Los Angeles Bishop Jon Bruno offered a message of love, reconciliation and hope to a full house of worshippers at an Oct. 6 welcome-back celebration of St. James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport Beach.
He also challenged worshippers — about 280 people from across the diocesan community who gathered for the joyous service — to support efforts to rebuild the church and to make it a signpost telegraphing the message: “Here we are, Lord. We’ve come to serve you and we’re going to welcome all humanity into your loving arms.”
The church, held for nine years by a breakaway group, was returned to the diocese in September following lengthy legal proceedings.
Bruno, who preached and officiated at the Eucharist, alluded to those proceedings, saying: “I’m glad we have the church back, but we’re still facing one more appeal.”
But, he said, it’s time to move on. Rebuilding the church will require the same kind of efforts that spawned it in 1941 as an outgrowth of the Church of the Messiah in Santa Ana, he added.
“We have congregations here that are all children of St. James the Great,” he said, noting participants from churches in Corona del Mar, Huntington Beach, and Costa Mesa, as well as others. “That’s the original name of this place, St. James the Great, and it is again.”
New vicar has ‘the heart of a lion’
The Rev. Canon Cindy Evans Voorhees, who according to Bruno has “the heart of a lion,” will serve as vicar of the mission congregation.
Voorhees is the founder of Voorhees Design, a commercial interior design and liturgical consulting firm focusing on religious facilities. She served as liturgical designer for St. James’ Church more than ten years ago, she said.
Glen Gelatly, an architect who was part of the design team, attended the Oct. 6 service “and it was an emotional moment for me to see him there,” Voorhees said.
He and others “did an amazing job maximizing the land that was available and fitting all the programs under one roof,” said Voorhees. “It is a remarkable facility. So, this is to say that I know the building intimately since I helped design it. It is a comfort having this familiarity as we move into the building and utilize it.”
Voorhees is also a founder of Building Africa, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “changing the conversation about aid to Africa” and whose mission is to help create sustainable communities through long-term assistance that empowers local communities. Building Africa is currently engaged in creating a community center in Swaziland and a “children’s village” orphanage in Tanzania.
Voorhees thanked everyone who attended the re-opening of the church. “It was an overwhelming sign of coming together as a whole Episcopal Church family,” she said.
“There were representatives from all four corners of the diocese; thank you for coming! The day couldn’t have gone better,” she said. “Bishop Bruno delivered a heartfelt sermon, one that he said ‘he had been waiting to preach for over 9 years.’ St. Wilfrid of York and Fr. Michael Archer reached out and lent a huge and enthusiastic hand by loaning us their choir, organist, lay Eucharistic ministers, acolytes and altar guild to give us a jump start on Sunday.”
She added that “many lives were affected by this nine-year ordeal, including those who had to move out of the building,” referring to the breakaway group, which has said it will meet at another local church. “We would love to see former members return and to attract new members from the community. The doors are wide open and the lights are on!”
Voorhees said she sees the church as a “spiritual lab, where creative ministry and outreach can take place because there is no history of ‘this is how we have always done things.’
“We can actually leapfrog into creating a 21st century church,” she added. “Now that we have the building back, I envision a church with porous walls where we have a co-laboratory presence in the local community, the national community, and in the global community. We also want to be sustainable and entrepreneurial about how we move forward and there will be a lot of experimenting. As Richard Branson is famous for saying “We are building the plane as we fly it!”
Regular worship services will begin Sunday, Oct. 13 at 10 a.m., “and we’ll build from there,” she said.
Some have already accepted the challenge. “Several people have said they feel called to rebuild the church,” Voorhees said. “The Spirit is definitely moving!”
“Most importantly, we need prayer as we resurrect this new mission church,” she said. “We are in a complete start-up mode so it is all hands on deck. Each week we will be looking for musicians, readers, coffee hour volunteers, etc. — everyone who participates in a service.
“Whoever shows up will be put to work,” she said. “We could also use volunteer office support to staff the phones and do light administrative work until we can afford a paid position. Just give us a call and we’ll schedule you in.”