The Founding and History of St. Nicholas of Myra Episcopal Church
Encino, California 1938-2014
Encino, California 1938-2014
St Nicholas Episcopal Church was founded in 1938 by the Rev. Harley Wright Smith. Fr. Smith had come to Hollywood, California in 1929. He was given permission to work in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles as a supply priest by Bishop William Bertrand Stevens. Bishop Stevens had become Diocesan Bishop in 1928.
Harley Wright Smith was born in Worthington, a suburb of Columbus, Ohio on May 18th, 1888 to John and Eleanor Smith. He lived in a house his parents owned with his parents and two younger siblings, Aiden and Elizabeth. He graduated high school in Worthington and then went to Ohio State University to train as an ophthalmologist. He then graduated from the School of Ophthalmology and Otology in Chicago with a degree in ophthalmology (His son Thad still has his framed degree). At this time, the bishop at the church he was attending asked if he had ever considered entering the priesthood. He replied no. The bishop asked him to think about it for 3 months which he did and subsequently decided yes. He then attended General Theological Seminary in New York and was ordained a Deacon at The University of The South at Sewanee, Tennessee in 1912. He worked as a deacon at St. Edward the Martyr Church in New York.
Harley Wright Smith was ordained Priest in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin in 1914 and went on to work as Curate at the famous Old Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York from 1914 to 1917. When the United States entered World War I, Fr. Smith served as a Chaplain in the U.S. Army from 1917 to 1918. While serving as a Chaplain, he contracted malaria. The long term effects of his malaria would stay with him for the rest of his life.
At the war’s end, Fr. Smith received an Honorable Discharge as First Lieutenant. In 1920 he was sent by the Red Cross all over the United States as head of a delegation and received a very high honor as part of that organization’s honoring of those who had served in the war. When he returned, he was called to be Rector at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Stamford, Connecticut. He would work there for nine years until 1929 when he began to lose his health. His doctor advised him to move to a warmer climate soon or he wouldn't live long. He had a terrible scar on his neck from the malaria and would experience bouts of chills that would last 36 hours four to five times a year for the rest of his life.
At this time Fr. Smith came to California and rented a house on Normandy in Hollywood. He met Fr. Neal Dodd and his family and did supply work for him at his parish for a year. Fr. Dodd was Rector of St. Mary of the Angels in Hollywood. Fr. Smith then purchased three acres in Sunland, California and worked at building walls, steps, and other small construction jobs. He was gradually able to regain his health over a 10 year period. At this time, his former congregation at St. Andrew's sent him a large gift of money. With this gift, he built a chapel on the property he owned in Sunland. This chapel was later given to Fr. Clendenin and was moved to the grounds of St. Matthias Episcopal Church in Sun Valley California where it still stands. He continued to work as a supply priest through these years as well.
At some time, in 1938, Fr. Smith began a Sunday school class in Studio City, California. My father, George Knight, told me years later that Fr. Smith taught this class many times in a tent behind the Studio City Theater on Ventura Blvd. He and his family had met Fr. Smith that year and his mother, Maude Knight, would later serve on the altar guild for many years at the yet to be established St. Nicholas church. This Sunday school was to be the nucleus for this new church that Fr. Smith would soon found.
Fr. Smith decided to start a new parish church and name it after the fourth century Bishop, St. Nicholas of Myra, who is also the patron saint of children. Fr. Smith had always been fond of children and young people and therefore decided to name the church after this great saint. In the years that followed, he would often refer to the church as "The children's church." What would spark the beginning of his effort would be an incident that took place in December of 1937. Fr. Smith was at the Santa Claus Lane Parade in Hollywood with friends when a little girl stepped down from one of the floats and approached him asking whether Santa Claus had a church. Fr. Smith is supposed to have replied: "Yes, and it is named St. Nicholas Church and I'm going to build it."
In the fall of 1938 Fr. Smith went to Bishop Stevens asking for permission to start the new church. In asking the bishop, he made it clear that it was to be an Anglo-Catholic parish and nothing else. Fr. Smith firmly believed that Our Lord gave us one service, the Communion service, in which the celebration of the Eucharist was central. In the years that followed, Fr. Smith would make this quite clear despite the fact that many people wanted a service like they had "back home" which usually meant morning prayer and nothing else. This was his mission and he was not to be swayed otherwise. This is what he taught and preached to the end of his life. Bishop Stevens granted Fr. Smith's request briefly saying, "I haven't any money to offer you but I give you my blessing."
