By Michael J. ARVIZU
Jeanie Kay arrived Friday evening at St. George Episcopal Church’s first All Souls’ Lantern Festival with a heavy heart.
The church member has just lost her father, Bill Steinmetz, to cancer the previous day.
Kay was one of about 30 Episcopalians who gathered on the church’s patio to remember family and friends, and even pets, that have died recently or in years past. The service joined the traditions of the ancient Celtic remembrance of All Souls – through words and music – with the Japanese custom of “Tōrō nagashi,” floating lanterns.
Celebrated throughout Japan, Tōrō nagashi participants place their lanterns on a river. As the lanterns float downstream, souls of the dead, it is believed, are guided into the afterlife.
At St. George, photographs of the dead were placed next to lit candles on the patio grass. Later in the ceremony, lanterns were placed over the lit candle, with the light from each lantern becoming brighter as the sun set.
“When they were singing the ‘Amazing Grace’ song, it made me feel close to them because I miss them a lot, and I miss the other people that died,” said San Marino resident and St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church member Amy Longthorne of her late grandparents, Harry and Etta Longthorne, and her dog, Daisy. “Even though they’ve been gone for a long time, I still say a goodbye to them.”
Friday’s service served as an opportunity for Kay to remember her dad as an important businessman, someone who was very fun to be around, and who always picked up the tab for everything. In other words, the man he was before becoming ill.
“Sometimes, when they’ve been sick for so long, you can’t remember what they were like then,” Kay said, tears in her eyes. “You have to remember what they were like when they were younger. You remember the good parts, who they were, their essence.”
Church member Nancy Griffin Anderson felt Friday’s service allowed her to feel closer to her parents Ray and George Griffin and to honor their memory and reconnect with them. Growing up, Anderson remembered a lot of laughs in her parent’s company, and “a lot of craziness,” she said.
“Maybe not the most traditional family, but a lot of love and great food,” Anderson said.
The lantern festival was the idea of St. George Deacon Rev. Anthony Keller, who after having a conversation with a Japanese friend decided to introduce the festival to the St. George community. A ceremony for Dia de los Muertos, which is celebrated in some Latin American countries, was held at St. George in previous years but did not catch on, said church Pastor Rev. Amy Pringle.
“There he is, living again,” said Keller, speaking of remembering his family and close friends at Friday’s service. “It realizes that they are in me, even though they’re not here with the love and the moments we shared together. They live inside me – forever, as long as I live.”