St. James Episcopal Church celebrates first 100 years


By Gina McGalliard

Very few organizations in San Diego can boast that they have existed for over a century, but La Jolla’s St. James by-the-sea Episcopal Church, a La Jolla landmark, recently celebrated their centennial.

“The marking of a hundred years, that’s kind of a kick out here in the West. We had a choir come from England and they were on their 14th centennial. It’s all relative, but out here in the West, it’s something,” said the Rev. Randall B. Gardner.

Gardner has been leading the church for a little over a year, having arrived in September of 2006. “I’m thrilled to be here. I think it’s a lively church,” he said.

According to the Reverend, the celebration marks the 100th anniversary of when a group of people, who had previously been having regular prayer meetings, went to the diocese and asked for permission to be an official church.

“That’s the marking of our 100th anniversary, that founding, even though they were probably meeting for five years before that,” Gardner said.

The reverend also noted that the building of the church was also an integral part of the creation of the community of La Jolla. “It was a key part of the founding of La Jolla, and it was one of the first institutional structures or centers created for La Jolla, so all the networks of people who have made La Jolla what it is have come into contact with St. James,” he said. He added that the Scripps family was instrumental to the growth of the church, providing money for its bell tower.

“It was a centerpiece for what a lot of people wanted to build as a community here,” Gardner said. He added that “there are things that started here at St. James that are now built into the larger fabric of La Jolla society,” pointing to the example that “Scripps Memorial Hosptial had a lot to do with getting St. James going.”

St. James’ first church building was constructed in 1907. The building on Draper Avenue that is used today was built in 1928 and was designed by famed architect Irving J. Gill in classic Mission Revival style. Today, the entire church property includes a rectory and a library/bookstore/gift shop.

Of the architecture, the Rev. Gardner said, “The church is exquisite, it’s just a gorgeous piece of architectural work. So we capitalized on that; it’s a great place to draw people because it is so beautiful.”

Because the church has been in existence for so long, there are several members who are particularly long-standing. “We’ve got folks who have been part of this church for 40 or 50 years, which is pretty outstanding in San Diego,” said Gardner.

The church, which has about 1,200 members, recently celebrated their centennial on Nov. 9 with a tea held at the La Jolla Women’s Club, followed by a centennial Mass celebration at the church.

City Council President Scott Peters, who is a parishoner at the church and whose son was confirmed earlier this month, spoke at the event.

“As you begin your second century of good ministry, know that you have my prayers and thanksgiving,” he said. “One thing we can do is to provide a little official recognition on behalf of the City Council, and we have a little proclamation.”

The council proclaimed the day to be “St. James by-the-sea Day.” It was signed by Peters, Mayor Jerry Sanders and Councilwoman Donna Frye. To the audience’s amusement, Peters noted that it was one thing that all three could finally agree on.

The centennial gathering also featured a DVD compilation of photographs of St. James through the decades, from 1907 to the present day. Several former pastors were also in attendence. The event also featured a historical revue, in which children from the parish, dressed in period costumes representing various individuals in the church’s history, read cards describing their role in the growth of the church.

About the Episcopal faith, Rev. Gardner stressed later in an interview the importance of being involved in the wider society of which the “focal points are education and community service.” As one example, he described how a group of children and adults from his church are going to Mexico to build a house for a poverty-striken family.

“Ours is not a church that stands back from society as if we were not a part of it,” he said. “We try to work with society. That’s a part of what keeps the Episcopal church engaged in the wider community. We’re going to begin the next hundred years doing things that substantially improve the lives of other people. That’s the key. We’re a mission-driven church.”