Thus, with neither scrip nor purse, Fr. Smith set out for the San Fernando Valley to found the new church. What was important now was fundraising, and Fr. Smith went about this by simply going door to door and asking for donations in the San Fernando Valley. He started first in the eastern part of the Valley around Studio City but soon discovered there were no buildings or land available where the new parish could meet. This brought him to the western part of the Valley where more land was available and where he would meet two people who would prove invaluable to him in his effort. The first was a retired secretary by the name of Josephine Nelson. When Fr. Smith knocked on her door and told her what he was trying to accomplish, she offered the use of her front porch for him to rest when he needed and also to keep a record of the funds he had raised. In this way, Miss Nelson was to become the first parish secretary of St. Nicholas Church and would remain so for many years. The second was the actor Edward Everett Horton, who had a large home and a barn on several acres in Encino. When Fr. Smith approached him and told him of his plans to found a new church, Mr. Horton offered him the use of the barn on his property.
Mary Smith, Fr. Smith's surviving widow, said that Fr. Smith had a great personality and was a tireless worker. People in Encino, Sherman Oaks, North Hollywood and elsewhere just wanted to help him. Many weren't even Episcopalians or churchgoing people but were kind and generous enough to support St. Nicholas Church which they did. Among them were the actor Warren William and his wife. They and Fr. Smith formed a lasting friendship and when Warren died in 1948, Fr. Smith received a letter from an attorney handling Warren's estate stating that the church had been left $8000.00. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans also contributed to the effort. Parley Baer, another actor who would eventually become a long time parishioner at St. Nicholas, was later to host a radio show that would help raise enough funds to build the church's first parking lot and years later hosted a TV show that helped raise funds to expand the church. Nevertheless, Mary Smith has said many times that the majority of the contributions Fr. Smith raised to build this new church came from small donations.
On January 8, 1939 after three months of door-to-door calling and fundraising, the first service of St. Nicholas Church in which the Eucharist was consecrated was held in Edward Everett Horton’s Barn in Encino. Two more people were to hear of Fr. Smith’s work to found a new Church: they were Dr. O. C. Wellbourn and his wife. They offered the use of a parcel of property not far from the location of Mr. Horton’s barn for this new church. This property would become the permanent home for St. Nicholas Church at 17114 Ventura Blvd. in Encino, California. Many years later in the 1960's the church would purchase this property outright from the Wellbourns' estate. On this site three years later, on October 19th, 1941 the nave of St. Nicholas Church was completed and paid for. The nave was built in the Spanish Colonial style, based on the historic Spanish missions of California. In 1948, with the $8000.00 from Warren William's estate, a large one room house was built at the southeast corner of the property. It had a fireplace, office furniture, and other furnishings and was used for conducting church business. There was also a beautiful walled courtyard that was used for social occasions and weddings. Like the Williams, people just wanted to help Fr. Smith and believed in what he was doing.
There was also a small building on the property when it was donated by the Wellbourns. This served as the Scout House for The Boy Scouts, Troop 131, and was the only one for the Boy Scouts over a large part of the San Fernando Valley. This troop was quite active as there weren't many places at this time for kids to gather. For the decades that followed, St. Nicholas continued to support the Boy Scouts and its activities. Russell Meals, a longtime parishioner who himself was a boy scout and had received the Eagle with Silver Palm Award in 1935 and many additional awards from the Boy Scouts has supported the organization's work at St. Nicholas for close to 50 years. This building eventually would be expanded with a large addition some years later that would serve as a nursery and Sunday school as well as the church's parish hall. The Sunday School also became quite successful because it too provided a place for kids and young people to gather. The parents brought their children to Sunday school and stayed to attend the service to later bring them home; thus the church grew. Fr. Smith's thinking was: you get the children to come, and the adults will follow. My father taught this Sunday school many times. The children and young people also spent many summers at Camp Stevens in Julian, California.
The church grew with these and other programs with much help and involvement. One very successful venture for many years was the selling of Christmas trees in the parking lot by the men of the church. The continuous hard work paid off which many people found enjoyable. As the valley grew, so did the church as more people attended the services. The St. Nicholas Altar Guild, whose purpose was the care of the vestments and all of the items used for the service at the altar, was a large and dedicated group of women and the only such group of women at St. Nicholas for many years. Both my grandmother and my mother served on the altar guild at the church over the years. The Girl's Friendly Society, thanks to the efforts of one Lynn Scott, began a chapter at St. Nicholas in 1949 which became one of the most successful in the Diocese. This organization was established in the late 19th century by Anglicans to offer personal development to girls and young women according to Christian principles. St. Nicholas would also eventually have its own chapter of the Daughters of the King and for many years (and to this day) permits Alcoholics Anonymous to use the parish hall for its meetings.
