The Rev. Gabri Ferrer said he’d be vicar of St. Martin in-the-Fields, Winnetka for just two years, at the invitation of the late Bishop Jon Bruno. As usual, the Holy Spirit had something else in mind.
When shifting demographics forced the church’s beloved school to close in the wake of its 60th birthday celebration, Gabri was an attentive pastor. As one of our area deans, he provided thoughtful counsel during COVID. Now into his tenth year as vicar of all Winnetka, Gabri continues to lead with graciousness and good cheer while waiting to see what the Spirit reveals about what’s ahead for St. Martin’s and its friendly people. These days, for instance, he’s displaying original artworks around his lovingly curated church.
At 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., he and his team offer impeccably organized liturgy and his always uplifting preaching. I was along last Sunday to preach and celebrate at the second service. Gabri saw to every detail, planning right down to the minute, although he was unable to account for the preacher exceeding his time, as usual.
St. Martin’s is heaven on earth for music lovers. Music director Christian D Stendel, starting out at the organ, got us underway with the stirring sinfonia to a J.S. Bach cantata that is burned into my heart’s hard drive as the first cut from Wendy Carlos’s “Switched-On Bach.” It also exists as a violin partita.
Nothing could go wrong after that. Bishop’s warden Linda Jacobson led the procession, lifting high the cross. Gabri and Christian’s musical vision is broad enough to include, as the offertory anthem, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” offered by singer-songwriter Claire Holley, who sang every enigmatic verse, which one rarely hears in church. Then Christian headed to the piano to join Wayne Behlendorf, retired Campbell Hall music department chair, for works by J.S. Bach and Handel arranged for four hands.
I had expected to have both hands full with our Lord’s parable of the talents from Matthew’s gospel. But as it turned out, it wasn’t a problem. On Saturday night, our son-in-law PJ Bovee’s father, Leonard, died after a brief illness. Len was one of the world’s greatest grandfathers. Kathy Hannigan O’Connor and I spent the day with the family in south Orange County as they did love’s hardest work, making decisions that were best for Len. In the parable, the harsh, selfish master doesn’t stand for our God, who is neither harsh nor selfish, but for our capricious world of precious joys and sudden woe, such as that just experienced by Len’s family.
Reading the parable, let’s never again think Jesus is telling us God consigns people to outer darkness. God does not — not Len, not you or me, not anyone. But there’s so much loss in our world, every day. So much grief, and so much to annoy and anger us. And as a result, so many temptations to smother and hoard the love God entrusted to us, digging a hole in our hearts and burying it deep like the frightened, worried servant’s talent, keeping it for better times, plunging ourselves into outer darkness in the process. God didn’t fashion us as mediators of God’s love for better times but for these times, whatever and however they may be.
After church, actor and people’s warden Nicola Lubitsch presided over delectable homemade snacks and the annual St. Martin’s carbonated soda contest as donations were taken for Hillsides, this mission’s historic partner. Church administrator Paige Deary gave me the Cook’s tour, including improvements funded by the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles’s One Body & One Spirit Annual Appeal. Eight of us sat in the sanctuary for a half-hour’s meditation.
Then Gabri and his spouse, singer Debby Boone, invited me to their home for lunch. Their longtime friend Dusty Ebsen, film editor, keyboardist, and son of actor Buddy Ebsen, was also along. Son of Jose Ferrer and Rosemary Clooney, Fr. Gabri worked as a Hollywood manager before being called as a lay associate rector at All Saints’ Beverly Hills and, in 2007, a priest. He showed me fascinating entertainment ephemera and his own stunning artwork, including a cover painting for his mother Rosemary’s 1993 album “Do You Miss New York?”
Debby, another of our most successful recording artists (“You Light Up My Life”), said over lunch that she’s reading Barbra Streisand’s memoirs, so you can imagine those synergies. I told Dusty how much my old boss Richard Nixon loved his dad in “Barnaby Jones” (though Dusty of course knew all about their friendship already). Everything else from our lunch is under the stole and behind the curtain. You’ll just have to come to St. Martin’s and hear what show business tidbits Fr. Gabri shares each week in his lively, Jesus-drenched sermons.