Opinion: Finding Meaning


Religion Benefit: When the Good Times Stop Rolling


I had a conflict last Sunday. The World Religion Study series at United Methodist featured Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, a noted scholar, speaking about Islam. On the other hand, two grandchildren were performing in a church service, and the Beautiful Wife never misses such events. I could only catch part of each, apologizing to Dr. Siddiqi in advance. The meetings prompted an old question: How important is faith in meeting life’s challenges?

The first Laguna homesteaders, three extended families, mainly were of one faith, thus the “Mormon schoolhouse” in the Canyon. When one, George Rogers, subdivided the downtown in the late 1880s, alert members of Riverside’s Presbyterian church snapped up beachfront lots. Among them was Sabra Ferris, a formidable woman who reared her own children plus two orphans, fought for Prohibition and suffrage, and when she came to the beach, “brought her religion with her.” Thus, our first church.

Joe Yoch was the main businessman operating his Laguna Beach Hotel. His wife Catherine’s brother, Nick Isch, ran the general store and the Palace Stable (oddly, a common name for horse stables at the time). Joe and Catherine bought the old Mormon schoolhouse and founded what is now St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church. When they moved to bigger quarters, it became an art studio, then was rented by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and finally was owned by the Little Church by the Sea (it was just a one-roomer, thus, “little”) who are still there, though in a larger building.

There was an early Christian Science church in Riverside whose members invested in Laguna land in the early 1900s and met in the Arch Beach Tavern (now an apartment house at the south end of Glenneyre). The group then built what is today’s Hare Krishna Temple, before expanding to their Boat Canyon building. There’s also a Christian Science Reading Room on Forest Avenue.

A colorful guy named Percy Clarkston is unique for founding two churches. A century ago, he convinced the Episcopal Church to ordain him. He wasn’t formally trained and founded today’s St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. When disagreements arose, he got the American Catholic Church to ordain him and founded St. Francis-by-the-Sea, building the tiny jewel box of a cathedral next to St. Mary’s. The chapel only seats 24, and word of its beauty has gotten out. If you want a seat on Sunday, you best come early. Finally, Laguna’s United Methodist Church is down on Wesley Drive, a street named after the frontier horseback preacher John Wesley.

Our churches have shaped our town over the years, but some are not so full these days. Church attendance declines when the good times roll. It’s human nature. But our economy has been booming on borrowed money, and a reckoning lies ahead. When the dark days come, more folks will remember God. It’s the good thing about bad times. Looking down the road, I predict a revival of faith. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach”. Email: [email protected]

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