A Diffusion of Blessings
  • Thursday, January 2, 2014

Eyewitness

When the Bishop of Los Angeles combined St. Martha’s Church, a former mission in West Covina, with Holy Trinity Church, Covina, the hallmark of our mindset had been ad invicem, or “one with another.” The Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno preached our first service together on the first Sunday after Easter in 2013. We are now indeed one with another, mutually invigorated in worship and fellowship.

Yet until recently the ingathering of St. Martha’s former congregation was not complete. The Rev. Alexandra Conrads had been preaching two Sunday services, one of which was in Spanish. When the Rev. Mark Stuart made an introductory and welcoming visit to that congregation, he had been priest-in-charge at Holy Trinity only since early February.

During the visit, parishioner Theresa Alvarez asked that the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe be allowed to accompany them, and in a special way: “to take her to Holy Trinity in a procession, so as to honor her in public, to the music of mariachis in the ways of our culture.” Fr. Stuart could see that this idea would be essential to make Holy Trinity a real home for the members of St. Martha’s, but he had no idea where Our Lady’s home would be at Holy Trinity. But the vision began to take form as Stuart hired the Rev. Steven De Muth, a bilingual deacon.

Holy Trinity formally welcomed St. Martha’s Spanish-speaking congregation in mid-August, dedicating a renovated chapel behind the main church building.

Parishioners, clergy, guests, and mariachis met in Covina Park, where all awaited the arrival of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Deacon De Muth, along with Jose Alvarez and Eduardo Peniche, ceremoniously removed the image from St. Martha’s, finally delivering her to Covina Park. We processed east along Badillo Street. The group reached more than 100 people as we approached the chapel yard.

Nearing the chapel entrance, Stuart called out in a strong voice, “Lift up your head, O gates, be lifted up, ancient doors.” The image of Our Lady was hung on the eastern wall. De Muth, who will preach in Spanish each week in the chapel, prayed for “all who enter this chapel and all who seek for help from Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

Then Stuart said: “I name, dedicate, and bless this sacred chapel under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Eduardo Peniche, a member of St. Martha’s, was moved by the service. “Although the people at Holy Trinity were friendly and welcoming, I felt I had lost my church until I helped to carry Our Lady of Guadalupe in the procession. When I saw her on the wall of our new chapel, I felt inside, This is now home.”

Jose Alvarez called it an honor and privilege to carry the image. “I felt for the first time that I truly was a part of the diversity of the Holy Trinity family, that I belonged,” he said. “I was joyful.”

People filled the chapel to its capacity, breathing in air sweet with the scent of two huge bouquets of red roses. With the exception of the southern wall’s stained-glass windows depicting the Creation, the chapel has been fashioned anew from an underused children’s chapel. Newly tiled, the chapel has also been painted a brilliant white. Modern windows have replaced the 50-year-old ones on the north wall.

The jewel-like chapel is newly fitted with a rich wood altar, ambo, votive candle stands (with intensely cobalt holders), and a baptismal font. Prie-dieux made of thick oak sit on both sides of the nave. Russell Weaver hand-crafted these furnishings in 1984 and became a part of St. Martha’s for the next 29 years

Over everything hangs a wooden cross on the wall behind the altar. This, too, came from St. Martha’s; it was not in service there and needed refurbishing. The pews were also salvaged.

Something powerful happened during the first 40 minutes of the service, which began at 6:20 p.m., when the light in the southern sky met the pattern of the stained-glass windows, fully reflecting their images throughout the chapel.

Falling on the intense white of the northern wall, the colors diffused and scattered: azure, aquamarine, pale hyacinth, amethyst, cornflower, emerald, marine, myrtle, jonquil, with touches of lemon and tangerine.

In “The Windows,” 17th-century poet George Herbert asserts that the preacher alone is “a brittle crazy glass” but that in the temple of God’s church the preacher is allowed to become a “window through” his grace. To make stained glass, the images and their colors are “annealed” or burned into the glass. For Herbert this process becomes metaphorical, as God’s grace purifies the preacher : “More rev’rend grows” as the preacher stands in the light of “Doctrine and life, colours and light, in one / When they combine and mingle.”

In Herbert’s terms, Stuart and De Muth were “anneal[ed]” in God’s grace.

Pamela Mellott


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