Members of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, who gather in a beautiful church in a cozy neighborhood in Pomona, know who they are. They worship in English and Spanish, because these are their neighbors’ languages. They’re fiercely pledged to welcoming people across differences of orientation and identification. Their lovely liturgy combines Anglo-Catholic elements with venturesome Protestant ones, such as congregants speaking in unison with the celebrant during key moments of the eucharistic prayer, as in the United Church of Christ.
Knowing exactly who we are, as institutions as well as individuals, is important during times of transition. After 13 years as rector, the Rev. Canon Mark Hallahan retired five months ago. St. Paul’s is strong and small. Like many faith organizations in secularizing times, it worries about the future. When I visited Sunday to preach and celebrate, I provided as much encouragement as I could, having closed my ears to narratives of decline. Without the broad Episcopal-Anglican view, U.S. Christianity is doomed to heresy.
So we shall hang on or else — embodying Bienvenido, leveraging our real estate, sharing resources with neighboring churches, and relying on the support of a large diocesan family in which some missions and parishes, thanks to the laws of socio-economics, are financially stronger than others.
After a tasty post-mass pot luck reception, I took questions at a congregational meeting. Before church, I met with senior warden Pat Holt (a St. Paul’s member upon birth) and junior warden and spiritual director Phyllis Phelps. Another parish stalwart, Sandra Martinez-Moore, board member of Bloy House, The Episcopal Theological School at Los Angeles, served kindly as my chaplain and was the designer of the exquisite bilingual liturgy.
It was a blessing to learn that the Rev. Dr. Karri Backer will be at St. Paul’s next Saturday to lead a “Day of Healing” retreat — good for the soul, good for discernment about the way forward, good for recharging our batteries so we can shine the light of Christ in ever-gathering darkness.