The History of the Parish
Although Saint Thomas did not become an officially incorporated parish of the Diocese until August of 1920, its history really began in 1912, when Mrs. Mary Ogden organized a church school in her living room with ten people at the first meeting. Legend has it that the nascent congregation chose its patron saint in 1913, when the Bishop, after an investigation, “doubted” that there was a need for a mission in the far reaches of Los Angeles in west Hollywood, where orange trees far outnumbered prospective parishioners. Undaunted, the handful of faithful chose the doubting apostle as their patron and applied again, successfully this time, for mission status in 1914.
On January 10, 1918, Bishop Joseph Horsfall Johnson appointed the Reverend A.F. Randall Priest-in-Charge; church attendance rose to 37 on the following Sunday, and the next month the priest’s salary was increased from $20 to $30 per month. By November of 1919 a building fund (largely of Liberty Bonds and Thrift Certificates) had reached almost $1,600 and a lot on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Sierra Bonita Avenue was purchased. A simple frame building was erected. A new campaign for parish status culminated on August 16, 1920, when the Bishop established parish boundaries, articles of incorporation were approved by the State, and a seal was conferred. The Reverend Frank Roudenbush was called as the first Rector, and the new parish was admitted to the Convention of the Diocese in 1921. In the same year the frame building was moved from Sunset Boulevard to the church’s present location at Hollywood Boulevard and Gardner Street.
Upon the death of the first rector, the Reverend Arthur H. Wurtele was called in 1925 and proved to be the longest serving rector (so far) in parish history — until 1946. The parish prospered during his tenure, and in spite of the Great Depression construction began in August of 1930 on the present Gothic Revival structure, designed by the distinguished architect Harold H. Martin (who also designed Trinity Church in Santa Barbara) — complete with a windowed clerestory and characteristically English hammer beams supporting the roof. The old frame church served as the parish hall until it was destroyed by fire in 1955. The present parish hall was built in the same year, during the tenure of the third rector, the Reverend George Barnes (1947-1958).
During the years of service of the fourth rector, the Reverend William B. Key (1958-1966), significant additions were made to the church structure. The chancel and bell tower included in the architect’s drawings were never built, but in 1964 transepts were added to the nave and the sanctuary was enlarged, and in 1965 an east porch was added in place of the tower. The fifth rector, the Reverend Donald Ledsam, served for only four years and was succeeded in 1970 by the Reverend Canon Noble L. Owings. During his fifteen-year tenure the debt was retired and the mortgage burned (1971), and the east transept was dedicated as a Nativity Chapel (now the Lady Chapel), complete with an altar rail salvaged from the Diocese of Los Angeles’ St. Paul’s Cathedral after its demolition in 1980.
Upon the retirement of Canon Owings in 1985 it became apparent to some parishioners that the parish was at a crossroads, and a lengthy questionnaire was distributed on which respondents were asked to rank their priorities for the future. It is interesting to note that although 63% of the respondents were single (including divorced), the “maintenance of a family atmosphere” was given the highest priority. Although the “welcome of newcomers” came in fourth, the suggestion that the parish “address the needs of the Gay Community in Hollywood and West Hollywood” came in dead last (52nd).
After the arrival in 1986 of the seventh rector, the Reverend Carroll C. Barbour, the parish went through a radical transformation. With new openness especially to the gay community the parish grew remarkably: With an average membership of 400 adults, the vestry expanded from nine to twelve members in 1998. The relatively large number of adult confirmations indicated that many of the new members had come as lapsed adherents of other Protestant and Catholic communions, newcomers to the area, or from churches in which they felt no longer entirely welcome. The fact that the parish budget quadrupled in eight years made it possible to enlarge the clergy staff, to renovate and greatly enhance the church building and its furnishings, and to support the many services which Saint Thomas supplies to its members and the community.
Father Barbour was assisted by a number of associate pastors over the years. These were outstanding men and contributed greatly to the life of the parish. The last associate under Fr. Barbour was the Reverend Harold Anderson, from Saint Matthew’s Parish in the Pacific Palisades. Fathers Barbour and Anderson seemed ideally suited to one another in their abilities, their professions-and even in their age!
Under the energetic direction of choir director James Keltner the choir grew to over thirty members, all unpaid volunteers who enhanced not only the regular Sunday High Mass, but also from time to time provided special services during the week-especially funerals-which have become less frequent during the AIDS retreat. In 1987 the parish began discussions about the renovation of the church’s existing pipe organ. Under the direction of master organ builder, Weston Harris, and his associate, Thomas J. McDonough, the parish decided to commission a distinguished “cathedral-style” instrument. The quarter of a million dollar project featured, at its core, historic Opus 46 of the Los Angeles Art Organ Company, built in 1904 for Christ Episcopal Church in downtown Los Angeles. It was later transplanted to the Church of the Open Door, where it was housed for 70 years. Mr. Harris discovered the instrument in storage, and Saint Thomas Parish decided to return the organ to its Episcopalian origins. With this instrument at its core, the existing Saint Thomas organ was incorporated along with pipes from other locations including the Harvard University Memorial Chapel. The console shell was originally built for the Memorial Chapel at Stanford University by the E. M. Skinner Organ Company. The Saint Thomas organ features 72 ranks of pipes (4042 individual pipes), which combine to produce the definitive cathedral organ sound of the eclectic “American Classic” design. It ranks among the top ten largest organs in Southern California.
