11 October 2009

Singing the songs of saints of God

Today the Diocese of El Camino Real celebrated a unique group of saints and one in particular. We celebrated the life and ministry of the Rev'd James Shannon McGowan. The Rev'd Mr. McGowan was a missionary priest in the Diocese of California from which the Diocese of El Camino Real was carved in the 1980s.

McGowan organized seven churches along the Central Coast of California. One of the churches he organized is St. Luke's in-the-Field in Jolon (ho-loan). Jolon is a sleepy valley located between the 101 freeway and the Santa Lucia mountain range a stone's throw from Mission San Antonio where the first Christian marriage of record in California was solemnized.

We gathered at St. Luke's to celebrate 125 years of ministry in the Jolon Valley. The celebration was wonderful. The tiny church was comfortably filled with communicants and visitors and it was a time for renewing auld acquaintances as well as making new friends. We may have come as strangers, many of us, but left as friends--united in Our Lord and the English Catholic faith we call Anglicanism.

That "united feeling" made me think of Lambeth 2008. This evening I understand what happened at Lambeth differently. I understand the connectedness the bishops felt there which made many of our bishops step back from what I perceive as full equality of all members of The Episcopal Church. The "connectedness" feeling is profound. I think I will stop criticizing our American bishops so harshly for that "Lambeth feeling."

Our bishop, the Right Rev'd Mary Grey-Reeves was present as Ordinary, Celebrant and Preacher. I still have "issues" with the bishop, but I decided today, again, that I really like her. Once again I saw a deep compassion and love flow from her. I know that she cares deeply about each member and friend of the Diocese of El Camino Real. And, I am even more certain now that we made the correct decision listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit when we extended a call to her to be our chief pastor.

Today's Gospel was the reading about the money changers. "You know, the one where Jesus is having a bad day." Bishop Gray-Reeves said "I was going to say 'bad hair day' but didn't think that was the best expression to use today." Everyone laughed as a venerable assisting priest ran his hand over his nearly hairless head.

The bishop changed directions in her sermon and fit the reason we were assembled today with the nature of the Jolon Valley. Bishop Mary said that those who organized St. Luke's were sowing seeds. "That is what Christians do - we sow seeds. And we don't now where the seeds will end up."

Some seeds fall to earth nearby, grow and produce more seeds that continue to grow nearby. That's what St. Luke's is, the harvest of seeds sown by the pioneers that produced local wheat that produced more local wheat that has kept St. Luke's a living congregation for 125 years. She said that some of those seeds keep turning up from time to time on Sunday or the famous St. Luke's BBQ.

But the winds took some of the seeds to distant places where they produced a harvest and created more seeds that were scattered. We will never know where all the seeds James Shanon McGowan and the organizing members of St. Luke's produced their harvest. The bishop concluded, "but we don't need to know, we were just called to sow the seeds not gather the harvest." She said that, in God's time, God will gather the harvest, and, perhaps, some of those scattered seeds might return to St. Luke's to give us a glimpse of what McGowan's harvest really is.

The service continued and included the blessing and anointing of a young family: Jacob, Elizabeth and daughter Victoria. They are members of St. John's. Elizabeth is "in the family way." The blessing and anointing included a special blessing on the yet-to-be-born child. It was such a powerful moment as +Mary, herself a mother, asked God's blessing on the woman and child and prayed for "an easy and quick labour." That is something I'm positive a male priest would never have thought of! I thought of new life beginning in Jolon 125 years ago, and new life beginning there today. In seventy-five years, perhaps the yet-to-be-born child will be in attendance at the 200th anniversary of St. Luke's as part of the harvest of Mr. McGowan.

At the offertory, we had the amazing coincidence to meet one of the seeds the wind had taken far afield. One of those pioneers was a man named Dutton whose daughter married an Englishman, A. C. Smyth-Pigott, who was in the area for some reason. Smyth-Pigott wrote to his father, vicar of Kingston, St. Mary, England, about the church being constructed in Jolon and the vicar -father had windows made and sent to newly constructed St. Luke's. A few years later, Smyth-Pigott returned with his bride to England. And seeds were scattered there from the Altar of St. Luke's.

It is remarkable that windows from a 600 year old English church should be placed in a new small church in Jolon 125 years ago. But that is not the harvest of scattered seeds.

The refined septuagenarian from the Midlands of England who related this story is a grand-daughter of Smyth-Pigott. She and her husband were visiting family history sites and had no clue about today's celebration until they arrived at St. Luke's last Friday. They extended their visit to include today and they met several cousins they didn't know existed. She even had photos of all those seeds from long ago. Indeed, part of McGowan's scattered seeds returned and in God's perfect time!

Following the Eucharist was a spectacular Basque BBQ of paella a dish which I had never eaten before catered by the 10th Street Cafe in San Miguel (yes, I am plugging the place). I sat with old friends Bart and Tony and enjoyed the wonderful weather and the comfort of old friends. But I made some new friends as well: Hope, an artist from Canada; a restaurateur; and Bob Denny. Bob is a vintner and supplied the wine for the festivities. He owns Hames Valley Percheronsone. One of his daughters, Amy Zuniga, is priest at St. Luke's, Hollister, (web page not updated) and another daughter, Robin, is a missionary in Sudan (pray for Robin, she is in one of the most dangerous places on earth). Bob is on the bishop's committee at Jolon.

While people were sill eating and talking, I walked up the hill to the church yard. It is fenced in the traditional way with a proper gate and arch with its surmounting cross. Accompanied by the songs of birds, I visited each and every marked grave and thanked the pioneers for the seeds they sowed all those years ago and throughout the succeeding years.

As I write this post my "son" is playing my favourite Chopin Nocturne on the piano. What a perfect way to end a wonderful day.

My thanks to the Rev'd Canon Robert Seifert for inviting me to participate in today's celebration, to the Right Rev'd Mary Gray-Reeves for a wonderful sermon and for just being her, and to Carilyn and Vicki who helped with the music.

But, first and foremost, thank you God for planing the missionary zeal in the soul of a middle-aged Irish Anglican priest named James Shannon McGowan. And thank you for the seeds he and others sowed from the Altar of St. Luke's in-the-Field, Jolon.

P.S. My shock for the day was having the bishop tell me she's read this blog. I guess excommunication papers must be delayed in the mail?
PPS I've decided to start a movement to have McGowan included in the Diocesan calendar of commemorations. I think establishing seven churches that are still in existence deserves some recognition.