Deacon Jeffery Shirilau (1953-1993) was the co-founder of the Ecumenical Catholic Church along with his husband Mark. The ECC is a Christian denomination combining the theology and liturgy of the Church Universal with a liberal approach to social issues.
Jeffery Michael Lau was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on August 30, 1953. He was the son of Cornelius Afai Lauliiuokalani Lau and Dolores Bennett (Bezanson) Lau. His paternal grandfather was Chinese, his grandmother Native Hawaiian, and his mother’s parents of European ancestry. Jeffery was born again, baptized into the Christian Church, on December 9, 1956, at Grace Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, California.
Jeffery’s father was a captain in the U.S. Army, and the Laus moved frequently. During Jeffery’s childhood he lived in San Gabriel and Fort Ord, California; Baltimore, Maryland; and then back to Hawaii. Prior to leaving for Vietnam, Cornelius moved his family to Tustin, California. Cornelius was killed in action on March 20, 1967. Jeffery himself served in the army for three years. He attended fashion design school and for a time was a successful female impersonator, in spite of being a 6-foot-4 leatherman. He was also active in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Tustin. In 1979 he left California and moved to Seattle, where he earned a diploma in computer programming and accounting at a technical college.
Jeffery’s sister Marion was married at St. Paul’s, Tustin, on April 17, 1982, and Jeffery had come back to California for the wedding. While at church on April 25, Jeffery and Mark met, talked, and decided to go to an organ concert being presented by St. Paul’s organist later that afternoon in Glendale. The priests at St. Paul’s had often suggest Mark and Jeffery get together, and they had met briefly on Jeffery’s prior visits, but this time they were both ready for more. That afternoon they decided they would spend their lives together, and Jeffery made plans to move back from Seattle. Jeffery worked as a computer programmer. They later moved from Tustin to Santa Ana. Mark and Jeffery were married on November 25, 1984, and became the Shirilau Family. Jeffery became a letter carrier at the Alhambra Post Office, and Mark and Jeffery would sometimes commute to work together when Mark worked at Southern California Edison in Rosemead.
Mark and Jeffery attended both St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and Christ Chapel Metropolitan Community Church. While Mark was in Episcopal seminary, Jeffery took the UFMCC clergy examination and passed with flying colors. He was made a deacon in the MCC on September 24, 1984.
1987 was an eventful year in that it saw the formation of both Aloha Systems and Ecumenical Catholic Church. “Minority-owned” businesses were being promoted and Jeffery left the Postal Service and formed Aloha, a computer and engineering firm serving utilities and the energy industry. Mark left Edison a couple years later and became Aloha’s chief engineer. During this time, Mark and Jeffery were struggling with the advantages and disadvantages of association with either the Episcopal or Metropolitan Community Church. They saw the need for both--a ministry that was both liturgically based and boldly gay-supportive. The Ecumenical Catholic Church was incorporated, and Mark was later ordained on December 27, 1987. It is certainly true that without Jeffery’s extroverted outlook and persistence, the ECC would not have been formed. Jeffery was received into the ECC as a deacon, and was ordained a deacon in apostolic succession by Bishop Donald Lawrence Jolly on Pentecost Day, May 19, 1991. At the last minute Jeffery himself asked Donald to do this in conjunction with Mark’s episcopal consecration.
In the late 1980s, Jeffery tested positive with HIV, though he remained asymptomatic for some time. Mark and Jeffery began the long and unknown process lying ahead for a positive-negative couple. They decided to move to the Redwoods and the Russian River in northern California, where Mark’s great aunt had bought a house in the 1920s. The ECC began to grow quickly, with ordinations in Idaho, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Upstate New York, and Louisiana. As archdeacon of the denomination, Jeffery had a key influence on the other clergy. He was particularly inspiring as they struggled with their personal worthiness and the validity of their calls. Two days before he died, Jeffery received a fax from Fr. Marty Martin, now retired bishop of Oklahoma, saying that he would not be a priest if Jeffery had not convinced him that his call was genuine and that he was capable of the work God had in store.
As Jeffery’s health declined, Mark and Jeffery took a fitting “final honeymoon” and were in Seattle on their 11th anniversary, April 25, 1993, visiting the house in the shadows of the Space Needle where Jeffery lived when they met. They went on to Alaska, the only state Mark had not yet visited, but which Jeffery had visited while in the army. They drove 1200 miles from Anchorage and visited the Yukon as well.
The final two months were full of activity. At the urging of the choir and pastor, Jeffery held a vocal concert at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Santa Rosa on June 18. He attended Mark’s brother’s wedding in Irvine on July 2. The next week he flew back to Boston with Mark and drove to Plattsburgh, New York for the ordination of Mike Frost (now ECC bishop of New York) and Denis Martel, who lived in New Orleans but whose family lived in New England. They had a goal to visit all the state capitals. Since they had already been to most of the New England capitals, they drove to Provincetown, Massachusetts, and then visited Providence, Trenton, Dover, Annapolis, Harrisburg, and Albany on their way to Plattsburgh.
During this same time the Episcopal church in Santa Rosa started the AIDS Interfaith Network, and Jeffery became a key inspiration for those involved. Mark and Jeffery also flew to Phoenix for the general convention of the UFMCC, and Jeffery was very proud when Elder Troy Perry introduced him as special ecumenical guest as well as a product of the MCC.
When they returned home to Monte Rio, Jeffery realized the time had finally come. On July 28, he called his aunt in Hawaii to tell her that his planned fortieth birthday party on August 30 would not happen. Jeffery’s mother Dolores flew up, and Mark’s parents began driving up for Irvine, but had to turn back when his mother became sick. Jeffery spent the week on the telephone saying good-bye to friends and family. The spiritual health and readiness for heaven was visibly apparent, and this further inspired the local clergy regarding AIDS. On Sunday, August 8, a festive healing Eucharist was celebrated in Mark and Jeffery’s home and attended by many from this group. Jeffery ended up being in a coma. He woke up the following morning and died about 2:30 in the afternoon on August 9, 1993, after saying good-bye one last time to his mother and his husband.
The California funeral was held on August 21 at First Congregational. Jeffery always insisted that we celebrate his funeral, which, of course, we do as Christians anyway. We knew he was present when the incense charcoal fell out of the thurible as it was swung by an Episcopalian laywoman, the first and last time this low-church Protestant parish has experienced incense. Mark celebrated High Mass, the congregation’s choir sang, and their pastor, Dorothy Brooks, gave a wonderful sermon about death being birth.
On Monday, August 30, Jeffery’s fortieth birthday, the second funeral was held at Hawaiian Memorial Park in Kaneohe, and Jeffery was buried where many of his Hawaiian relatives are. Jeffery loved Hawaii and the Hawaiian family, and they all loved him. He chose to be buried there because he knew Hawaiians are much better at bringing flowers than Californians are. He proved right as his Chinese great uncle would put flowers on his grave for many years to come until when in his 90s he could no longer go to visit his wife, buried not far from Jeffery. Me ku’u aloha kau a kau.
(This biographical statement provided by Mark Shirilau and taken, for the most part, from the booklet prepared for Jeffery’s funeral Mass.)
Biography Date: June, 2005