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,
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
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
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
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