Naïve observations of an itinerant communicant

posted by Kaihsu Tai on March 29th, 2005

This February I took a trip to California where I visited 4 churches.

Covenant Presbyterian Church, Long Beach, California: This is a vibrant and diverse church. Probably St Columba’s scaled up about 4 times. It had the first fairtrade stall I have seen in the USA. This is significant: we who are used to drinking Cuban orange juice and cooking with Palestinian olive oil sometimes forget how blessed and how subversive it is to have a connexion to those who grow our food beyond merely ‘everyday low prices’.

La Jolla Presbyterian Church, San Diego, California: I used to be a member of this church. Recently – and very sadly – there had been some divisive difficulties in the church. Despite the mistrust expressed towards the institutions by some in the dispute, I saw that the ministries of the church mostly carried on smoothly. There might be something to be learned here – as inevitably, somewhere else in the body of Christ, similar situations will arise again – though I do not look forward to that. (Cf. Peter Preston: ‘Bureaucracy is fine for them, not us’, Guardian, Monday, January 3, 2005)

Misión Nuestra Señora Reina de los Ángeles and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, both Los Angeles, California: The former was one of the old California missions; the latter a 2-year-old cathedral (when dedicated, it attracted protests from the local Catholic Worker house – ask Rachel of St Francis House). Each was historical and beautiful in its own way. Rather than the USA national flag and the ‘Christian flag’ usually observed in US protestant churches, here I found the flag of the Holy See, that of the State of California, the flag of Mexico, and even a Spanish national flag(!) in addition to the US flag. Any indication of civil religion in any of these cases? How do we view the flags (national, regimental, etc.) in churches here in Britain?

May God keep all travellers safe.

Copyright © 2005-02-26/03-02 Kaihsu Tai

Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. On April 5, 2005 at 14:52 Adam Villani said:

    I should note that the Plaza Church in downtown L.A. isn’t technically one of the California Missions. I’m not really sure how it got “Mission” tacked onto its name; it’s the church for the old Pueblo de Los Angeles and may have been an auxiliary mission from San Gabriel or something. The Spanish colonized California with a three-pronged approach of pueblos, missions, and presidios, or “grain, God, and guns.” The Missions are the most famous; there are like 21 of them. Presidios were established at San Francisco, Monterey, Santa Barbara, and San Diego. Pueblos were established at San Jose, Branciforte (Santa Cruz), and Los Angeles.

    Aha! — This website lists the old Plaza Church in Los Angeles as an asistencia to Mission San Gabriel, as I had suspected:

  2. On April 7, 2005 at 04:52 Kaihsu Tai (Oxford, England) said:

    Thank you for the clarification. I have visited at least 1 mission: that in San Diego. I think we should also note that ‘California’ included also what is now the 2 Mexican states of Baja California.

    By the way, I have photographs for all the churches mentioned if anybody is interested.

  3. On April 11, 2005 at 00:56 Adam Villani said:

    Hitting all of the Missions is a great way to see California and learn about history. It’s interesting that the size of the towns that built up around the missions is totally variable— Mission Soledad, as the name implies, in the middle of nowhere, and San Antonio is even more remote, being on a military base. Several others have pretty small towns around them. Santa Ines, bizarrely, is right in the middle of the Danish-themed tourist town Solvang. Others are in everything from suburbs to big cities.

    A look at the list indicates that I’ve at least seen 19 of them from a passing car, all except San Jose (in Fremont) and San Carlos Borromeo (in Carmel). I’ve attended Mass at 4 of them (San Luis Rey, San Gabriel, San Buenaventura, and Santa Cruz), and at most of the others I’ve at least walked around on the grounds.

  4. On April 11, 2005 at 04:07 Adam Villani said:

    This is interesting… Upper and Lower California were separate political entities at least as far back as 1776:

    (Scroll down to “change history.”)

  5. On April 12, 2005 at 07:22 Kaihsu Tai (Oxford, England) said:

    Interesting: Wikipedia has this claim: ‘The Spanish colony of California is divided into Alta (“high”) and Baja (“low”) California at the line separating the Franciscan missions in the north from the Dominican missions in the south’, and gave the year 1804.

  6. On June 23, 2005 at 04:54 Dr Kaihsu Tai (Oxford, England) said:

    From Herman Dooyeweerd’s A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Volume III, page 558 (ISBN 0-7734-8711-5):

    … the aesthetic function should not obtrude at the expense of the transcendental leading function of the institutional Church-community. Such an obtrusion disturbs the internal aesthetical harmony in the objective structure of the church-building. And the internal aesthetical harmony is also disturbed when objects of an explicit political structure are placed in the church-building where they do not belong, e.g., coat of arms, flags, standards, etc. ¶ The “Garnisonskirche” in Potsdam is one of the most horrible examples of disharmony in this respect. Another example is Westminster Abbey in London, which partly functions as a national museum.

  7. On October 13, 2005 at 18:51 Dr Kaihsu Tai (Oxford, England) said:

    Here is a small Orthodox chapel I saw in Athens this September. Note the flag of the Greek Orthodox Church with the double-headed eagle.

    Here is a small Orthodox chapel I saw in Athens this September. Note the flag of the Greek Orthodox Church with the double-headed eagle.

  8. On January 17, 2006 at 07:32 Dr Kaihsu Tai (Oxford, England) said:

    The San Diego Union-Tribune reported what happened in La Jolla: Divided presbytery ousts La Jolla pastor.

  9. On March 13, 2006 at 05:39 Dr Kaihsu Tai (Oxford, England) said:

    Further updates from the Union-Tribune, September 29, 2005: La Jolla Presbyterian Church marks centennial with range of festivities: “La Jolla Presbyterian celebrates its centennial in October – Oct. 1, 1905 is its birth date – with a series of services and ceremonies.” … “Meanwhile, on Sept. 11, Murray launched La Jolla Community Church, which holds services at Torrey Pines Hilton and includes some breakaway members of La Jolla Presbyterian.”