During these years Fr. Smith had three services each Sunday; the first would be at 7:30 a.m. and was brief with no music, the second at 9 a.m. where the children would attend Sunday school and return for the rest of the service, and the third was an 11 a.m. High Mass with both choir and sermon. Fr. Smith was most of all a preacher and the church grew because of the sermons he preached every Sunday. During Lent on Wednesday nights, he would exchange services with clergy from other parishes in the diocese. My father always told me that Fr. Smith was a deeply spiritual man and his sermons would bear this out. My mother, Mary Knight, said that he could really move people with his preaching. My father also said that Fr. Smith would never write out or rehearse his sermons. He firmly believed that God would give him the inspiration he needed to preach exactly what God wanted him to say. Fr. Smith would also have a profound effect on Peter Hansen, who had come to St. Nicholas church in 1956 looking for a place to worship. He convinced Mr. Hansen of the value of tithing or giving 10% of one's income to the church which Mr. Hansen has done and still does to this day.
As time went on the existing church sanctuary became inadequate and so in 1952, the parish decided to add on to the nave. Plans were made to add a north-south facing transept to the western end of the nave, forming a T-shaped church with entrances at each end. The new transept would also continue the Spanish Colonial style of the original nave. The altar was moved to the center of the western wall of the new addition opening up a large chancel area before the altar and between new pews in each wing. At the end of the transept's north wing, facing Ventura Blvd. two large bronze doors with a bronze arch set over them were set deeply into a main frontal structure that included a bell tower with a steeple for the church's cross, which was made of wrought iron. The church's bell was suspended on a timber beam built in to the right side of the front face. A large Star of Bethlehem was placed on the front of the steeple just below the cross with several of its rays extending out across the front and over the doors. The two bronze doors were crafted in Van Nuys, California by the sculptor Henry Van Wolf. Inspired by the great bronze doors of Italy, Fr. Smith wanted some beautiful doors for the new addition to the church. The doors, together with the arch over them depict the Seven Sacraments that Christ gave to His church. Fr. Smith said in a sermon he gave years later that if ever the church were to burn down there would be those bronze doors lying there testifying to the Sacraments Our Lord gave to his church.
Contained within this front structure was a new entry to the church with a vestibule that included a crèche in a small compartment, a shrine where people could kneel and pray, and in more recent years, a columbarium where the cremated remains of parishioners are interred. This columbarium was recently expanded with more spaces. Above was a loft for an organ. At the end of the south wing of the transept a beautiful stained glass window depicting St. Nicholas of Myra with three children in a tub was set deep into the wall. Construction began shortly after 1952 and the new addition to the church was completed in 1957. On January 19th, 1958, after six years of planning, fundraising, and hard work, the church with the new transept was consecrated by then Diocesan Bishop Francis Eric Bloy.
During all of this activity, Fr. Smith also had a family life. He met his future wife, Mary Stewart Smith, in 1942 and two years later, in 1944, they were married. Mary put it this way about their meeting and about their life together: "We had a wonderful, happy, married life." She would also say that he was the most interesting man she ever knew and that he really knew how to live. They had two daughters, Sara and Tess, and a son Thad. They eventually bought a home on Hayvenhurst in Encino where they lived for 20 years. In the fall of 1959, Fr. Smith married my parents George M. "Bud" Knight and Mary Kathryn Steckman. Their wedding and reception were both held at St. Nicholas church.
In 1960, at 72 years of age and after 46 years of work as a priest, 22 of which were spent founding and growing St Nicholas Church, Fr. Smith decided to retire. This retirement did not last long however, for three months later Bishop Bloy asked Fr. Smith to see what he could do for a little church named Mt. Calvary down in Baldwin Hills on Slauson Avenue. He accepted the challenge and helped rebuild the church so that the entrance would face Slauson, and would say that his time there at that little church was one of the happiest in his life.
At 85, Fr. Smith retired again in 1973, this time permanently. A very large and wonderful retirement party was held in his honor on the grounds at St. Nicholas Church. His wife, Mary with their two daughters Sara and Tess and son Thad were all there. Fr. Harley Wright Smith died on September 2, 1983 at the age of 95 and was buried in the Cemetery of The Church of Our Savior in San Gabriel, California. His doctor told his wife Mary on the day that he died: "He was a great man."
