacy for immigrant workers’ rights.
Learning of Joanne’s plans, I crashed the party, and Mo. Joy invited me to preside at the bilingual service — which included the privilege of blessing Hannah and Christian on their birthdays. The young musicians of Banda Juvenil accompanied hymns and offered mass music. At a typically delicious St. Mary’s lunch after the service, it was great to get caught up with retired Episcopal Relief and Development executive Richard Hoff, who lives close to St. Mary’s with his spouse and their 16-year-old daughter.