By Mary O’KEEFE
fter a little over five years as acting vicar at St. Luke’s of the Mountains Episcopal Church, Bryan Jones is retiring.
Jones took on the leadership of the church in November 2009 during a rather turbulent time. In 2006, members of the St. Luke’s congregation voted to split with the Episcopal Diocese for several reasons; however, most prominent was their disagreement with the Diocese ordaining a gay bishop.
After a legal battle, the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles regained possession of the church property in October 2009. Bishop Jon Bruno then appointed Jones to the church.
“I wanted a welcoming, inclusive, open congregation whose worship and style of life resonated with the people around the community,” Jones said.
He had to start with very little. The first Sunday service had eight people in attendance.
“We started with a whole new congregation,” Jones said. The congregation has since grown to 80-to-100 members.
Jones and his new congregation have built a community church that embraces all. Flags that represent a variety of countries and organizations, including the gay rainbow flag, stand on the south lawn of the church’s property facing busy Foothill Boulevard. It is symbolic of Jones’ vision of what he wanted the church to represent – open and welcoming for all members of the community, regardless of religious affiliation.
“We wanted to be a Christ centered [church],” he said. “The initial research I did on the community and within a three mile radius found 57% of people had no religious affiliation or background in Christianity.”
He wanted to establish a place for those who did not know the church, or perhaps had trepidations about Christianity, to feel welcomed.
That philosophy carried over to the creation of the Fire House youth center. Immediately after becoming the vicar of St. Luke’s, Jones was approached by community members requesting the use of a building on the property that had been used in the past as a counseling center. The building was the original Los Angeles County Fire Station 19 in the 1920s. The church obtained the property when the station moved to a newer facility.
Jones worked with the community members to create a drop-in center that was available to all, whether Christian or not. Over the years the Fire House has grown and has become the place Jones had intended – a place where all are welcome and none are judged.
“The Fire House has been our strongest link to the surrounding community,” Jones said.
The L.A. Episcopal Diocese Bishop Jon Bruno has assigned Rev. Kirby Smith to lead the church when Jones retires.
“Kirby was with us when we first started,” Jones said. He worked part time as an associate priest for about a year and a half then received his own church in Laguna Nigel. Bishop Bruno contacted Smith in mid-December to ask him to come back to St. Luke’s. Smith was receptive to the idea, particularly since he still lives in North Hollywood.
“I wasn’t able to relocate to [Laguna Nigel],” he said. The commute will be much easier from North Hollywood to La Crescenta.
Smith is excited about returning to St. Luke’s and leading it into the next phase of its growth.
“It was great working with Bryan,” he said. “It was quite exciting starting a brand new church.”
He added that in those first months he did more administrative duties.
“Bryan was the visionary. He knew what the new St. Luke’s would look like – a place for the community to gather and come together,” Smith said. “I am looking forward to working with the [congregation]. They really are the church. I want to continue Bryan’s good works.”
Jones has spent 35 years in service to the Episcopal Church as a minister. He is retiring due to health reasons. But what he has accomplished while at St. Luke’s – repairing a fractured church by bringing it new life and purpose, and giving teens at the Fire House a welcoming place – will be appreciated for years to come.
The community is invited to join the congregation in a potluck retirement party for Jones at St. Luke’s of the Mountains, 2563 Foothill Blvd., at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 3.