With Fr. Smith retiring, St. Nicholas needed a new priest. Bishop Bloy knew that Fr. Smith wanted an Anglo-Catholic priest to replace him at St. Nicholas and before Fr. Smith retired, the bishop held a luncheon at his and his wife's home in La Canada. It was there that Fr. Smith got to meet some of the younger priests. Fr. Smith then called the bishop's office and asked for a recommendation and the bishop recommended one Fr. Whitney Church who lived in Florida. Mary Smith met Fr. Church and his wife Sharon at the L. A. airport the day they came out from Florida for his interview. The Churches were both originally from New York. Sharon was quite interested in the arts and Fr. Church had been ordained a priest somewhat later in life. The St. Nicholas Vestry called him and in 1960, Fr. Church became the next rector of St. Nicholas Church. Fr. Church and his wife rented a house in Encino and he told Mary Smith that he wanted to establish "the strongest Anglo-Catholic Church between Los Angeles and San Francisco". When my parents had me baptized in 1960 at St. Nicholas Church, it was Fr. Church who performed the baptism. He was a hard worker but eventually his health weakened and he and his wife returned to Florida in 1965. Before Fr. Church left however, St. Nicholas received two beautiful additions to its sanctuary. The first were 14 stations of the cross all handcrafted in Italy. This was made possible by a donation of about $3400.00 from some very generous parishioners. Years later, in 1994, eight of these stations would be damaged by the Northridge earthquake and would be repaired. The second was a new Moller organ that was designed and installed in the loft at the north end of the transept.
With Fr. Church's departure, Fr. Lloyd Summerville, who was curate during Fr. Church's time at St. Nicholas, continued as interim priest-in-charge. In the years to come, Fr. Summerville would eventually become one of the assisting priests at St. Nicholas. Two additional priests, Fr. Richmond Horton Grant and Fr. Conrad Nordquist, would also assist during the years immediately following Fr. Smith's retirement and would continue to assist at St. Nicholas under the future rector's (Fr. Williams) leadership. Fr. Grant was also the nephew of the previously mentioned Edward Everett Horton.
St Nicholas however, needed a new rector. A few years earlier before he retired Fr. Smith had asked Fr. Evan Williams if he wanted to come and be rector of St. Nicholas. Fr. Williams had just gone to Christ Church in Ontario, California and said that he couldn't leave so soon. Nevertheless, with Fr. Summerville and others continuing only as interim priests, Fr. Williams agreed to come to St. Nicholas and became rector in 1965.
Fr. Evan Rowland Williams was a truly dynamic individual. He was very intelligent, well educated, a devout Anglo-Catholic, and a priest with great energy, strength, and empathy. He was also a gifted preacher and teacher (his son Owen told me that he once taught the Dalai Lama how to do a western style handshake while visiting in Los Angeles). Fr. Williams also had the ability to adapt to just about any situation and was very resourceful at organizing events on short notice. In addition to his seminary training, he had received a PhD at Oxford University in England. Fr. Williams was also a very devoted student of The Oxford Movement. This was the movement that began at Oxford University in the 19th century to restore The Church of England to its historic catholic roots.
Fr. Williams came to St. Nicholas with his wife Chloe and their four children: Sarah, Owen, Stephana, and Anwylyd. They initially lived in a house that was a converted chicken coop next to the church grounds (My father had also lived in such a house in Van Nuys) but would eventually purchase a large house on Oak View Drive in the hills above Encino. This house served as their residence as well as the location for many church functions during their time at St. Nicholas. During Fr. Williams time as Rector, the parish grew considerably numbering about 300 families and becoming one of the wealthiest in the Episcopal diocese of Los Angeles.
With all of the changes that swept the country and the Episcopal Church during the 1960's, 1970's, and into the 1980's, St. Nicholas Church retained its traditional Anglo-catholic character under Fr. Williams' leadership through it all. Like Fr. Smith before him, Fr. Williams ensured that St. Nicholas continued to be Anglo-Catholic with its strong emphasis on the sacramental life of the church with the Eucharist being the central act of worship. Though some would call for change at St. Nicholas more in line with the times over these years, Fr. Williams would not have it. Two things in particular Fr. Williams did not approve of and would not allow at St. Nicholas were the Episcopal Church's decision to ordain women priests and the use of the 1979 prayer book adopted by that same body.
