The stunning news from the funeral of Los Angeles Times legend Otis Chandler is that the liturgists at the famous All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena were not more creative with the content of the service. After all, if this was a funeral Mass they could have used Paul Winter's Missa Gaia and allowed a humpback whale to assist with the singing of the Sanctus. It's hard to tell, from the featured story, what kind of rite this was.
It does sound as if the free-spirited newspaper publishing giant was a good fit at this famous congregation, although the text stops short of saying that he was an actual church member. For those who follow the news, All Saints is a flagship parish on the left wing of the Episcopal Church. Recently, the parish has made headlines because some U.S. government strongmen have -- GetReligion says "boo, hiss!" -- wondered if the sermons are skating too close to partisan politics. The church has been a lightning rod on sexuality issues for two decades, while also serving as a doorway into the Episcopal fold for some postmodern evangelicals at Fuller Theological Seminary.
At the service itself,
Chandler's love of nature, even when he was shooting it, was a constant theme, as it was in his life. On Sunday, Harry Chandler said, about 30 family members attended a service at Oxnard's Hollywood Beach that culminated in his four surviving children and six of his oldest grandchildren donning wetsuits, getting onto surfboards and paddling out past the breaking waves to convene in a circle and scatter his ashes. Chandler's wife, Bettina, scattered more of his ashes near their home in Ojai, Johnson said. ...
The Rev. George Regas, the former rector of All Saints who officiated at Otis and Bettina Chandler's wedding, said Chandler was not much of a churchgoer.
"Otis' church was nature," he said. "His cathedral was Planet Earth."
Otherwise, the story makes it sound as if the service was pretty straightforward -- more "boardroom persona than his parallel life as a surfer dude." But the oh-so-California blending of nature and religious language appears to have been the major theme of the day. After all, California is so far West in the United States that it is the media-friendly doorway to all things in the pop East.
Or am I reading too much into the following imagery?
Harry described how, in the minutes after his father's death, just before dawn, he took a ruminative stroll around the property surrounding the elder Chandler's Ojai home. After a couple of minutes, he said, he turned to see a flock of large birds circling over his father's bedroom. Otis Chandler had always compared himself to the eagle that is The Times' symbol, saying that he wanted to soar.
Harry said he watched the birds "rising up, gliding around and around, higher and higher," as if lifting his father's soul heavenward. "'Goodbye,' I breathed, unable to speak. 'I will miss you always.'"
The bottom line, however, is that Chandler's colorful and emotional funeral is another example of why so many mainstream journalists -- often believers or almost believers on the religious left -- love the Episcopal Church so much. As I asked in an essay long ago, while I was myself an Anglican: Why does the Episcopal Church, now small and aging, make so many headlines?
I believe the Episcopal Church draws more than its share of media attention because its leaders wear religious garb, work in conveniently located buildings, speak fluent politics and promote a mystical brand of moral liberalism. Episcopalians look like Roman Catholics and act like liberal politicians. Clearly, this is a flock that will continue to merit the attention of America's media elite.