During Father Barbour’s time as rector, all three of the church altars were redone. A gift from a parishioner provided a carved-in-Italy colossal figure of the Ascended Christ, around which the distinguished liturgical artist Rhett Judice designed and executed a new reredos over the main altar. This was in the midst of the AIDS epidemic and it was felt a symbol of hope and resurrection was needed. Later Rhett Judice built a new reredos for the Lady Chapel, also of his own design, and an altar and reredos for the Damien Chapel in the east porch of the church, centring on the figure of Christ the King, flanked by Saint Thomas the Apostle and Blessed Father Damien, the leper priest of Molokai. In 1998 Rhett completed the “East Wall”(liturgical east) and created the Stations of the Cross currently in use.
After the death from AIDS of assistant priest Robert Kettelhack in 1989, the chapel in the east porch was designated the Diocesan AIDS Memorial Chapel, with a painting by Ian Faulkner of Father Damien over the altar, and a specially designed AIDS Memorial Book listing persons who have succumbed to the disease. When it was decided to build an AIDS Chapel in the new Cathedral Center, Saint Thomas relinquished the furnishings. The altar is still used for the interment of remains. The chapel is now dedicated to Fr. Damien of Molokai. Fr. Damien is the 19th century priest who worked among the lepers of Molokai and has been adopted as the patron of people with AIDS. Rhett Judice designed the triptych replacing the Falkner painting. A copy of the Memorial Book remains. This chapel also serves as the parish shrine for Our Lady Of Walsingham. The Holy Rosary is recited there every Sunday morning.
The retirement of Fr. Carroll Barbour due to ill health in early 2000 was a sad and challenging event in the life of the parish. Fr. Barbour had been a strong, charismatic leader through a difficult time in the life of the parish. He helped to establish a strong Anglo-Catholic identity for the parish. It was with deep sadness in 2003 that the parish came together for his Requiem Mass.
In 2000, the Rev. Loren (Bud) Ruby was called to be the interim priest of the parish. Fr. Ruby came from Pennsylvania. His was the difficult task to guide the parish and help in the process of preparing for the next rector. During the two-year interregnum, Fr. Ruby gave of himself as a pastor, teacher, priest and friend. He encouraged and fostered lay participation and a shared sense of responsibility among priest and people.
A search committee was formed and a parish profile compiled and written. It was an exhausting process and required countless hours by vestry, wardens, and committees. These men and women served without complaint until finally four candidates were selected for the final choice. In December of 2001, Father Ian Elliott Davies was called, by the vestry, to be the eighth rector of Saint Thomas the Apostle, Hollywood. He arrived in February 2002 and celebrated his first Mass on St. David’s Day March 1st the patron saint of Wales. It was appropriate to do so for Fr. Davies is a proud Welshman.
Fr. Davies was the assistant priest at the famous Anglo-Catholic parish of All Saints, Margaret St., London, England. Within a few months Fr. Mark Stuart came to us first as a parishioner but in a short time the rector called him to be the assistant priest. It was with great joy in 2004 that the parish was able hire Fr. Stuart fulltime as associate rector.
St. Thomas, as an Anglo-Catholic parish, believes in a social responsibility to the community. The church hosts a number of 12 step programs, and provides facilities for meetings of neighbourhood groups. There are also service groups within the parish. One such prepares and serves lunch two days a month for the outpatients at the Rand Shrader Clinic at the County-UCS Medical Center-for AIDS patients and the aged. Another committee serves breakfast for the homeless at the church, every Saturday for over two hundred people.
In addition to the ten Masses per week, parishioners sustain themselves physically and spiritually with social events, cultural activities, and devotional activities, such as the annual retreat-usually oversubscribed-to the Holy Cross monks at Mount Calvary or the sisters of the Holy Nativity at Saint Mary’s Retreat House, both in Santa Barbara. There is St. Martin’s Guild sponsoring social activities, St. Agnes Gardening Guild which cares for the grounds of the church. Parishioners participate as lectors, acolytes, ushers, altar guild, choristers, Lay Eucharistic Ministers, and Lay Eucharistic visitors. St. Thomas is a busy place.
The adult Christian education functions throughout the year. It offers courses in Church History and devotional practices. Confirmation classes are ongoing throughout the year. These are coupled with highly successful Newcomer Orientation classes. These newcomer classes are becoming a model for the diocese.
Our parishioners are mostly single adults, but the parish organised a Sunday church school for children in 1994. There is now a Sunday School available for young children every Sunday.
In 2004 the two priests led a parish pilgrimage to Britain. The pilgrimage was centered on a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. This pilgrimage led to the founding of a cell
(Confraternity) of Our lady Of Walsingham at St. Thomas. It is only the second such cell on the West Coast. Marian devotion is an important part of the spiritual life of the parish.
On the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle July 3, 2005, Bishop Sergio Carranza, with the assistance of Frs. Davies and Stuart placed a primary relic of St. Thomas, our Patron and Protector, along with relics of Saints Barnabas and Matthias the Apostles, Ss. Mark and Luke Evangelists , Ss. Augustine of Hippo, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Gregory the Great, Jerome, Doctors of the Church, Ss. Ignatius of Loyola and Rafqua in the mensa of the high altar of the church. It was a truely joyous occasion of beautiful liturgy rarely celebrated, signaling a complete dedication to the work of our Patron, and to his mission of Christian ministry to all.
The parish has also over the last several years deepened its relationship with Temple Israel of Hollywood, and its Senior Rabbi, John Rosove. The parish has planned a joint pilgrimage to the Holy Land with Temple Israel in 2008. Rabbi Rosove refers to St. Thomas the Apostle as his “sister congregation” on Hollywood Boulevard. What an honor!
All in all, in its long history, Saint Thomas the Apostle has evolved and developed from a “doubtful” mission on the far reaches of west Hollywood to a vital, loving and thriving Anglo-Catholic parish serving a special community, with a special mission.