St. James’ Church Puts Spotlight on History

The exterior of historic St. James’ Church, with its iconic bell tower, on the corner of Fremont and Monterey. Photos by Henk Friezer

This is the first of monthly series about people, activities and events of interest involving the religious community in South Pasadena.

A CHURCH has throughout history meant many things to its parishioners.

It has been an architectural manifestation of its creators. A church has been a cradle of beginnings, aspirations, disappointments and departures. It has also been a center for a congregation’s outreach to its community.

St. James’ Episcopal Church, on the corner of Fremont and Monterey, will be sharing its history with the community this Sunday, Sept. 8, from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Tours of the church are free, but donations are requested to help further a $1.5 million capital improvement program.

Timed reservations are required. To make a reservation or for more information, call (626) 799-9194 or (626) 201-8517. Depending on availability, when the call is received, reservations for entry will be taken for the half-hour and hour tours. The first tour will be at 12:30 with the last entry at 4:30 p.m.

If you have never entered the church, you may have heard its chimes — installed in 1924 and restored between 1977-78. My most vivid memory of my first visit was of the stained-glass windows in the sanctuary.

The Rose Window at the back of the sanctuary was installed in 1907, when the current church was opened, and the remainder of the windows show scenes from the life of Jesus and were created by the Judson Studios between 1950-1963.

David Judson, the fifth-generation owner of the Judson Studios, will be one of the presenters on Sunday, and he knows a lot about those windows.

“I believe that windows are the jewels in the crown,’’ he said. “Their brilliance can liven a church and make it more spiritual.’’

One of the stained-glass windows at St. James’.

Each window on the sides of the church took six toeight months to make and between 12 and 14 people to create Judson noted that tastes have changed between the installation of the Rose Window, which was done by an English firm, and the side windows.

“Many men were returning from Europe after World War II and the U.S. saw a renewed interest in the neo-Gothic, which used a lot of reds and blues and ornate borders with figures set in medallions. The turn-of-the-century Rose Window used warmer earth tones and less structure positions on the figures,” said Judson, whose grandfather was both baptized and married there.

“These kind of connections really resonate in a place with such history and significance to the community.’’

The windows are part of the guided and self-guided tours of the building, which has been designated as a South Pasadena historical landmark. Visitors can look around the sanctuary and the tower, and also can see rarely displayed artifacts from the church archives.

Guests also will enjoy the insights of renowned architectural historian Ray Girgivian, who will help lead and support the tours, along with Judson.

Marianne Grant, who is involved in the capital campaign, has been a church member since the early 1990s, and lists the church’s history and beauty and two of her favorite things about St. James’.

“It’s the place where Dan and I got married,’’ she remembered, “and a place that has, for me, an unmatched spirituality and grace that is evident from the second one enters.’’

On her list of other favorite things about the church are items that might be on the lists of worshippers all over the world.

“The people — from the first ones I met to the babies that havebeen born just this year — their grace, strength, curiosity, tolerance, smiles dedication and faith in God and one another,” she said.

She also cited the music of the choir and caring both in and out of the church. The church has a parish day school with a current enrollment of about 120.

There also is an outreach to Casa Alegra, a homelesswomen’s and children’s shelter; and a community food locker where — for 20 years — 50 people each week have been fed with food donated by parishioners, the local community and the local farmers’ market.

Lucy Jones, the senior warden — or senior lay leader of the church — said that the social action comes naturally from St. James’ being a deeply spiritual place.

“People are engaged to be better people and to help people to get there,’’ she said. “There is a desire to be in the community and to help the community.’’

Grant sees her own history mingled with the church’s every time she sees her late mother’s crucifix hanging on the wall behind the pulpit.

She travels a lot, but when she gets back to St. James’, Grant feels like she has “truly been coming home.’’

“I have been fortunate to be there at many times of the day and night, and the light through the windows and the beautiful fixtures always creates magic and peace,’’ Grant said.

“It has a sense of peace that seems to calm everyone.’’

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