By MATT SANDERSON
ECHO PARK — As the Eucharist is prepared at St. Athanasius Episcopal Church across from Echo Park Lake, the western religious tone merges with the calming chants of a Kirtan Mass. Over music, a woman’s powerful voice sings the healing mantra in a call and response to the congregation. The bread and wine is passed around and The Lord’s Prayer is said.
On Sunday, St. Athanasius, one of the city’s oldest Episcopal churches, held its first Echoes: A Kirtan Mass at sundown with about 15 people attending. The church plans to hold the service on the last Sunday of each month.
Fr. Frank Alton’s said he brought the Kirtan mass to St. Athanasius as the 150-year-old church looks at ways to be more accessible to the community. He knew catering to yoga enthusiasts would help.
“This was being done thousands of years ago,” he said of Kirtan. “It’s to be calmer, to pray longer. Yoga has helped. I think these two traditions coming together is a hopeful thing.”
Sunday’s Kirtan Mass was lead by Rev. Lorenzo Lebrija, who moved to Los Angeles from New York several months ago. At his side, yoga teacher and Kirtan artist Amita Stark led the chants, playing a harmonium and encouraging engagement. It was her first time leading a religious service
“It’s a form of yoga,” she said about Kirtan. “It’s to awaken the divinity inside you. Don’t worry about the sound of your voice.”
Sunday’s program was outlined just as a traditional Christian mass. But where Episcopalians would use copies of the 1982 Hymnal, there were chants printed instead.
Local resident Maria Soto came to the mass with her family to try out the meditative approach. She’s been coming to St. Athanasius for 25 years. “We came to have a new experience,” she said.
Rev. Lebrija is originally from Miami where his Episcopal church blended with the 1,000-year-old Indian spiritual tradition. When he got to L.A., Lebrija did a quick Internet search for yoga enthusiasts and found a large number of results that included Echo Park. So, it would seem that a Kirtan Mass might find a receptive audience in the neighborhood.
“Some don’t have the time for God in their busy lives,” he said. “This is a vehicle for people to just be. You can participate in the call-and-response or just let it wash over you and listen. It’s still an Episcopal mass, praying through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Matt Sanderson has been a journalist, photographer and digital media producer for nearly eight years. A native of Rhode Island, he received his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of New Hampshire and moved to Los Angeles in 2012 through a job transfer with Patch.com/AOL