Fil-Am Episcopalian pastor feeds body, mind and spirit
DALY CITY, Calif. - Every Sunday and Monday, people stream in and out of Holy Child and St. Martin Episcopal Church feeling full and flush with optimism.
That’s the day the congregation led by Reverend Leonard Oakes partakes of the bread distribution compliments of a national bakery chain. That’s also the time when they may shake a leg at the exercise classes to stay in shape or relieve aches and pains. Or when they may have their blood pressure checked and pick up a few health tips along the way.
Children join Rev. Leonard Oakes and Daly City officials at rites marking the future site of an elevator to give access to all Holy Child & St. Martin parishioners.
For free. Regardless of address. Not just for the 251 registered members of the church but for anyone who wishes to engage with the community nurtured by a pastor who happens to be a professional health practitioner.
“We have seven registered nurses, four LVNs, five CNAs, 2 senior health administrators, and two medical doctors volunteering to move the clinic forward for our common cause,” Oakes, a licensed vocational nurse, counted his pool of clinicians who have embraced his endeavor. Their number spikes toward the end of the year when the church holds its annual Health & Wellness Fair.
Last November, the volunteers led an army of kindred spirits from other provider organizations that assisted over 200 adults and children representing a cross-section of the neighborhood and surrounding areas.
The event was the fifth the church coordinates every autumn, but last year was a milestone.
Daly City officials and Episcopalian leaders each took a shovel on Nov. 14, breaking ground on the future site of an elevator that would give equal access to the elderly and physically challenged.
Around the coming Thanksgiving Day, Oakes sees the same officials cutting a ribbon and giving the community an all-encompassing welcome to its sixth fair.
“This church was built 1956 when there was no ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirement,” Oakes explained the project. “We have a ramp leading to the elevator on the side and the seven steps of stairs at the entrance” that is little help to the frail or wheelchair-bound, especially on a rainy day.
Rev. Leonard Oakes and wife Haidee (center) with the volunteers and clinicians at recent HCSM health and wellness fair.
Five years ago, the Daly City mission’s efforts had gained attention and encouragement in the form of generous funding from the bigger church.
“Our work in giving free blood pressure check-up, lungs and weight monitoring, as well as giving health education to the community was noticed by Episcopal Charities,” Oakes said. “In 2012 we received a $30,000 grant for a three-year program to improve our clinic and services.”
As the care program prospered, support flourished.
“We were able to get a grant of $37,500 for the lift through the United Thank Offering of the Episcopal Church with the endorsement of Bishop Marc Andrus,” Oakes exulted the success of his campaign to promote health.
Oakes’ earliest career plan leaned less on the physical, however.
Twenty-three years ago, Leonard Oakes was a fresh graduate of St. Andrew's Theological Seminary in Quezon City. He had attended the University of Baguio in the Philippines’ mountain region but continued his education at Trinity College, also in the capitol city.
The last century was coming to an end just as the Kalinga-born Oakes’ future was coming into view.
The ‘90s marked a new beginning when the Episcopalian deacon was ordained priest. That same year, 1997, he and his wife Haidee uprooted from the homeland and settled in Northern California.
The new priest gained local experience as music director for a small but tight church on Southgate Avenue in Daly City. The post was ideal for Oakes, who loves to sing, filling in for pastoral duties as needed. His place was at the pulpit rather than behind the keyboard, ensuing events showed.
The newcomer found time to explore his diverse interests.
He worked as a gate agent at the United Airlines terminal in the San Francisco International Airport. When the 911 terrorist attacks halted air travel, causing layoffs in related industries, Oakes pursued radiology at Canada College.
Having a registered nurse for a wife fanned his interest in the health field. Oakes shifted to nursing, completing his prerequisites at the College of San Mateo before culminating studies with Nursing Care Providers in South San Francisco.
Both Oakeses work at Kaiser Medical Center in South San Francisco, with Leonard also doing part-time work as a visiting nurse with a home health care agency.
His vocation blossomed with his profession.
“When the HCSM priest moved to Vallejo, I was elected to be the next full-time vicar of this Church by the members of the Bishop Committee,” Oakes related his elevation. “The appointment was recommended to the Bishop of California and I was installed in November 2008 on the Feast of All Saints Day.”
Fate literally knocked on the door and opened up bigger opportunities for Oakes to serve.
Birthing a clinic
Retired Episcopalian priest Rev. Dr. Lynn Bowdish presented herself one day, offering to join the church.
“She introduced me to the community advisory board of Seton Medical Center where she and community leader Alice Bulos were members,” Oakes related.
Seton Medical Center until recently was owned by the Daughters of Charity Health System and was the first hospital to rise in Daly City.
Oakes accepted the board’s invitation to sign on, serving for over two years before the reorganization and eventual sale of the DOCHS to a New York-based corporation. The new owners established Verity Foundation, a nonprofit, to operate the hospital, which has the only emergency department open to all patients between San Francisco and Burlingame. (Kaiser Permanente in South San Francisco is a membership managed care organization.)
Oakes is among the first community leaders Verity invited in its initial outreach. Years earlier he had forged a partnership with the hospital to participate in a health fair brewing in his head that he shared with his former nursing instructor, Persephone Gee, RN, and her husband Dr. Jeff Gee, who had joined the church around the same time.
“Our expertise and connections in the medical field and our commitment to the poor and low income people in the community” began materializing, Oakes said.
“Through the help of the Bishop of California and the staff, the approval of the Bishop Committee of this church and the collaboration of our volunteers and partners in community health system, the Health Clinic was born,” Oakes, who has a son and a daughter, said of his new baby.
Caregiving comes naturally to Oakes, one of the eight children of Benedicto Oakes Sr. of Apayao, and the former Teresa Barantes of Tacloban.
The Oakes family, whose surname was given to a forebear by an “English missionary who could not pronounce the brilliant Igorot’s original name,” were all baptized in the Episcopalian faith.
Oakes likes to see more similarities than differences with the Roman Catholic religion from which his church had branched following the Reformation. The seat of the faith is Scotland, he said, where the church established itself and ordained its first bishop.
“We have a very similar liturgy, we believe in the Holy Trinity and the saints, we say the rosary," he said. Differences emerge in doctrines. Episcopalian priests may marry or divorce but the latter, he emphasized, “is not encouraged.”
What the Episcopalian church does encourage is women leaders. Besides Reverend Bowdish, HCSM has Rev. Rebecca Goldberg as Associate and Deacon Tricia Rosso who head the church alongside Fr. Jureck Fernandez as Intern.
Oakes cited the Philippine Independent Church, also known as the Aglipayan Church after its founder Gregorio Aglipay, as “in corcordance” with Episcopalians. “Their members are also our members.”
Oakes kept in touch with his fellow people of the cloth as a board member of the Peninsula Clergy Network from 2012-2013. Later he was appointed Grand Chaplain of the Masons in California, which opened further avenues to socio-civic groups like the Lion's Club and the Knights of Columbus, who have become collaborators of the Holy Child & St. Martin Church clinic.
The church also shares the goodies donated by Panera Bread to a nearby shelter every third Sunday and third Monday of the month. Friday evenings are devoted to music lessons.
HCSM holds two Sunday services. For more information call 650-991-1560 or visit www.holychildandstmartin.org. —Philippine News