July 22, 2021

Church of the Epiphany Continues to Give Voice to Its Community

Located in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, the Church of the Epiphany is the oldest Episcopal congregation in the city and has important ties to the fight for civil rights for Mexican Americans. The church was designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 2005 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2019.

Founded in 1887, the Church of the Epiphany was originally designed in the Romanesque Revival style by English architect Ernest Coxhead, while an addition in 1913 by architect Arthur Benton added a mix of styles, including Gothic Revival, Mission Revival, and Romanesque Revival.

“It’s a very beautiful place, and very Californian in its mix of architectural styles,” said Reverend Thomas Carey, the church’s vicar. “The interior is beautiful with its gothic wood, and very rare to have something so dark, cool, and beautiful here.”

While the church is celebrated in the city for its architectural styles, its connection to the city’s Chicano Movement in the mid-to late-20th century has made it a socially and politically important icon.

A wide angle exterior view of the Los Angeles Church of Epiphany, a white building with brown trim. There is an electrical pole in front of the building along with some greenery.

photo by: National Trust for Historic Preservation

Exterior view of the Church of the Epiphany.

The Church of the Epiphany and the Fight for Mexican American Civil Rights

In the early twentieth century, in response to decades of systemic racism, Mexican Americans founded organizations, such as the League of United Latin American Citizens, and organized in protest. However, in the face of continued oppression, in the 1960s, El Movimiento—also known as the Chicano Movement—brought a coalition of organizations together to fight for Mexican American social and political empowerment. During this period, the Church of the Epiphany served as a meeting space for the movement.

Father John B. Luce, one of three members of clergy central to the Church of the Epiphany’s role in supporting this work, said, “The church has here an exciting challenge and opportunity to serve suffering people, and to assist them in their legitimate aspirations to participate more fully in the freedom and abundance of this nation. The potential staggers the imagination, and the privilege to be a part of this potential is a God-given challenge we must dare to confront.”

Armed with this philosophy, Luce aided in the development of youth activist groups, and even worked with Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers Union, providing a space within the Church of the Epiphany for “organizing boycotts, strikes, and campaign efforts.”

A man standing in front of a large chalk board with his hands outstretched in sermon. He is wearing the white robes with stripes in front.

photo by: Church of the Epiphany

Reverend John Luce at the Church of the Epiphany.

Cesar Chavez standing at a podium with a circular stained glass window behind him. The angle of the photograph is from below Chavez looking up.

photo by: Church of the Epiphany

Cesar Chavez at the Church of the Epiphany. During the 1960s and the 1970s, the church served a home base for Chavez and the United Farmworkers Union.

Almost a decade later, a group of Mexican American activists marched in protest of the Vietnam War. This movement, called the Chicano Moratorium, included a coalition of anti-war activists and culminated in a demonstration in late August 1970 in East Los Angeles that drew over 30,000 people. For many of the leaders of the Chicano Moratorium, the Church of the Epiphany served as an epicenter for planning. During this same period, Epiphany also housed production and printing for La Raza, a publication critical to the Chicano movement.

In 2018, Church of the Epiphany won $150,000 in grant funding from the National Trust and Main Street America’s Partners in Preservation program—sponsored by American Express—in a year where the competition looked to sites that focused on the fight for equality.

“One of the real reasons it’s special and unique is for its history of activism,” said Carey. “As one of the birth places for the Chicano movement, it has allowed people to speak for civil rights and a place that spoke to the community about being proud of one’s own heritage.”

Preserving the Church of the Epiphany

In order to maintain the important social, cultural, and historical significance of the Church of the Epiphany, the church received $250,000 in funding from the National Fund for Sacred Places as part of the 2017-2018 cohort, the second year of the Fund’s existence. The project work included the addition of a new elevator and stair, and a renovation of the basement so it can once again be used as community meeting and office space.

Exterior improvements included repairs to the existing roof, stucco walls, gutters and downspouts, and original stained-glass windows. The interior of the sanctuary and parish hall received new lighting, selective refinishing of original woodwork, and replacement of the non-original Parish Hall floor.

As part of their participation in the National Fund for Sacred Places, each year congregations are provided resources, training, and technical assistance in areas such as fundraising and capital project planning, including an annual training workshop.

Two men working on wood framing inside the Los Angeles Church of the Epiphany. On the right you can see a short hallway with white walls.

photo by: Church of the Epiphany

Exterior construction at the Church of the Epiphany. A group of men stand on the roof with a crane lifting materials.

photo by: Church of the Epiphany

The National Fund for Sacred Places “not only inspired the capital campaign, but when we got the grant it basically taught us how to do it,” stated Carey, adding that their fundraising had previously been more piecemeal. “Before we had been given fish, but they taught us how to fish. It was an extremely important thing to have happen; we would have just continued what we had been doing, but this mobilized the whole church.”

Part of the fundraising strategy included the unveiling of a plaque celebrating the church's inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places in May 2020. However, like many organizations around the globe, their plans were halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this challenge, Church of the Epiphany was still able to raise just under a million dollars in matching funds for their capital campaign by working with local community foundations, applying for small and large grants, and creating a GoFundMe page.

The project is expected to wrap up at the end of summer 2021.

Staff at the church are looking forward to making use of the increased event and meeting space, a continuation of its history as a gathering place for diverse communities across Los Angeles. They will now have three spaces for community members, including a place for immigration lawyers doing pro-bono work, and a training space for young Latinx and Asian individuals who are working together on issues that are critical to the Lincoln Heights community and the city of Los Angeles. The renovations have ensured a safe, comfortable place for community members to meet.

“We could do it, and we could do it again,” said Carey about being part of the National Fund for Sacred Places and executing the capital campaign. “This whole thing put Epiphany on the map, in its own right as a destination. It’s a destination because of what happens and continues to happen here. We have a legacy to fulfill and a legacy to live out.”

The National Fund for Sacred Places, a program of Partners for Sacred Places in collaboration with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, provides training, planning grants, technical assistance, capacity-building support, and capital grants up to $250,000 to congregations of all faiths for rehabilitation work on their historic facilities.

The National Fund for Sacred Places has now accepted 67 houses of worship from Alabama to Alaska into the grant program. The National Fund will ultimately award $20 million to support projects that range from steeple stabilization to exterior masonry repair to HVAC replacement.

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Colleen Danz is the senior manager of Forum Marketing at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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