As part of Black History month coverage, the Episcopal News offers a snapshot of six congregations in the diocese that for at least some portion of their lives have been regarded as predominantly African American.
In many ways, their histories often mirror shifting demographics and changing times and reflect a strong legacy of commitment to community involvement, social action and care for others.
The News concludes its “snapshot” with St. Timothy’s Church, Compton, and Church of the Holy Communion, Gardena.
St. Timothy’s, Compton: little place doing big things
Besides being known as the church that hosted a visit from President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, St. Timothy’s has also developed a reputation for being “a little place doing big things,” according to the Rev. George Okusi, rector.
Like offering rich musical performances through its youth and adult choirs, as well as historic community outreach — the parish day school was started in 1965 and two senior housing units, the 21-unit bungalow style St. Timothy’s Manor and the 114-unit St. Timothy’s Towers, were opened in 1956 and 1965 respectively. Each has matured and operates as a separate nonprofit agency.
The church began with meetings in a local store in 1925. A year later, members purchased a surplus school building for $500 and moved it to a lot on Laurel and Oleander Streets that they had bought for $800. On Easter Day, April 4, 1926, the church was dedicated; a new building was dedicated a little more than a decade later, in 1937.
A parish hall, built in 1951 was later named in honor of retired Bishop Suffragan Chet Talton and in 1956 the day school opened to 16 students. The congregation also operated a human services nonprofit public benefit organization in 1994 and founded a Helping Hands ministry four years later.
Facing dwindling resources and economic challenges, the school closed in December 2013, and the Rev. George Okusi, rector, held a Feb. 15 Valentine’s Day fundraiser at the church and said he is taking time “to go back to the drawing board” in hopes of restarting it.
Parishoners offer a fourth-Saturday food bank ministry, a community breakfast and continue to welcome everyone, Okusi said. He hopes for assistance in reaching out to the surrounding Spanish-speaking community.
“It is a welcoming, jovial church, we welcome everyone,” Okusi said. “I go out and talk with people on the streets and pass out flyers and invite them to come to church.”
Church of the Holy Communion, Gardena
The Church of the Holy Communion is another example of a small-sized congregation with large-sized vision, according to the Rev. Arthur Toro, rector.
The average Sunday attendance is about 50, but the congregation works diligently to collect donations for local food pantries, and blankets and other items for the neighborhood homeless,
In addition, twice yearly the church stages dramas and invites the community. “In June, we do a drama called ‘Jerusalem Most Wanted.’ It’s about Peter,” Toro said. “And then at Christmastime we do another one, telling the Christmas story from the angels’ perspective.
“We invite the community in to see them. Last year, Bishop Diane [Jardine Bruce] participated as one of the shepherds.”
Holy Communion Church was organized in 1949 as a mission of St. Andrew’s, Torrance. Eighteen months later the congregation bought a 2.5-acre property at West 141st Street and Budlong Avenue. Members volunteered to begin construction of the church building on Thanksgiving Day 1951. Bishop Francis Eric Bloy dedicated it on Dec. 22 of the same year.
Eight years later, the church acquired an empty building and moved it to the property to be used for Sunday school classes, and by 1964 had repaid its mortgage. A year later, a vicarage was built.
Membership began to dip in the 1960s and early 1970s; in 1977 the Rev. Walter Cox was named priest-in-charge and during his tenure membership increased by 25 percent and continued to improve under the Rev. Magdaleno Bacagan who began serving in 1983. A Spanish language service was added.
Shirlet Hope said she and her family, who are from Belize, joined the church when she was about 17, when its membership was predominantly white, with a few Asians. Eventually, it began to change, welcoming African Americans and Central Americans and Africans. In 1998, members of St. Martin’s, Compton, joined Holy Communion after their church closed.
Toro, who hails from Kenya and became vicar in 2011, “brought a whole different style in his preaching to the congregation,” and members are focused “on sharing love with all who come to the church,” according to a written history of the congregation.
Still confronted by many of the same challenges facing other churches across the country — aging membership, changing demographics and dwindling resources — the congregation hosts fish fries, tea parties and pancake suppers and is focused on reaching out to the community.
Most importantly, Hope said, is a sense of hope. “We’re trying to really get our ministries going.”