The Rev. Otto Vasquez was a member, senior warden, postulant for Holy Orders, and finally priest, all out of Iglesia Episcopal De Todos Los Santos in Highland Park, where he’s now priest in charge. A bishop sees to the pastoral needs of deacons and priests, including making sure they don’t overdo it. And yet I think it’s fair to say that Fr. Otto, who also runs a small contracting business, has fallen through the cracks. Laboring in love is for him both vocation and avocation.
Nestled in the midst of this dynamic Los Angeles neighborhood, the church looks beautiful. Otto used the pandemic to renovate the rectory and parish hall, preparing for more tenants and community celebrations. Todos Los Santos is renowned for being a place of inclusion and justice and, in later years, a focal point for community outreach, leasing space to non-profits and caring for the food- and housing-insecure.
Following a season of offering separate services in English and Spanish, Fr. Otto and parish leaders, spurred by the Holy Spirit through the agency of the pandemic, decided on a single bilingual service. This is harder than it sounds, since most people quieren escuchar las oraciones en su propio idioma.
It’s also complicated when first-generation Americans prefer the language of the nation of their birth while their children and grandchildren prefer English.
Lest anyone think people are being selfish, remember that the Reformation began when people insisted on hearing the gospel in their vernacular, which was their divine right. Yet the divine rite is familiar enough to most of us that, whether the priest holds their hands in the air at the beginning of Holy Eucharist and says “El Señor sea con ustedes,“ “the Lord be with you,” or “주님이 당신과 함께,” we know we’re being invited into the presence of our God in Christ. In a pluralizing culture and church, insisting that the invitation come in my first language risks putting my prerogatives ahead of the community’s. And we know what Jesus would say to me about that.
On Sunday, when the church celebrated the baptism of our Lord, I was along to preach (back and forth from Spanish to English as best I could) and mediate the work of the Holy Spirit as 11 were confirmed or received in The Episcopal Church. Three kings were along as well, plus Otto and Rosy’s six-month-old grandson, Emory, presented at the altar. My fellow 2007 Holy Land pilgrim the Rev. Kevin Gunn found time amid his deacon duties to be my chaplain. He has served this parish faithfully for many years. As always, it was a blessing to be with Dan Valdez, stalwart in this congregation and in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.
After church, we blessed the parish hall — it was the first full-scale parish fiesta for years — and folks danced as they awaited the delicious lunch. Such joy in fellowship and community. On a day like Sunday at Todos Los Santos, there’s no place I’d rather be than with all the saints.