Nearly 200 in church in two services, with dozens more tuned in to the professional looking, volunteer-produced three-camera video feed. A diverse congregation, with lots of young people. Lively coffee hour chat under the trees after the first service and warm fellowship in the parish hall after the second. Twenty-four baptized or confirmed. Dusty loafers from walking a construction site for a regional food bank and parish community center, set to open in the second half of 2024.
That was my Sunday morning with the Rev. Canon Rand Reasoner, rector for nearly 35 years, and the people of Prince of Peace Episcopal Church in Woodland Hills — a traditional model of connective ministry for our disconnected times, the unity of Christ amid diversity of outlook and background, and a healthy twinning of a familial spirit of belonging with service to neighbors and the broader community. Its West Valley Food Pantry was founded in 1975 when a hungry family knocked on the parish door but found that the cupboard for those in need was empty. Under Debbie Decker’s executive directorship, it welcomes clients from all over California and the west and has now made a multigenerational commitment to its gospel work, a moving example and invitation to us all.
I attended the second service to preach, celebrate, anoint those baptized by Fr. Rand and the Rev. Onesmus Tayebwa and the Rev. Brian Tucker (our Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles coordinator of mental health first aid), and preside as the Holy Spirit did her thing during confirmations, receptions, and reaffirmations. The Rev. George Packer, healing well from back surgery a year ago, and the Rev. Kathie Clark, associate rector emeritus, were also in church, George as deacon of the mass, Kathie as a lector.
When you arrive to worship at Prince of Peace, the bell choir and vocal choristers, all organized by music director Boude Moore, await you in the narthex, joyfully pealing and singing alleluia. They do this every week, mind you. I pray no one ever takes it for granted, because it’s beautiful and holy. In their music this Sunday, I heard the angel choirs, new members fresh from kibbutzim in Israel and the streets of Gaza, pleading with us in the name of the Prince of Peace to stop our acts of violence and injustice.
Parish children, guided by children and family minister Alma Fountain, painted the bulletin cover. Church administrator Ann Gillinger, doer and knower of all things, joined us on the altar. Yet another Prince of Peace charism is making a safe, welcoming place for children and young adults with special needs. At the festive lunch after church, before Rand and Brian gave me a tour of the construction site, longtime member Nancy Alspaugh-Jackson, just received into The Episcopal Church, told me about her energetic advocacy for those with autism. Her son, Wyatt, remembering Kathy Hannigan O’Connor’s and my love for the high desert, gave me a treasure for a lifetime — a rock on which he’d painted a beautiful Joshua tree.
Click here for a video of Prince of Peace’s bell choir and vocal choir in action.