A typical Sunday under Fr. Williams began with morning prayer at 7:30 a.m. followed by an early Mass and address at 8:00 a.m. At 9 a.m. Fr. Williams would then almost always have breakfast with ten to fifteen parishioners at a local restaurant and then return to the church for a Solemn High Mass (or "the service with bells & smells" as it was called) with music and sermon at 10 a.m. During this service the children would attend Sunday school. Morning prayer was said on weekdays except Monday and Saturday and the sacrament of Penance was available by appointment on the first Saturday of every month at 5:00-6:00 p.m.
One thing in particular that Fr. Williams did while rector at St. Nicholas was to take a keen interest in the spiritual life and well being of the young people. For years the parish had its own EYC, or Episcopal Young Churchmen. This organization included young men and women from early adolescence up to college age and participated in numerous activities under Fr. William's direction. Activities included cookouts, visits to museums, seminars on religious matters held at the church, trips downtown to the University Club in Los Angeles, movies, and hiking trips.
Two trips the EYC made every year were the annual trip to San Francisco during Holy Week and the annual hike up to Mt. Whitney. The trip to San Francisco would begin on Palm Sunday with the service at 10 a.m. at St. Nicholas. After the service Fr. Williams would lead about twenty to twenty-five young people along with several chaperones (usually parents and adult parishioners) in several cars and sometimes an RV loaded with food and luggage up the California coast in a caravan. This group would stop at points of interest and spend the nights in the parish halls of Episcopal churches on the way, eventually arriving in San Francisco to spend a few days before returning Thursday in time for the Maundy Thursday service at the church.
During the summer, Fr. Williams would lead a group of about twenty people on a hike up to Mt. Whitney. The group would be driven to a trail head on the east side of Mt. Whitney where they would set out on a hike up to the peak and back to be picked up about a week later. The group would include not only EYC members but also people from outside the parish that Fr. Williams knew and had hiked with before. Fr. Williams and his wife Chloe were both experienced hikers and travelers. Every August they would take a four-week vacation and travel to some part of the world. One year they travelled to the Himalayas in what they later called "an adventure of a lifetime."
During the 1960's and 1970's with the advent of the sexual revolution and the drug culture and all of the bad influences these movements could have on young people, Fr. Williams with his broad experience thought it was extremely important to give them all the guidance he could. For the adults, Fr. Williams hosted an adult enquirers class once a week at the rectory. This class discussed all kinds of subjects as they were related to Christianity and Anglicanism.
As time went on the parish grew considerably requiring more clergy to assist Fr. Williams and more facilities for Christian education. In 1968-69, four new classrooms were built on the east side of the church grounds for the parish Sunday school program. St. Nicholas also had several more priests who came and assisted through these years. They were Fr. Hal Ashbrook, Fr. Geddes MacGregor, Fr. David McMannes, who would be curate at St. Nicholas and Fr. Howard Happ. Both Fr. MacGregor and Fr. Happ were very intelligent, well educated, and were eventually given, along with Fr. Smith, the honorable title of Canon by the Episcopal church.
With all of the growth and activity, St. Nicholas hired Mary Ann Hagberg as parish administrator in 1976. She had graduated from the University of Vermont and possessed a teaching credential and was also a mother of two. She had also worked for General Electric and as a substitute teacher and was active in the PTA, Brownies and Girl Scouts. She brought these skills along with her wonderful and outgoing personality to St. Nicholas and proved to be an able parish administrator. Her kindness and gracious demeanor endeared her to many within the parish and in the diocese that she was eventually dubbed "The Head Angel." During her time at St. Nicholas, she helped support a food pantry that provided meals to the needy who came to the church asking for food (More recently the parish has been allowing a group that serves dinner to the needy to use the parish hall). Mary Ann worked at St Nicholas for close to twenty-five years before retiring. In time, Fr. McMannes would depart and in 1982 Fr. Michael J. Carll would join St. Nicholas as associate rector.
In this same year St. Nicholas would start renting some of the facilities to Los Encinos School. This would prove to be a valuable source of income to the church through the years to this day. Also at this time, St. Nicholas began to develop plans for a new parish hall. This new hall was to be named after St. Nicholas' founder, Harley Wright Smith and was designed by Peter Creamer, a long standing member of the parish who was (and still is) an architect. It was to be built in a style that would reflect the Spanish Colonial style of the older buildings at St. Nicholas. The new building would hold offices for clergy and a secretary, a workroom, a large meeting hall, a full kitchen, storage areas and additional rooms for conferences, choir rehearsals, and other office use. In addition to the new parish hall, two more buildings would be added to the existing facilities on the church grounds. The new hall would be situated on the southwest corner of the property replacing the old parish hall and requiring an oak tree to be transplanted to clear the way. This would be the largest project undertaken by the parish since the original nave and transept of the church sanctuary were built. The project would cost $500,000. A building fund was established that initially raised $180,000 and the remaining $320,000 was financed by a building note program.
