The Rev. Jennifer Wagner Pavia was born in Connecticut into a military family and, she says, was raised all over. So putting down roots is especially important. She was getting set to study art history at UCLA but decided instead to major in landscaping at Cal Poly Pomona. She gardens almost every day and admits that she sometimes arrives at church with dirt on her hands.
On Saturday, she and the people of St Bede’s Episcopal Church in Mar Vista, on the west side of Los Angeles, who recently called her as their rector, already felt well rooted in one another. So along to preside and preach, and encouraged by the way horticultural references recurred in the scripture readings Jennifer had chosen, I hammered the metaphor into submission.
The celebration of new ministry service she designed put stress on intentional commitment to mutual relationship by both people and priest. Among their first projects together (decided on before she arrived, as the Holy Spirit would have it) will be replacing the parish’s rose garden with a California native garden. On Jennifer’s watch, equally well-timed interfaith relationship is taking root. Rabbi Michal Morris Kamil Camille and the Ahavat Torah L.A. community, who have begun nesting at the parish, were well represented in the congregation on Saturday. Since Oct. 7, it has been hard to be a Jew in Los Angeles, and also an Arab or Palestinian Muslim or Christian. We don’t always agree with our neighbor on events beyond our control. But we can keep talking over the backyard fence, making peace by nurturing relationship.
Her prophetic and pastoral gifts well entwined, Jennifer is just the rector this community of accomplished, thoughtful Episcopalians needs. They are blessed to have had at two great ones in a row. Her predecessor the Rev. Canon Jim Newman was aboard. Present in spirit but gardening elsewhere was the Rev. Dr. Ryan Douglas Newman, who served skillfully as interim priest.
Presenting Jennifer during the liturgy were the senior warden, Bond Harper, and Alice Short, clerk of the vestry and my mother’s former Los Angeles Times colleague. Director of music Frank Basile and the choir were in magnificent form. Angus Mackay, British diplomat turned public affairs consultant, was one of our crucifers; young Ash Murray was the other.
After church and at the reception, St. Bede’s member Myk Price, aka Black Santa Myk, and I compared notes about St. Nick’s accouterment. I chatted with wonderful daughters of Jennifer Francesca and Emma, neighbors who’ve known her forever, and devoted former congregants and her colleagues from St Augustine by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Santa Monica, where she was lay director of children’s ministry for 13 years, and Holy Faith Episcopal Church in Inglewood, where she was interim priest. All these years, through all the ups and downs we all in our ways experience, Jennifer has kept sowing and reaping with love. Maybe if we do that well enough, wherever we arrive, almost right way, it feels like home.