Billy, Good Bye
I attended Pastor Don Sciortino’s service at the Woman’s Club last Sunday. His Net-Works Laguna Beach ministry serves the homeless, those Christ might term “the least of these.” It’s a place of worship adapted to people who lack even an address. You can’t sit among them and not sense the hopelessness that surrounds them, or be moved by this mission to help them to their feet. Pastor Don has turned his efforts to the people most of us turn our eyes away from, and he is making a difference. He has built a community and by God’s grace their modest strengths are combining to rebuild lives. Their successes are minor miracles, but miracles nonetheless.
Each summer there’s a nameless man on the corner of Coast Highway and Forest Avenue, passing out leaflets inviting you to come to Christ. He seems just another eccentric, but if you speak with him you find a sincere, devout Christian working to make a difference. I spoke to him at the end of the summer and asked how it had gone. He smiled and told of his harvest. Billy Graham had his millions; our sidewalk pastor won 23 souls and he thought it a good return for his labors.
You can’t help but be fascinated by those who minister to our town. They do the finishing work on Kant’s “crooked timber of mankind.” These gifted men and women dedicate their lives to us, and do it for a modest recompense. This column is dedicated to them and the work they do, beginning with “America’s pastor.”
Today in North Carolina the preacher man known as Billy Graham will be laid to rest beside his beloved wife Ruth. He came of age on a nearby family dairy farm. His first childhood home lacked indoor plumbing. Five living U.S. presidents and assorted notables will attend his funeral, but the speakers will be his five children, all preachers in their own way.
Due to the frailties of age, Graham had not preached for some time. But you can hear “Billy Graham’s Last Message” on YouTube. He begins in those broad familiar tones: “As I look back over my life, it’s full of surprises.” His message is, as always, about the Cross, of coming to the Cross, of confronting the Cross that calls the viewer to a more Christ-like life.
Graham first became famous in a 1949 Los Angeles tent revival. His genius was to turn away from the battle between fundamentalists and religious liberals—thus bypassing the church establishment—and adopt the emerging technologies of radio, TV, and the Internet to connect with the unchurched. His stage was the revival tent and then the stadium, but his medium was the screen in every home.
He was no intellectual; though an avid reader, he barely graduated high school. But his message was simple enough for all to embrace. The intellectual theologian Reinhold Niebuhr attacked Graham for his simplicity. Graham responded with disarming meekness: “When Dr. Niebuhr makes his criticisms . . . I study them, for I have respect for them. I think he has helped me”.
Graham was an exceptional man, humble, modest in all his doings, faithful to family, untainted by scandal, bold in his mission, constant in his message. Lofty obituaries have been written, but you could tell his story with three simple scriptures: Jesus to his disciples: “Go ye unto all the world and preach . . . “ (Mark 16:15) The Apostle Paul: “But we preach Jesus crucified . . . “ (1 Corinthians 1:23) Then Paul again, in his farewell to Timothy: “I have fought [the] good fight . . . I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
This leads us to the pastors who serve in Laguna’s churches: Fr. Ken Schmidt, caring for the flock at St. Catherine’s Catholic Church; the long-serving Rev. Jerry Tankersley at Laguna Presbyterian; Jay Grant of the Church by the Sea pastoral team; the spirited Rev. Rod Echols now at Neighborhood Congregational; faith out of Africa in Rev. Lester Mackenzie at St. Mary’s Episcopal; Pastor Lynn Francis at United Methodist; the tireless Rabbi B. at Chabad Jewish Center; and all who serve Laguna’s congregations. God bless them, every one, as well as the many lay volunteers who freely give.
Some may say we won’t see another like Billy Graham, but here’s another view. Look at the good people who minister in our town—though doctrines may differ, they together constitute a modern miracle. It’s no disrespect to Billy Graham to say that their influence here by the sea is much greater. I say it again: God bless them, every one,
Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip, and is the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” A student of local history, he and wife Clare dote on their many grandchildren. Email: [email protected]
Places to worship (all on Sunday, unless noted):
Baha’i’s of Laguna Beach—contact [email protected] for events and meetings.
Chabad Jewish Center, 30804 S. Coast Hwy, Fri. 6 p.m., Sat. 10:30 a.m., Sun. 8 a.m.
Church by the Sea, 468 Legion St., 9 & 10:45 a.m.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), 682 Park Ave., 10 a.m.
First Church of Christ, Scientist, 635 High Dr., 10 a.m.
ISKCON (Hare Krishna), 285 Legion St., 5 p.m., with 6:45 feast.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, 20912 Laguna Canyon Rd., 1:00 p.m.
Laguna Beach Net-Works, 286 St. Ann’s Dr., 10 a.m.
Laguna Presbyterian, 415 Forest Ave., 8:30 & 10 a.m.
Neighborhood Congregational Church (UCC), 340 St. Ann’s Drive, 10 a.m.
United Methodist Church, 21632 Wesley, 10 a.m.
St. Catherine of Siena (Catholic), 1042 Temple Terrace, 7:30, 9, 11, 1:30 p.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m. There are 8 a.m. masses on other days and Saturday 5:30 p.m. vigils.
St. Francis by the Sea (American Catholic), 430 Park, 9:30 a.m.
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 428 Park Ave., 8 & 10:30 a.m.
Unitarian Universalist, 429 Cypress St., 10:30 a.m.