Beginning in 1984, the parish began to replace the windows set high in the walls of the church's nave with a series of beautiful stained glass windows. Eight rectangular windows depicting the life of Christ, and two octagonal windows, one depicting the appearance of the Virgin Mary at Walsingham England in 1061, and the other depicting the infamous murder of Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas A' Becket by followers of King Henry II of England in 1170, were made by Judson Studios costing $15,650.00. The money was donated by several generous parishioners. The windows were dedicated on Christmas Eve in 1985 by Fr. Williams. Between 1991and 1993, the twelve windows in the transept were replaced by twelve new windows depicting the lives and work of famous Anglicans. These were also crafted by Judson Studios and cost $31,500.00. The money for these windows also came from several generous parishioners. These were dedicated under Fr. Carll (Fr. Williams' successor). All together, the windows form a beautiful addition to the church sanctuary.
Sometime in 1986, Fr. Williams' health began to weaken. Fr. Williams had suffered from a severe form of Psoriasis, an auto-immune condition, for many years. It was eventually determined that he had contracted Relapsing Polychondritis, a rare inflammatory condition that weakens the bodies' cartilage. This condition would eventually weaken his trachea to the point where he couldn't breathe requiring him to have a tracheotomy. Fr. Williams would thus lose his ability to speak. This would be devastating for him, for so much of his life's work was dependent on his ability to speak. This condition worsened, causing the complete collapse of his trachea and bronchial passages, resulting in his death in 1987. This was a tragic loss for his family, St. Nicholas church, and so many who knew him. Fr. Williams was 58 at the time of his death and so was struck down somewhat early in life. His death hit my family very hard, for we had become quite close to him when I was diagnosed with Leukemia in 1980. My father and I, at Fr. William's request, came to the hospital where he was staying and said Morning Prayer with him on the last few Sundays of his life. I can remember the Sunday morning after his death, Bishop Oliver Garver, then Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles, coming to the early service in tears. A Solemn High Requiem Mass was held at St. Nicholas church in his memory. At this service, which was attended by hundreds of people including fifty to sixty clergy, Fr Howard Happ would deliver a beautiful and brilliant eulogy in Fr. Williams honor.
With the passing of Fr.Williams, Fr. Carll became rector of St. Nicholas. As previously mentioned, Fr. Carll had come to St Nicholas in 1982. A younger assisting priest was needed since some of the older assisting priests at the church were beginning to retire and the parish wanted a younger priest to work with the youth and young families. At the same time, Fr. Carll also gained valuable experience in parish work. His primary task after becoming rector was to oversee the completion of the new parish hall begun under Fr. Williams. This he did, and after a few years the new building was completed. Not long after, Fr. Timothy Fountain joined St. Nicholas as assisting priest.
Fr. Carll continued as rector at St. Nicholas for several years. During his time as rector he tried very hard to carry on with parish work and with the help of Fr. Fountain kept supporting the Episcopal Young Churchmen. After a few years Fr. Fountain left St. Nicholas for other parish work within the diocese. Fr. Carll would introduce some of the newer services contained in the 1979 Prayer Book into the liturgical life at St. Nicholas and he also taught a class that enabled parishioners at the church to become licensed Lay Readers in the diocese. As time went on however and with some very strong competing factions within the parish struggling with him and one another, Fr. Carll found it difficult to continue as rector. He had also suffered from heart trouble in the past and could not afford the extra strain. Fr. Carll eventually stepped down as rector of St Nicholas in 1993.
With Fr. Carll's departure, Fr. Robert Voyle came to St. Nicholas as interim priest in charge. Under Fr. Voyle, Fr. Howard Happ continued to assist and two other priests, Fr. Maurice Ottsen and Fr. Belfield Hannibal would also come and assist at this time. Fr. Voyle, in addition to providing pastoral care, guided the parish in obtaining a parish profile and eventually selecting a new rector.
