Take It On Faith: St. Athanasius’ Episcopal Church Easter Program, 31 March 1929

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Today being Easter, it seems like as good a time as any to introduce a new series of posts called “Take It On Faith,” highlighting artifacts from the Homestead’s collection dealing with religion and spiritual matters.

There have been a few posts in the past that have dealt with some of the early California missions, specifically Mission San Gabriel, founded in 1771, and Mission San Juan Capistrano, established five years later.  After the onset of the Spanish era during that time, Roman Catholicism was the region’s religion for over a half-century.

With the trickling in of the area’s first Americans and Europeans by the late 1820s, when the Mexican period began, many of them converted to Catholicism as part of becoming naturalized Mexican citizens (allowable under an 1828 statute.)  Some local  extranjeros likely remained Protestants of various denominations, but there were no churches for worship until after the Americans invaded and seized Mexican California.

Upper Spring Payne 1870s
The simple and steep two-gabled roof of St. Athanasius’ Church, built in 1864, is behind the lumber yard in the foreground, with Los Angeles High School on the hill at the upper left in this mid-1870s stereoscopic photograph by Henry T. Payne from the Homestead’s collection

Meanwhile, the first Jew to reside in Los Angeles was Jacob Frankfort, a tailor born in what later became Germany, traveled to this region with the Rowland and Workman Expedition of 1841.  Frankfort, who remained in the town for at least seven years, was followed by small numbers of Jewish migrants, most of them from the states that made up Germany when it was unified in 1870.  In 1862, the B’nai B’rith congregation was established in Los Angeles.

Two years later, one of the earliest of the Protestant parishes was established with the construction of St. Athanasius’ Episcopal Church.  The simple wood-framed, steeply gabled church, shown here in an early 1870s stereoscopic photograph, stood at the southwest corner of Temple and New High streets, just west of Spring.

In 1883, as the town’s development moved south and west, the church, renamed St. Paul’s, was moved to the west side of Central Park (now Pershing Square) and occupied that location for forty years, when St. Paul’s Cathedral was built west of downtown (the museum has a photo of the 1923 groundbreaking), opening in 1925.  The older church was razed to make way for the Biltmore Hotel, one of downtown’s notable landmarks.

St. Paul Church ca 1885
Taken from Central Park (renamed Pershing Square in the late 1910s), this cabinet card photo from the museum’s holdings shows St. Paul’s Church, the successor to St. Athanasius’, which reappeared in Echo Park in a new place of worship in 1902.  This church was razed in 1922 to make way for the Biltmore Hotel and replaced with St. Paul’s Cathedral west of downtown.

Meanwhile, the St. Athanasius name was bestowed on a new church off the east side of the reservoir at Echo Park and opened in 1902.  A new complex, consecrated in fall 1994, called the Cathedral Center of St. Paul (the cathedral is now in San Diego) and including the St. Athanasius church is on the site today.

Today’s highlighted artifact is a program for Easter services at St. Athanasius’ Church at its Echo Park location.  The cover has a color image reflecting the announcement of the resurrection of Christ at his tomb, along with the date, the church’s name and location, and the name of rector, the Reverend Franklin L. Gibson.

St. Athanasius Easter program covers 31Mar29

The artifact’s back cover also lists the names of the parish visitor and organist and choirmaster, along with the names of those comprising the vestry, including the senior and junior wardens, secretary and treasurer.  It also noted that Bishop W. Bertrand Stevens would be at the parish on Easter evening to preach and confirm candidates to the church.  Also listed were Easter gifts to the church including candles and linens for the altar and a white stole for the rector made by the women’s guild.

St Athanasius Easter program inside 31Mar29.jpg

On the inside are the musical selections for the services at 7, 9, and 11 a.m.; the program for the evening prayer, confirmation and sermon by the bishop; the Easter prayer; and lists of those who presented Easter flowers.

Today, the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, established in 1895, has just under 60,000 parishioners in 147 congregations in a region comprising the counties of Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and sections of Riverside.  It is led by former professional football player, Bishop J. Jon Bruno, who generated controversy in recent years over a contentious sale of a church property in Newport Beach.

After parishioners there filed a grievance with the national church hierarchy, it ruled that Bruno overstepped his bounds.  Last August, a panel, determining the bishop acted in a way unbecoming of his duty, stated that he was to be suspended from his position and banned from the ministry for three years.  Bruno retired at the end of December 2017.  Thursday it was announced that the church, St. James the Great, would re-institute services next Sunday and Bruno’s successor John Taylor worked towards reconciliation of the diocese and the Newport Beach congregation.

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