Opinion: Finding Meaning 

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Lessons from An Old Coin

By Skip Hellewell

Cleaning my desk, a rare event, I came across an old coin, a gift from a son. The coin features Constantine the Great and was minted between 310-313 AD. These years are critical because they mark the end of the Roman persecutions of Christians that began with Emperor Nero. The coin isn’t rare, many have been recovered, and Constantine’s embrace of Christianity may not have been a good thing. But I value the coin as a symbol of the courage of those early Christians, which brings us to last Sunday. 

The Beautiful Wife was indisposed, so I was free to visit as many Laguna churches as I wished, beginning at St. Catherine’s Catholic Church. There was an impressive turnout, including many young people, the best metric of a church’s vigor and appeal. I chatted with Fr. Pat Rudolph, greeted a neighbor giving his young son an outdoor break and moved on. 

Passing the Woman’s Club where the Net-Works Church meets, I stopped to chat with Pastor Don Sciortino, who started eleven years ago offering the homeless breakfast, the word of God, and a network to help find work. His efforts have been graced by a growing congregation that now fills the hall, drawn from all walks of life. Though I was too early for breakfast or preaching, in all my church visits, I have been the most touched by the meetings here.  

Next came Laguna Presbyterian, where, it turned out, Pastor Steve Sweet was on vacation. I have a favorite pew framed by the morning sun shining through a stained-glass window. Unfortunately, the morning mist hid the sun, but I did catch most of a sermon on how we define success. Spoiler alert: It isn’t about your net worth.  

I then visited St. Francis by-the-Sea, next door to St. Mary’s Episcopal, a tiny jewel box seating about thirty. This is an American Catholic church, and when I started six years ago, the seats were mostly empty. Now you have to come early to avoid standing. If you haven’t worshipped here, you’ve missed one of Laguna’s delights, though in different ways that’s true of all our churches.  

I’m a fan of Father Lester Mackenzie at St. Mary’s. He has a great spirit, and service there is as interesting as a trip to Africa. Following the pattern of the morning, I missed him. I guess he gets a summer break too. But I did hear most of a sermon about the Kingdom of Heaven, the love of God, and the love of neighbor.  

Finally, I arrived a bit late to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A young woman, home from college, spoke of her growing faith. A young man returned from a two-year mission and shared what he had learned in his service, lessons that seemed far beyond his years. Then I slipped home, where the BW awaited a report on my morning.  

I’ve been thinking about that rediscovered coin from Constantine’s time and those early Christians. There has been a decline of religiosity in Europe and America in the last century that scholars link to the parallel decline of the family. Some have labeled our time the post-Christian era, and you can see this ebb and flow in some of Laguna’s churches. But one thing is true: There will always be families—that’s the bottom line of demographics. And where there are families, there will be faith—history tells us the two go together. For me, that’s the lesson of that Roman coin. 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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