In 1995, after a search process was completed, the parish called Fr. James Furman and he agreed to become rector of St. Nicholas. Fr. Furman had served as a priest in Southern California and immediately before coming to St. Nicholas had served at a parish in Hawaii with a large Chinese congregation. Fr. Furman had grown up in Long beach, California and was well educated and quite knowledgeable. Shortly after coming to St. Nicholas, Fr. Furman set about to improve the music program. Previously under Fr. Voyle, several experiments with electronic instruments had been conducted at St. Nicholas to determine whether the parish should continue with a traditional pipe organ or possibly switch to a newer electronic instrument. It was decided to build a new pipe organ and reconfigure the church sanctuary. Work began in 1997 and the project was completed in about two years. The inside of the sanctuary was changed, basically flipping the orientation of the pews and altar 180 degrees. The altar was moved to the east end of the nave and the original entrance was closed off. Where the altar had previously stood, a new organ was built consisting of the pipes from the church's original Moller organ and additional pipes from another Moller organ that had been donated. Directly in front of the new organ an area for the choir was created and the original keyboard/control console was refurbished and updated. The church also received a new altar and pulpit. In the following years with the new organ and under the direction of Phil Smith and others and more recently under the direction of David Strouse, the choir at St. Nicholas produced some truly beautiful sacred music. Another program which Fr. Furman began during his time as rector of St. Nicholas consisted of a series of tiles that were placed on the walls of the parish hall facing the courtyard at the rear of the church grounds. There are some sixty hand painted tiles depicting the saints throughout the history of the church which were donated by both parishioners and non-parishioners.
In 2001, Fr. Barry Verdi joined St. Nicholas as assisting priest. Not long after joining St. Nicholas, he began to offer the Mass in Spanish at 9:00 a.m. on Sundays. This attracted a sizable Hispanic congregation. For a short time during Fr. Furman's rectorship, St. Nicholas also had a Persian congregation that met for Mass at the church on Sunday afternoons. A Persian congregation continues to meet at the church every Sunday for services in Farsi.
As time went on however, it became apparent that Fr. Furman, despite his considerable knowledge and education, did not possess the people skills necessary for parish work. Many long time parishioners became dissatisfied and left St. Nicholas for other churches. Also during this time, St. Nicholas suffered two embezzlements, resulting in a loss of $210,000.00. For these two reasons, the parish's income would fall considerably. The parish was also forced to lay off Mary Ann Hagberg, the long-time parish administrator beloved by so many. This loss of such a wonderful person at St. Nicholas increased the dissatisfaction many already had with Fr. Furman.
The Hispanic congregation under Fr. Verdi's care however, continued to grow, and Fr. Verdi rented the parish hall to many families within the congregation as well as the wider Hispanic community for their daughters' Quinceaneras. This helped bring in much needed income to St. Nicholas during a financially difficult time and eventually enabled the parish to pay off the remaining notes on the parish hall. It is quite possible that without Fr. Verdi's help through these years, the parish may not have been able to continue spiritually and financially.
In 2005, Fr. James Maronde came to St. Nicholas as assistant priest. Fr. Furman left St. Nicholas in late 2007, and Fr. Maronde became acting priest in charge.
Fr. Maronde brought a much welcome and kindly pastoral demeanor with him. He also set about repairing the relationship with Los Encinos School and worked on renegotiating the lease agreement the parish had with the school.
In 2008, St. Nicholas hired Lynn Nelson as parish administrator. Lynn had been a parishioner since 2006 and had served as treasurer for 2 years at the church before becoming parish administrator. She would be the first parish secretary at St. Nicholas since Mary Ann Hagberg had left years before and her time, effort, and presence at the church office would be most welcome. Fr. Maronde left St. Nicholas church in late 2009 for personal reasons. He had helped carry the parish through a very difficult time and my mother would refer to him and his ministry there as "The bridge over troubled waters."
St. Nicholas once again needed a new rector, and in February of 2010 Bishop Bruno appointed the Rev. Michael Cooper as interim priest-in-charge. Fr. Cooper's orthodox, Anglo-catholic orientation became immediately apparent upon his arrival at the church, prompting Mary Smith to say: "Finally, they sent us an Anglo-catholic." Before coming to St. Nicholas, Fr. Cooper worked as a sheriff's deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and continues to work as a police chaplain there as well as with the Los Angeles Police Department. In addition to his seminary training, Fr. Cooper also earned a masters degree in Liturgical Studies. Under Fr. Cooper's leadership, St. Nicholas has retained its traditional Anglo-catholic character with the Eucharist as the primary act of worship. Fr. Cooper has encouraged all in the congregation to make a confession and seek the Sacrament of Absolution on a regular basis. He has personally dedicated his ministry at St. Nicholas to The Blessed Virgin Mary, invoking her help and guidance in his work as priest. Two years after his arrival, the vestry of St. Nicholas voted to have Fr. Cooper become rector and on April 28, 2013, he was formally installed as the sixth rector of St. Nicholas Church by Diocesan Bishop Jon Bruno.
