La Jolla's Faith Communities: St. James By-the-Sea Episcopal Church offers spiritual support to members, community

For more than 100 years, St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church has been part of La Jolla’s cultural zone, a cluster of buildings on Prospect Street that includes the church, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Recreation Center, The Bishop’s School, Woman’s Club and La Jolla Historical Society.

All were built in the early 1900s on land owned or donated by Ellen Browning Scripps. Her original home on Prospect is now the art museum and her younger half-sister’s home next door, Wisteria Cottage, houses part of the La Jolla Historical Society.

As generous as Ellen Scripps was, she was not a churchgoer, but her half-sister Virginia was a devout Episcopalian. Virginia hosted the first local Episcopalian services in her Wisteria Cottage home in 1906.

Knowing the group wanted to build a church, Ellen donated the triangular piece of land across the street at Prospect, Eads Avenue and Silverado Street to her sister. They hired Louis Gill, nephew of Irving Gill, to build a church on the site in 1907.

In 1929, a larger church took its place, although the bell tower remains and is dedicated to Virginia, who died in 1921. The original church building was moved to the corner of Genter Street and Draper Avenue and is part of the La Jolla Christian Fellowship Church.

Today, in addition to being part of a cultural hub, St. James By-the-Sea is a hub of activity itself, with approximately 1,000 members and countless programs and services that radiate out into the community, and the world.

According to Rev. Eleanor Ellsworth, senior associate rector, “St. James By-the-Sea is a warm and wonderful place for people of all ages to gather and worship God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Its heritage is rooted in the 16th century English Reformation. As an Episcopal (Anglican) Church, St. James is part the Anglican Communion, which thrives across the globe.

“With worship being the foundation of the community of St. James, parishioners find spiritual strength and companionship to engage the needs of neighbors, near and far, following the commandment to love one another. St. James welcomes everyone and is proud to be part of the La Jolla larger community.”

The church offers worship services throughout the week, including Eucharist (Holy Communion) Rite I at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, Eucharist Rite II (with Choral Eucharist) at 10 a.m. Sunday, Eucharist and Healing Rite at Noon on Wednesday and a Requiem Service at noon on the fourth Friday of each month (third in November and December).

In addition, members can participate in a variety of programs and ministries. Educational programs include Sunday School for children and adults between worship services and regularly scheduled adult forums with guest teachers and preachers. Childcare is provided for all programs.

St. James’ liturgical ministries include choir, flower guild, altar guild, acolytes, readers and greeters. Pastoral ministries include St. James Saints, Daughters of the King and Eucharistic Visitors, including those held offsite, as at Casa de Manana, White Sands and Wesley Palms. A group called Petal Pushers takes flowers to the sick from the Sunday altar.

Outreach ministries are a big part of St. James’ community involvement. These include St. James Knitters, who provide warm caps to the Seaman’s Church Institute; Episcopal Relief & Development for domestic and international relief; The Women of St. James’ annual White Elephant sale; a Health Ministry for those needing help with medical and dental expenses; Dorcas House and Responsibility in Tijuana; and an ongoing support for local microcredit providers.

More than just outreach is the importance of raising awareness about global needs, according to Rev. Ellsworth. As she explained, the church’s umbrella committee for outreach is the Church and World Ministries. “Education is my passion,” she said. The umbrella committee “focuses on providing excellent education and social programs — all open to the community.”

St. James also hosts more than 20 art and music events throughout the year. These include monthly evensong at The Bishop’s School; the Music Series, with several concerts throughout the year; and hosting San Diego Early Music Society, Bach Collegium San Diego and La Jolla Music Society SummerFest.

Rev. Ellsworth has been at St. James since 2003. Her calling to the ministry came early, she said, when she was 5 and administered communion to her dolls using Necco wafers. She was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, to a Catholic father and Protestant mother and was drawn to Episcopalianism.

“The Episcopal Church is a mixture of Catholic and Protestant, a hybrid,” she said.

After high school, Rev. Ellsworth attended the University of Tennessee, earning a bachelor’s degree in history and master’s degrees in library science and public administration. She then worked as a librarian, program director and teacher at several institutions, including the University of Tennessee and Catholic University of America. In 1990 she received a master of divinity from Virginia Theological Seminary and went on to serve in four parishes in Tennessee, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

Her husband, Robert, who died three years ago, was well-known in Washington political circles, a former congressman, ambassador to NATO, presidential aide and deputy secretary of defense.

It was his idea to move west, settling in Del Mar, to start a biotech venture capital company. “I came along for the ride,” Rev. Ellsworth said. She has a son and two grandchildren who live in Maryland and a daughter who just moved to Del Mar.

Over the last year, St. James has undergone extensive renovation, including fixing the motor for the chimes and water damaged concrete in the bell tower, removing all the roof tiles and replacing them with hand-finished replicas, refurbishing all the wood windows, and sandblasting the old stucco. In the course of the sandblasting, according to building committee chairman John Norris, the church’s original color was uncovered and so this was mixed into the new stucco. Renovation continues with water-wise landscaping.

St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church

Address: 743 Prospect St., La Jolla

Phone: (858) 459-3421


Year Established: 1907

Members: 1,000

Average Weekend Attendance: 275

Worship Services: 7:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eucharist Sunday. Noon Wednesday. Eucharist in the chapel. Requiem service on the fourth Friday of each month (third Friday in November and December). Baptisms, weddings, burials.

Liturgical Ministries: Choir, flower guild, altar guild, acolytes, readers and greeters.

Pastoral Ministries: St. James Saints, Daughters of the King and Eucharistic Visiting Ministers.

Outreach Ministries: St. James Knitters (provide warm caps to the Seaman’s Church Institute), Episcopal Relief & Development, The Women of St. James’ annual White Elephant sale and Health Ministry.

Social and Educational Programs: Monthly lunches and dinners with speakers, Q2 social group for young adults, Sunday morning forums, Bible study, Sunday school classes and a youth group.

Musical Programs: Monthly evensong at The Bishop’s School

(a music series presenting several concerts throughout the year), hosting San Diego Early Music Society, Bach Collegium San Diego and La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest.

Leaders: Rev. Janet Wheelock, interim rector (currently on extended leave); Rev. Eleanor Ellsworth, senior associate rector; Rev. Steven Strane, associate for pastoral ministry; Steven Townsend, pastor for music ministries; Dr. Alison Luedecke, assistant organist; Gabriel Strickler, director for children’s ministries; Amy Lajiness, pastor for youth ministry; Walter DuMelle, assistant to the rector; Lyn Ganschinietz, minister of operations; Rewa Soltan, weddings/special events.

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