Every week, St. James’ School holds chapel service here in the church. Canon Aidan Koh leads worship, and Jim Casey conducts the St. James’ Children’s Choir. Sixth graders in sharp, navy blazers set the elegant tone. Parents join their children in the pews. Sometimes I preach, and always offer a blessing at the end. And, every week, at the beginning of chapel, headmaster Peter Reinke calls to all assembled: “Good morning! And how are we today?” Every time, 350 students respond in unison: “Blessed and highly favored!”
I love this moment, how it captures the collective joy and gratitude of being in this school and this church at this moment in time. And I shout out the words right along with the students, because I feel blessed and highly favored to be here too.
To me, ‘blessed and highly favored’ means believing and receiving God’s grace. And we really do receive God’s grace at St. James’. Our blessings include:
A dynamic Preschool-6th Grade school.
A warm and welcoming soup kitchen and food pantry
Creative and growing outreach to the unhoused
Reverent and beautiful worship
Exquisite choral and organ music
A new and eager musical audience on Sunday nights
Rich cultural traditions expressed through our African Christian Fellowship and Korean worship
We are blessed to have a hardworking vestry and many groups led by strong lay leaders. 2019 brought the creation of a Ministry Council led by the Rev. Betsy Anderson, designed to draw together ministry leaders for mutual support and envisioning the future. Another team gathered for a Stewardship Breakfast and also attended a daylong Stewardship Workshop put on by our diocese. Moving forward, they hope to help us engage in year-round stewardship activities.And yet another team continues to oversee the work and mission of St James’ Manor, a nearby apartment complex for low-income elderly men and women founded by St. James’ Church.
This has been a year of partnerships and collaborations to help those in need. We have partnered with the diocesan farming group Seeds of Hope and now receive mountains of fresh produce each week to benefit our food pantry and soup kitchen. Partnering with another organization, the Shower of Hope, means now we offer showers for our unhoused friends every Saturday morning in the St James’ parking lot. And a collaboration between St. James’ School, St. James’ Church and Stories from the Frontline led to two days of learning about the housing crisis and the challenges encountered by our friends facing homelessness. All of this powerful work is ongoing.
2019 was also a year of celebrations, beginning with my installation in February, on Candlemas. I will never forget the drama of the Korean drums, the magic of the children’s bell choir, the glory of our St James’ Choir and Korean Choir, Bishop Taylor’s rousing sermon, and the joy of celebrating with all our guests. Not to mention the feast afterwards. What a day!
The other preeminent celebration of 2019 was the St. James’ Choir’s incredible tour of Ireland. Led by the incomparable Canon James Buonemani, our choir sang in Dublin, Tullamore, Cork and Galway, both during worship services, and concerts. Everywhere we traveled, listeners were deeply moved by the precision and beauty of the music. I give thanks for the opportunity to have accompanied our choir, and come to know them as friends. Every single choir member amazes me. They are people of great artistry and purpose, and we are profoundly blessed by the mission that is their music. Blessed and highly favored indeed.
Other celebrations last year included a joint worship service between St John’s Cathedral and St. James’ on Ascension Day and held at the Cathedral, followed by dinner; Episcopal Night at Dodger Stadium with lots of St. James’ parishioners; a fabulous diocesan Asian Immersion Day at St. James’ focusing on Korean Culture; my own trip to Korea in March as part of a St. James’ School delegation, which included the opportunity to preach at Seoul Cathedral; and of course our annual St. James’ Day Parish Picnic (which this year we held inside due to the heat). And we enjoyed, as we do every year, the African Christian Fellowship’s special day of worship and wonderful celebration on African Partnership Sunday.
One more celebration is ongoing, and that is the monthly meeting of the YAPGES group (Young Adult Prayer Group and Eating Society), made up of parishioners in their 20s and 30s. Gathering this past year in my home, we enjoyed potluck dinners and great conversation and look forward to many more similar occasions.
Here at St. James’, we also celebrate the opportunity to learn, and give thanks for excellent adult education sessions led by Bishop Frank Brookhart, as well as the ongoing Education for Ministry classes, and International Book Group that so enrich the spiritual life here at St James’ in-the-City. And we appreciate our dedicated church school and nursery teachers who work with our children week after week, and 2019’s wonderful and ambitious Christmas pageant.
A few more updates. Good synergy work is underway between our church and St. James’ School. We are eager to explore ways to share costs and support each other better. Expect to hear more about this in the coming year. For now just know that our two institutions are committed to helping each other thrive. Although I have been dreaming of air-conditioning and heat for our church, we do not yet have the money. However, we have made many other repairs and improvements to the physical plant, including a more careful focus on cleaning routines and numerous improvements to the basement/Boy Scout area. Expect to hear about more improvements this year. And I would like to give a special shout out to our Communications Committee so ably led by St. James’ Vestry member Canon Bob Williams, and for the social media magic worked by Justin Baker. Our story is reaching a wider audience, and we see this through many new visitors. And thank you, greeters, for welcoming them when they come.
And thank you to the many teams that work year after year with such dedication: our lay Eucharistic ministers and other servers, Altar Guild members, ushers, Pew Patrollers, offering counters, and those who oversee coffee hours and special events.
Here at Saint James’, without a doubt, we have so much to be thankful for. If you have been thinking about joining one of the ministries I have mentioned, or any activity here at St. James‘, please do! You will feel the blessing that comes from loving and serving God through the life of this amazing place.
May we all continue to feel blessed and highly favored.