One of my favorite places in this world is St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church in Hollywood.
I love that St. Thomas the Apostle has as its focal point the “Hospitable Christ,” a figure of Jesus with his arms extended, his hands reaching out. He is no longer suffering but is now transformed. In a stance of openness, Jesus is beckoning whoever is before him to come nearer. The expression on his face is peaceful, as if to say, “Come and tell me what is upsetting you. I am here to listen and offer you understanding. My arms are open to embrace you.”
During the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and early 1990s, our priest at the time, Father Barber, replaced the crucifix that had hung above the altar with the statue of the Hospitable Christ. “We don’t need any more reminders of suffering right now,” he told all of us. “Instead, we need to see the transformative power of our Lord.” Father Barber’s AIDS ministry was heralded during that time and was a beacon of hope for our entire Diocese here in Los Angeles. He also was a central figure of calm and comfort to my two brothers as well as to my family and me during the time of my brothers’ illnesses and deaths. I deeply appreciated Father Barber’s constancy and personal hospitality. He often opened his arms and held me during my grief.
This Gothic church has high arched windows in the nave from which light streams down, creating a soft and peaceful ambiance. In contrast, sometimes the sun shines through those windows and creates a circle of light on the floor. Both the soft and the bright light helps me to feel the presence of God in my life. It is as though that light pushes fear off into the shadows and illuminates hope instead.
For several hours after High Mass has ended, thin white smoke lingers in the air above the altar. This is from the incense that has been used liberally during the Mass. That smoke, when illuminated by the light from the high windows, looks like a translucent curtain in front of the Hospitable Christ. There is something both mysterious and magical about this thin shroud of smoke hovering over the spot where the Holy Eucharist has just taken place. It feels very much as St. Augustine described: “an outside and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.”
St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Hollywood is a favorite place for many people. Both newcomers and oldtimers alike have told me that when they first entered the church, they immediately sensed they were in a holy place.
This beloved Episcopal church on Hollywood Boulevard is a true sanctuary for me. There, I can breathe deeply, calm my mind and contemplate the great Mystery that is my faith.