Brawley Prayer Blessing
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10. Brawley Prayer Blessing

Dave Bogna's Witness

Los Angeles County JailSteel doors clanged threateningly along the barred corridors of Los Angeles County Jail. Our footsteps echoed coldly around us as we marched along. A large bunch of keys jangled in the Prison Officer's hand and the door of the Recreation block swung open. Together a sea of faces turned and fixed threateningly upon us. One particular face lit up in recognition. The guard turned to me and asked glumly, "Is this your man?" "I knew you would come, Cap," blurted out a stocky young man as he pushed his way through the crowd. "Get me into a quiet room away from all this noise. I can't go on this way! I've got to live differently!"

Unusual Sort of Friendship

Lemon GroveDave Bogna, whom I had met in the County Jail, had first visited my home in Brawley when he was only sixteen years old. We had quickly struck up an unusual sort of friendship. This happy individual had a steep path in life, and one catastrophe after another seemed to punctuate his turbulent existence ending at the Los Angeles County Jail. What family he knew, was dashed in ruins one fateful day when his distraught father had shot his mother, then had taken his own life. Dave had witnessed this with his own eyes when he came in from high school. In a few fleeting moments, this teenager had lost both his parents, and from that experience, Dave drifted further and further into trouble. In sheer desperation, he began taking drugs, and now in Jail, he was paying the price. In that bare little side room off the "recreation tank," Dave knelt beside me. All was quiet but for his muffled sobbing. "I've got to live by the Bible, Cap," he whispered through his tears. "I've just got to!" Quietly we prayed and talked. Slowly his composure returned.

Prayers Answered

Colorado RiverDave Bogna was a trophy that Captain Ray Lewis rediscovered in Los Angeles County Jail in California. Glancing back into those Dave's reddened eyes as I rose to leave, I knew that things would be different from then on. I wondered where and when I would see him again. My hectic life soon swept out this concern until many years later, I was climbing the stairs to the Diocesan General Convention in Los Angeles, deep in thought. Suddenly, stepping out toward me, face bright and shining, was Dave Bogna, and how he had changed! "Well, Cap, the Lord has blessed me," he explained excitedly. "I'm free of drugs, out of prison, and happily married now. They have even elected me the warden of our home church, St. Matthias, in Los Angeles." Saint Matthias was the apostle chosen to replace Judas Iscariot following the betrayal of Jesus and Judas' subsequent death. Dave Bogna, too had come back to shine in the church. His blue eyes glinted as he spoke. Seeing my stunned expression, he added, "well, Cap, God answered your prayers after all!" Choked with swelling emotion, I could only whisper, "Yes, and many other people's prayers too!" For me, Dave was one particular "Brawley Prayer Blessing" from six very fulfilling years of work in the Imperial Valley.✞

Great Blessings

Elks LodgeCaptain Ray is presented with an honorary doctor of philosophy degree for Christian services by the Elks in Brawley, California. Great blessings come to Brawley Church, California, in the form of a changed Dave Bogna. Dave Bogna's transformation from despair to victorious Christian living reminded me of the transformation of California's desert. It became a beautiful, vast panorama of ripening grain and snowy cotton by the Colorado River diversion. His life, like that arid desert, had blossomed into abundant life. On first arriving in the Imperial Valley, Bishop Stevens had wisely warned me that the Brawley Church in California was likely to be arid and awkward. With patience and hard work, it could also yield a bountiful harvest. "Be faithful to your old-time Episcopalians," he had ordered, "but spread out into the community and win new converts. Plant the Brawley church on the Faith." That first Sunday, I walked through the doors of the Church to take the first of my morning services. At a glance, I realized the difficult task that lay before me. Besides a few women and a small group of children, I was the only man in the building. The children were quickly brought in by offering our hall to four scout groups looking for premises. I encouraged regular church parades and had also built up an all-boys Sunday School! There was a rumor that the church only allowed lads to come! Soon the girls came calling too!

Brawley Elks Lodge

Brawley CaliforniaReaching the men in Brawley, California, was a more difficult proposition for me. Brawley is a city in Southern California with a population of approximately 25,000. However, I noted that most church members already attended the Rotary, Elks, Kiwanis, or other lodges in town, so I decided to join up too. When the Brawley Elk Lodge (or the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks with one million members) learned that I worked for the church, they immediately elected me their "Honorary Chaplain!" I felt this was a critical position until my duties became clear.

Touching Tribute

Elks LodgeApart from saying an occasional prayer, my main task as the Elks Lodge was calling out the winning numbers in the lodge raffles! I was the honest one! At eleven o'clock, no matter what was happening, everything stopped for a minute's silence. I heard not a whisper, not a sound. Bowed heads slowly raised to recite together. "The faults of our departed brothers, we write upon the sands . . . their goodness upon the memory of our hearts." It was a touching tribute to departed friends.✞

Elks Doctor Philosophy

Brawley CaliforniaAs time passed, a few of the good men of the Elks Lodge became rooted in our little church in Brawley. By patient watering, the fellowship began to show signs of life. Like some other lodges in California, the Elks had the extraordinary power to confer honorary degrees to community members. Suddenly, one evening, they summoned me forward and with grand ceremony presented me with a Brawley Elks Doctor of Philosophy degree for "Christian services" to the people of Brawley. It was a long, golden yellow, black, and purple degree scarf. Later this silk apparel became a source of amusement when I showed it to some Church Army friends. "Your robe is marvelous! It's like a giant glistening butterfly's wing!"

Bitter Lemon Grove

Lemon GroveCaptain Ray Lewis' work in the bitter Lemon Grove Episcopal Church in California initially draws anger from the congregation. From the multi-color amaryllis in Brawley, I journeyed to the lush green and yellow swaying citrus groves of Lemon Grove, near San Diego. The famed bitterness of its lemons was evident in Lemon Grove Episcopal Church too. Except that I was now their problem! The Church had nothing against me personally, but they wanted a clergyman instead of a Church Army Evangelist. I tried my best, but everything I did was wrong. It all finally came to a head when two Church Army friends and a marine came to visit my little apartment in the parish. It was the occasion of the Church Pot Luck Supper. People talked happily, delicately balancing cardboard plates piled high with turkey, ham, and potato salad. Most were catching bits of conversation and gossip between bites. On the far side of the crowd, the church treasurer was eying me carefully over his spectacles and began to push his way across to where I stood. We exchanged polite introductions. "You ought to know what people are saying," he whispered secretively. "It isn't right for four of you to be living in our parish apartment together!" Surprised for an instant, I smiled, then delicately replied, "You know, the Church Army does not always see things like the clergy. We might even have black people staying there in the future." At these words, the color seemed to drain from his face, and with a faint smile, he turned away and faded into the crowd.

"Brawley Prayer Trophy"
by Ron Meacock © 2019

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