Today is the 133rd St. James’ Day to be celebrated by our community. The Parish was established in 1881, before the incorporation of the city of Vancouver. Today, a granite plaque on the wall near the entrance to the Alibi Rooms on Alexander Street (100 block) marks the site of the first building. Just five years later, on the Feast of Pentecost, the church and surrounding community burned to the ground.
On this day in 1887 the second church was dedicated. It was a wood-frame building, with an open ceiling, extensive paneling and a rood screen dividing the chancel and nave. Declared unsafe in 1935, a plan commenced to replace the expanded second building. In 1936, one month after St. James’ Day, an inaugural Mass was held in our third and current building. Even during my incumbency, a few parishioners have recounted to me that day of celebration and shared recollections of the earlier Church.
Of course, the Church is so much more than the buildings. The names of previous Rectors are still uttered with reverence and thankfulness: Fr. Clinton, who initiated so many good works; Fr. Cooper, whose holiness and pragmatism grew the Parish; Fr. Gardiner, who brought stability and created endowments for our future; and Fr. Retter, whose generosity and gentleness inspired many. Last week I shared in a simple birthday celebration (his 93rd!) with Fr. Gardiner, what an honour. (I sometimes imagine sitting at a dining table with my ten predecessors and wonder about the topics of our conversation! I do sense their prayers.)
As you well know, the Church is much more than the clergy – thank goodness. We have our celebrity parishioners: Sister Frances, who administered St. Luke’s when it was a hospital and May Gutteridge, the inspirational founder of St. James Community Services. Most importantly are the countless parishioners whose life of faith and works of mercy throughout our history, and today, are known to God alone. All that we do, and all that we are, begins with the altar and ends as service for the transformation of the world.
The people of St. James’ Church are called by Jesus Christ to live a sacramental life inspired by the Incarnation and the Passion. We share in a high calling. God grant us the grace, wisdom, conviction and humility to carry on this cross-shaped discipleship.