Fr. Cooper has also supported the Hispanic community at St. Nicholas. In addition to the services in English and Spanish, St. Nicholas has begun to have bilingual services combining both the Spanish speaking and English speaking congregations on special occasions and at certain times of the year. In August of 2010, Fr. Jose Vladimir Divas Castillo (Fr. Vladimir for short) joined St. Nicholas to help Fr. Verdi with the Hispanic congregation. He had been asked by Fr. Verdi to come and be his eventual successor. In 2011, Fr. Barry Verdi left St. Nicholas to retire and Fr. Vladimir took over the priestly duties for the Spanish speaking congregation. For a brief time Fr. Ivanildo, a priest from a Franciscan order and a very sweet and gentle man, also came to the church and assisted with this congregation.
Currently, there are five services at the church on Sundays: two in English at 8:00 am and 10:30 a.m., two in Spanish at 9:00 a.m. and Noon, and one at 2:00 p.m. in Farsi. A healing service is offered every Wednesday at 12:15 p.m. followed by a bible study class at 1:00 p.m.
In early 2013, faced with budget difficulties, the vestry with the support of Fr. Cooper voted to cut the music budget by half. This would result in the loss of both the choir and the organist and music director at St. Nicholas. It was an unfortunate but unavoidable loss, for organist and choirmaster David Strouse along with a choir consisting of five hired professional singers and three parishioners had produced some beautiful liturgical music at the 10:30 a.m. service for close to six years.
At this time St. Nicholas church also decided to again reconfigure the sanctuary, thus restoring the altar and the pews to their original configuration. In addition to the loss of the choir and music director, the organ was in need of repairs that could cost in excess of $25,000.00, money the parish cannot currently afford. It was generally agreed that the T-shaped building was more suited to the original layout with the altar positioned against the west wall of the church. Furthermore it was thought (especially by Fr. Cooper) that it was visually and liturgically awkward not to be able to see the altar immediately upon entering the church, the altar being where the Eucharist is consecrated and thus the focus of everything that takes place in the sanctuary. The question then was, what to do with the organ which currently stands where the altar once was? In October of 2013, the church consulted a professional organ builder and his advice was that, given the importance of having a pipe organ in traditional Anglican worship, the organ should be kept. However it could now be disassembled and the components stored and preserved for possible refurbishment and reconfiguration as a new instrument at some future time when finances might become available. This would open up the space to reconfigure the sanctuary at present. The vestry has decided to do this and the altar has already been moved from the east end of the nave to a temporary platform directly in front of the organ, the pews have been turned around to face the altar and the original east entrance to the church has been reopened. As of this writing (August, 2014) the organ is being dismantled and stored to clear space for the new sanctuary.
St. Nicholas continues to carry out its witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Anglican tradition. Since its founding it has carried on with a close identification with classical and traditional Anglicanism to maintain the historic Catholic Christian faith, worship, and teaching within the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. On a more personal note, St. Nicholas was the spiritual home for both of my parents for over half a century and has been my spiritual home for 37 years.
Charles A. Knight August 24, 2014
P. S. The church was planning on celebrating the 75th anniversary of its founding and although some had talked about it over the years no attempt had ever been made to write a full history. With so many early parishioners no longer with us and the amazing fact that Mary Smith is still living and having such a clear memory of Fr. Smith's life and work coupled with all that I knew about roughly half the history (37 years) of St. Nicholas it became clear to me that now was the time to write a complete history. This document is the result.
I would like to thank several people with whose help I was able to assemble this history. First and foremost is Mary Smith, whose amazing memory for so many details of Fr. Smith's early life and subsequent work in founding St. Nicholas made telling this history possible. Next are several long-time parishioners who have provided information that helped me reconstruct so much of the church's history from Fr. Smith's retirement to the present. They are Peter Hansen, Judy Borden, Russ and Nancy Meals, The Rt. Rev. Owen Williams, Corrinne Elrod, and Annette Douglas. Finally, there is Lynn Nelson, who collected and gave me access to all of the church's files for my research and also Sue MacLaurin, who volunteered to edit and proofread the document.