Sunday, July 3, 2011

By the Beautiful Sea Part 2

It's good to visit Laguna Beach on a weekday when everything, including the beach, is less crowded, and if you're willing to walk a couple of blocks you can find a free parking space. We found ours up the hill a bit, across from the high school and some charming cottages; there are five of these in a row.
     Our first destination was the beach, after we got some coffee, that is. En route to Starbucks we found this welcoming sign to make us smile.
Happily caffeinated, we made our way to the beach. I took off my sandals and rolled up my jeans to wade in the surf; I got my jeans wet anyway, but didn't mind.
We couldn't tell if the tide was coming in or going out, but it washed up a lot of seaweed and then arranged it artistically in the foam. Nature's art is so much better than ours (but we keep creating anyway).
The beach is in the middle of town and draws all kinds of people (and seagulls, of course),
and there are good public restrooms with outdoor showers for hosing off the sand and salt. As we headed that way I heard someone playing the "Blue Danube Waltz" on an accordion, so I dug in my bag for a dollar and followed the music. The accordionist apologized for not accepting tips! We chatted a few minutes and I told him that earlier Joe had remarked that for some reason, every time he drives Sam's (my uncle's) car, he hears the "Blue Danube Waltz" in his head.
     On the way back to the car we came to two lovely churches, side by side. The first was Episcopal and not open on a Wednesday afternoon, but we thought the second, the American Catholic Church, Saint Francis by-the-Sea, might be.
We didn't actually know what the American Catholic Church was, but we soon found out. As we approached the entrance, we met a woman who said she was about to open it up for a tour and we were welcome to join, then she let us in and talked with us while she lit the candles and turned on some music. It turns out that her grandfather, Percy Wise Clarkson, had built both this church and the Episcopal church next door, where he had first served but then left that pulpit to follow his own vision by establishing the American Catholic Church in the early 1930s. It was revolutionary and far ahead of its time in its insistence on racial and gender equality and Bishop Clarkson's ideals, now familiar to many of us since they've become part of New Age philosophy and spirituality, are beautifully recorded on the rafters of the sanctuary.
The sanctuary is tiny, seating about fifty people at most, but beautiful, and most certainly a sacred space.
While we waited for the tour group, which turned out to be another couple plus their tour guide, Bishop Clarkson's granddaughter, Jessica deStefano,  told us more about her grandfather, his church, and its current bishop, who is ill, so there are no masses at this time, though the church itself is open on Sundays from 9 to 10 for meditation and prayer. We learned later that Jessica is an artist - Joe found her website,, where you can see her and some of her lovely work, some serious, some delightfully whimsical.  We wound up joining the tour and enjoying it very much. The other couple were very nice, as was their guide, Lorraine Brown, who turned out to be a U of A graduate; we knew we looked familiar to each other! I tried to find her online but couldn't, nor any listings for tour guides in Laguna Beach, but I think she'd be a wonderful one, if only we knew how to get in touch with her.
     When we got back to Sam and Vera's, Joe googled American Catholic Church; it does exist outside Laguna Beach but Saint Francis by-the-Sea seems to be independent of the national organization, which is very small. It is located at 430 Park Avenue, just up the hill from Laguna Beach's main street, and although there's no website for the church itself, it's mentioned on several others. The contact phone is (949) 497-4678.  It's well worth a visit. 

     Our serendipitous tour of Saint Francis marked the end of a great day of exploring: hiking, picnicking, strolling along the Dana Point harbor, wading in the surf, and not going into a single shop or restaurant, except for that one necessary brief stop at Starbucks! How wonderful it was to top it off by spending time with friendly and interesting people who introduced us to a piece of history we hadn't known about and its beautiful setting. Mark Twain was right: "...nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people."


  1. This church is perfect. It is like fair tale church in forest.=)--rita