Bread on Water
Laguna is a place of healing; it’s baked into our cake. When Eiler Larsen—the original “Forest Gump” —came he was homeless and not quite well. Laguna embraced him and his booming greetings graced us in return. The flower children who came in the ‘60s were mostly homeless, living outdoors, getting sick, and needing care. Laguna helped them and they graced us cynics with their idealism. Our churches organized to aid those Jesus termed “the least of these” back in the ‘70s and from that caring our Interfaith Council was born. As a result, we were prepared to help our own after the 1993 firestorm burned over 400 homes. It’s Biblical: when we cast our bread upon the water, we get something back.
But society can be confronted by a challenge without a visible solution. It’s difficult for us. We have this American belief that every problem can be solved. We got to the moon, didn’t we? We did, but it required innovation on a new scale. Such problems require fresh thinking, a new form of bread. Albert Einstein spoke of this. “We can not solve [some] problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” And this brings us to the homeless among us, an almost unsolvable problem.
We live in a complex society, so it’s hard to get back on your feet when you’ve got nothing. The story of the Good Samaritan comes to mind. According to the L. A. Times, homelessness is a big problem in Los Angeles. But when I do the math, they’re about 1.5 per 1,000 of that population. Here in Laguna the homeless, numbering perhaps 150, are four-fold more, about 6 per thousand. Laguna is doing the heavy lifting, but we’ve been creative in how we help.
The Friendship Shelter evolved a unique process to lift the homeless up. Since the late ‘80s they’ve helped thousands. Their work is a modern miracle. But in recent years, few have done more than Pastor Don and his Laguna Beach Net-Work. Don Sciortino is a Long Island kid who during the Jesus movement received a “call” and dedicated his life to doing God’s will. That was over 40 years ago, and his ministry eventually brought him to Laguna Beach, where he holds Sunday services at the Woman’s Club.
His worship service is for everyone. But it’s a place that welcomes those who don’t have their own place. Actually, because of the many homeless, it’s really not for everyone. You’d have to be that Samaritan who stopped to minister to a half-dead traveler by the roadside, beaten, and stripped of clothing. You’d need that kind of stuff.
Each homeless person has a story about hitting bottom. This one is about Vince Raggio, once a professional dancer with family and home. Alcohol, drugs, and bad decisions destroyed everything he had. Down and out in Las Vegas, he got on his motorcycle and headed west. When you drive down Laguna Canyon and hit Main Beach, you’ve driven about as far as you can go. But you’ve also come to a place of healing, and of caring. Vince eventually found his way to the Net-Work meetings and began the journey of recovery. With help, he’s now clean and sober, has a van and a handyman business, and gives back by teaching the homeless to craft flowers—called the Rose of Sharon—out of palm leaves. Pastor Don is the force behind many other recoveries like Vince’s, though he defers any credit, which leads to a last thought.
I’ve said it before: Going to any of our churches is as enjoyable as a sunset walk on the beach. But Pastor Don’s service at the Woman’s Club is unusual. It’s where the heavy lifting is done. It’s where Good Samaritans hang out. God bless them, everyone.
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.” Email him: [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.