On a Mission

New pastor tasked with revitalizing historic La Jolla church

As Prince Chapel By the Sea African Methodist Episcopal Church welcomed its new pastor in November, the historic congregation also began preparing to support the Rev. Willie L. Adams’ mission to revitalize the church.

“Every church that I pastored,” Adams said, “was a church that was struggling, that was failing, and I built up the membership.”

Adams’ ability to reinvigorate waning churches has become his forte. He brings more than 20 years of experience, impressive credentials and a track record of public service.

He sees Prince Chapel not as a church in decline but a congregation with huge potential.

In the beginning ...

La Jolla Union Mission was founded by seven members in 1921. At that time, the African-American community in La Jolla was composed of domestic servants. The families they worked for did not want them worshiping at the same Presbyterian church, so services were held in the home of Charles E. Green on Cuvier Street. Eventually, a bit of land with a small cottage on it was bought for the tiny congregation.

According to Lorenza Pace, 75, a lifelong member and whose grandfather, Edgar Coleman, was one of the original founders, the church changed its name to Union Congregational Church in 1926. It also changed its affiliation to Methodist and hired its first African-American minister, Virgil McPherson.

In the early 1940s, the congregation accepted a third name change, which has remained in place since then.

At the height of its membership, Prince Chapel By the Sea African Methodist Episcopal Church at 7517 Cuvier St. served almost 500 members.

Today, the congregation numbers only one-tenth of that.

Contemporary challenges

When Pace was a young child living in La Jolla, she simply ran down the alley from her home to church. Now she makes the weekly drive from Tierrasanta.

Things really began to change in the 1960s, Pace said, when property in that part of town was rezoned, sending taxes sky high. Many of the African-Americans residents could not afford the increase and sold out to generous buyers.

“Once the community dried up, the church became what is known as a ‘commuter church,’ ” Pace said. “Over the years, we’ve just lost so many members that we’ve had a hard time keeping it afloat.”

Adams acknowledged this is one of the issues he must address.

“The challenge is the membership of the church,” Adams said. “Very few of them live in La Jolla. Most of them commute from San Diego and different cities. The challenge is to get people to come from the inner city and be a part of our church.”

Adams is not limiting himself to rebuilding with only traditional A.M.E. members. He plans to start evangelizing in the community to reintroduce La Jollans to the church.

“We can become diverse,” he said. “We can canvass the neighborhood and get members to come in.”

The new pastor admitted that there have been offers made for the property owned by the church, which would require the congregation to relocate to another neighborhood. For now, that is not something the church is considering.

New year goals

Instead, Prince Chapel A.M.E. wants to become a vibrant, vital center of worship. It has plans to offer Bible study classes in January, wants to continue to focus on its youths and would like to offer more outreach services.

Revitalizing the church benefits not only its members, Adams said, but the entire area. Cities depend on churches as more than just houses of worship.

“It adds stability,” Adams said.

“It gives people the assurance to know they have somewhere that they can come, so the city and the church work together to help the community. A church should not be based so much on what it does on Sundays, but on what goes on when its doors are closed. That’s when a church is at its best, when it’s helping people.”

Meet the Rev. Willie L. Adams

Willie L. Adams was born the 10th of 12 children. He grew up in Bryan, Texas, and later moved to San Francisco to attend college. After serving in the U.S. Army, he completed his higher education, culminating with his master of divinity degree from Howard University Divinity School in Washington, D.C.

In 2008, Adams was awarded an honorary doctrine of divinity degree from the Word of Life Bible School in Marshall, Texas.

Before his assignment to Prince Chapel A.M.E., Adams served as pastor to Fountain of Hope African Methodist Episcopal Church in Las Vegas. He has also led congregations in California and Georgia.

Adams has been honored on numerous occasions for outstanding community contributions, including the Jefferson Award by KVOR-TV in Sacramento, recognition by the American Institute for Public Service in Washington, D.C., and the Martin Luther King Memorial Service Citation from the Beale Air Force Base Black Heritage Committee.

Adams is married, has two daughters and two sons, and four grandchildren.

Prince Chapel By the Sea A.M.E. Church

  • 7517 Cuvier St., La Jolla
  • Sunday services: 8:30 a.m. worship, 10:30 a.m. Sunday school
  • Contact: (858) 459-0272,