John Watson

[The Episcopal News] Envisioning new configurations of shared ministries, Bishop John Harvey Taylor has named the Rev. John Watson – a priest skilled in bilingual ministry and church growth in multiple sites – to serve as diocesan missioner for new ministry models.

In this capacity, Watson – ordained in 2003 in the Church of England – will serve as priest-in-charge of St. Athanasius, Echo Park, and Epiphany, Lincoln Heights, the two oldest Episcopal congregations in the city of Los Angeles, both of which worship in English and Spanish.

“John brings remarkably gifted expertise in helping congregations share ministries and resources in strategic ways that build community and vitality,” Taylor said. “It is a joy to welcome him and his family, and to anticipate exploring with him new ministry models that can be replicated in our diocese and beyond.”

“I’m very excited to join the Diocese of Los Angeles in this new role,” said Watson, who has moved to Southern California with Jackie, and two of their four children, Tom, 19, and Izzie, 18. Married for 28 years, the couple has two older sons; Cameron, 25, who resides in Fiji, and Louie, 23, who currently lives in Scotland.

“Arriving from the UK we already feel the embrace and welcome of a community made up of so many cultures,” Watson told The News. “It is a privilege to share the journey of exploring new ways of being, doing, loving, supporting, belonging and growing with two historic congregations as we discover what it means to put love in action.

“The role as diocesan missioner for new ministry models will see me explore ways in which, initially, St Athanasius and Epiphany might work together in sharing resources and energy for mission. In an age where resources are fewer but hearts are just a passionate, this new model is one that could become replicated across the diocese.”

Such partnering has been the focus of ministry models researched by the Rev. Canon Melissa McCarthy, diocesan canon to the ordinary. “I am thrilled John will be joining the diocese and working with these two historic congregations,” McCarthy said. “His skills and depth of experience will be put to good use. He is also a deeply faithful person with a kind heart and a humble spirit. I look forward to witnessing the Holy Spirit’s work in these churches with John’s deft leadership.”

Prior to ordination, Watson began ministry in 1992 with multicultural communities in inner-city London. He then lived and worked in Peru, providing young people with leadership training.

Since 2014, Watson has served as rector of St. Barnabas, Dulwich, which he describes as “a large, urban, complex, traditionally Anglican, choral parish church in South London, Southwark Diocese in the Church of England, alongside the 400-year-old Christ’s Chapel, Dulwich, where I have overseen congregational growth among families and children and an expansion of ministry in the last few years.

“The full range of Anglican liturgy is offered, choral Eucharist to choral Evensong each week. The congregations range from people at the top of their profession, national politicians, and government workers to young families and refugees, a beautiful eclectic mix reflecting kingdom dynamics.

“Through a focus of families and children and music over the past three years, I have been amazed in seeing an exponential growth whereby congregation numbers have surpassed pre-pandemic figures,” Watson said.

“We’ve seen more than 100 children and young people each week, with our new family service attracting 300 people. Last year we received 40 children into their first communion! A community Fun Day was held at the church, which saw over 700 visitors. We also organized a Christmas Eve Pageant through the high street, with live camels, a donkey, choirs and brass band, and saw 2,000 people attend.”

In 2016, Watson started the Church of England’s first Spanish-speaking congregation in another parish while he continued to serve at St. Barnabas.

“This started with a monthly communion service with 20-30 and grew to weekly services for more than 120 in a year,” he said. “Leading churches that are multi-site and which support one another has been a growth point; the Spanish-speaking church plant would not have happened had it not been for the generosity of the much larger and wealthier St. Barnabas. The Latino congregation is now its own parish and planted another congregation.

“Multi-site church work continued with St. Barnabas becoming a lead partner in a new program of support called ‘Hub’ Churches – where ministry and mission support can be given to other smaller but vision-filled congregations,” Watson noted. “This year I was successful in applying for funding worth $1 million over five years to support a growth program in two other parishes, with St. Barnabas being the Hub. This now continues after my departure.”

Watson added that he was recently “humbled in being part of the final slate of candidates for bishop,” noting that while “the Church of England does it slightly differently than The Episcopal Church, the process cemented my desire to see bilingual and multi-site church ministry grow.”

Watson begins his new ministry in Los Angeles on Nov. 1.