In my 11 or 12 years as a St. James’ parishioner, I have been honored to work on and sometimes head a ministry or three, serve on the vestry, and occasionally make a lot of noise from the pulpit trying to help bring Christ’s story to life.
DeDee, who always worked Sundays at the pharmacy and was an Easter, Christmas Eve attendee, retired last year and has since been a regular parishioner and Prospect Manor volunteer.
I am a lifelong Episcopalian, who many years ago considered ministry as a career. Sadly, as life moved on, I was never able to find a church that moved me the way my childhood and young adult hood church in Connecticut did. But then I found, (or was found by) St. James’, South Pasadena.
DeDee, with little religious upbringing, was immediately drawn to Reverend Anne and her message and supported my desire to start pledging without hesitation, despite not yet being able to attend regularly.
We pledge because we have directly seen (through ministry involvement) the wonderful works that pledging enables St. James’ to do. Feeding the less fortunate citizens in our area, bringing the gospel to shut-ins, who without us would not have it, serving, as we can, the many homeless men and women in our city, this is God’s work in action and we are blessed and honored to be able to be a part of it. This is what we believe pledging and working on ministries does. And we truly believe there is nothing more important.
Kim and I were confirmed at St. James’ this month. We’ve only been attending since Easter of this year, and it was certainly a step neither of us expected to be taking when the year began.
I came from a fundamentalist background, and long ago retreated from the Church to nurse my spiritual wounds. Kim had little experience with the Church, viewing it largely as a cultural curiosity, a holdover from earlier stages in our social evolution.
I’d never been able to shake the sense that something was missing, however, and that the something likely hinged on this Jesus person. I desperately wanted to find somewhere where people were having deep, intelligent, and informed conversations about that person, so at the end of last year I enrolled in Fuller Theological Seminary. It was through the ministry of one of the student pastors that Kim and I found ourselves at St. James’. It did seem fitting, if one was at seminary, to perhaps also attend a church, after all!
Here we were then, some months later, having just been confirmed by Bishop Taylor. We were seated back in our pew, observing the beautiful procession of the others being confirmed. As we watched, I experienced a great welling up of emotion. It came to me: this is what I’d always hoped and suspected that Church should be — not the bald and manipulative set of rituals that I’d experienced in the past, designed to get one worked up into some kind of penitential frenzy. This was something else altogether. A set of rituals, yes, but rituals steeped in deep tradition developed over centuries of worship, carried forward full of meaning into our contemporary lives. Rituals meant to draw us closer to the love, generosity, mercy, and beauty of God; and to bind us deeply in wonder to our fellow travelers on our Emmaus path.
Christ reveals himself to each of us as we walk alongside him, and one another. For some of us, it takes many miles of wandering in shadow and ignorance before we begin to sense that the presence that walks with us is that of someone far greater than we can imagine. Sometimes, the breaking of the sacramental bread together can be that moment when our eyes at last open and we see just who has been walking with us all along.
St. James’ is truly a special — dare I say holy? — place. It is a place where the theory and practice of the Christian life are manifest, from the sermons to the services offered to the community’s neediest. Kim and I have found ourselves genuinely welcomed from our very first day, and are now happy to be involved in the ministry to the elderly at Prospect Manor. We are blessed to be able to pledge our resources of time and what money we can, and hope that in this season, you will be so blessed as well.
We met at an Episcopal Church where we were both passionately involved in social justice ministries. When we married five years ago and planned to have children, we decided to move to St. James’ because it is such a large, active, highly functioning community, with an amazing choir, loving clergy, and deeply meaningful services. The church reminds us both of the churches that we grew up in and this continuity of place of worship is a gift we wanted to offer our children.
St. James’ has met our needs at various points in our spiritual journeys. Mother Anne was there for us when we needed to talk about changing our parish. When Julie was working Sundays, the Wednesday healing service provided her with an opportunity to worship with others mid-week and Sacramentum was a meditative, monthly alternative to the traditional Sunday morning service. When Ken was in hospital, parishioners and clergy gathered around to offer their love and healing support.
When our daughters, Hazel and Jasmine, came into the world two years ago, we realized the true value of this community. The clergy were enthusiastic about going along with our desire to baptize our twin daughters in the Pacific Ocean on the one Sunday of the year that their English grandmother was visiting. Parishioners continue to surround us with love, while seemingly enjoying the rich musical tones that our daughters contribute to the communion service. Having childcare for infants and toddlers has been a life-saver for us because it enables us to have one hour a week to truly worship uninterrupted. The ladies who look after our children during the service exemplify Christian values in their caring, loving, and generous attitude. We are excited about the fact that the church offers meaningful, religious experiences for children of all ages.
What we could not have predicted when we first joined St. James’, was the extended family that the Church has provided. Our biological families live in Canada and the UK and just visit occasionally. Hazel and Jasmine are truly blessed to be growing up with children of other parishioners, who have enriched our lives beyond belief.
We give to this church because we receive so much from it and believe that the Church needs to continue for future generations. While tithing is still a goal we strive for, we give the humble amount we are able to just now. We hope that our giving will teach our children the joy of giving so that they develop the habit of giving for their lifetime. Our main advice to those thinking about stewardship is to pray about the amount that God is calling you to give. God doesn’t want you to go into debt or sacrifice a family vacation for your pledge, but She just may be asking you to give enough that it hurts. Every family is different and equally blessed in God’s eyes. Try to take the time to pray and listen to what God is asking you to give.
There is something priceless about the way that Hazel and Jasmine point to the magnificent stained- glass windows, to the glorious vestments of the choir and clergy, to the shining cross, and the way that they try to blow out the flames of the acolytes’ candles as they pass by. Past generations have given generously to make these precious moments possible for our children and we pray that we will be able to give enough to provide future generations the same joy.
Stewardship season. It can hit you with the grace and subtlety of the PBS pledge-drive. It can leave you one subject short of the church-money-politics trifecta. It can remind you that baseball season is over. And it can be a time to reflect about the meaning of a place and a community in our lives.
One stewardship season, not too long ago, a St. James’ parishioner spoke from the pulpit about St. James’ through the years. He said that for over one hundred years, people sat in St. James’ pews and knelt at St. James’ altar. Our pews and our altar. Generations of mothers and fathers knelt in prayer when their children were called to serve their country. They wept rapturous tears when their children returned home and searing tears when they did not. All in the space St. James’ created. A poignant and holy space.
St. James’ is a place where you can hear a reflective sermon about the publican and the zealot having a meal together, and where everyone has a place at the table. St. James’ is a community living into conciliation, though times may be turbulent and divisions deep.
St. James’ nourishes the soul. At St. James’ you can find contemplation, faith, tradition, innovation, music, community, solace, sanctuary, integrity.
St. James’ is family. We pledge because St. James’ is poignant and holy and conciliatory and nourishing. We pledge because St. James’ is family. But most of all, we pledge because St. James’ pledges itself to us.