St. James Parish, founded in 1729, is located in the heart of Historic Downtown Wilmington, North Carolina. Ideally situated between Atlantic Ocean beaches and the Cape Fear River, Wilmington is home to a large university, hosts a robust and diverse arts community, and is a regional medical hub. St. James seeks as our next Rector a priest of high integrity with genuine, honest faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and who can warmly welcome and spiritually lead all who desire a relationship with Jesus Christ and a home at St. James Parish.
This brief profile is an effort to give a broad overview of the community that is St. James Parish, where we sense God is calling us to go, and the kind of Rector we think God is calling to lead us as we seek to fulfill our mission to welcome all to grow in love of God and neighbor. For a more in-depth understanding of any subject, click on the links in bold, they will take you to related documents or stories. Our goal is to provide as honest and as thorough a picture of us as we are able.
St. James Parish has a great history, but an even more exciting future. Since 1729, our ministries have been nourishing souls and caring for the community both inside and outside our walls.
Describing who we are is not easy. As one Bishop friend remarked, “St. James can be a complicated place.” Our parish survey indicates that, although racially and ethnically rather homogeneous, we are quite diverse theologically, with members ranging from very conservative to very progressive.
We are a large congregation, with approximately 1075 members. However, our average Sunday attendance represents less than 35% of that total. The survey seems to indicate there is tremendous potential for increasing energy and engagement among those who already identify as being part of the St. James family. As is the case with any large family, St James has experienced times of hurt and conflict. We hope to find a Rector whose skills include gifts of healing, someone who can lead us forward, united by a common vision and purpose.
Like most Episcopal churches, we are not a congregation of spiritual giants, but we are not complacent. According to the RenewalWorks research, we are not altogether satisfied with our spiritual lives. We want to grow. We want to go deeper.
We are well educated, although we acknowledge that our biblical literacy is not what it could be. Our church family includes a remarkably broad array of intelligent, competent, committed men, women and youth. Both the quantity and quality of lay leadership are great strengths, and can be built upon. Increasing the participation of our parishioners, and those outside the Parish, in the ministries offered is one of the five initiatives of our recently adopted Strategic Plan.
Worship, whether in our beautiful neo-Gothic sanctuary or at Mt. Lebanon Chapel just off the Intracoastal Waterway, tends to be traditional. In our recent focus groups and parish survey, our congregation has told us that they value a high-quality music program. A broad range of meaningful Christian formation opportunities is offered to help us grow.
However, we also know that our worship can and needs to be better. We know that our Christian formation classes, though viewed as first-rate, are not seen by a large percentage of our members as personally meaningful enough to attend regularly.
So, the number one initiative of the Strategic Plan is to energize the Sunday morning experience to create a more hospitable, diverse and spiritually enriching community. We do not have all the answers for how to do that; we look forward to a Rector whose gifts will help achieve those objectives.
We are a Parish that is committed to contributing to the wider community, both as a body and as individuals. Parishioners are often in leadership roles throughout the non-profit community. Our lecture series is an effort to offer engaging perspectives on the intersection of faith and our non-church lives: faith and law, faith and science, faith and art, faith and medicine, faith and business. Speakers have included Francis Collins, the head of NIH and the human genome project; Joe Cheshire, nationally known criminal defense attorney; Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners and the author of “America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America”; and Michael Curry, our presiding Bishop.
In recent decades, our outreach efforts have focused especially on those at the margins of society—the homeless, the hungry and the poor. Our new Racial Reconciliation Task Force is exploring our own prejudices and biases, as well as how we can further racial justice in our city.
Occupying a full city block in the heart of Wilmington’s downtown and Historic District, we sense we have a greater role to play in our city than we have in the past. So, another initiative of the Strategic Plan is to determine how to use more fully our campus in pursuit of our mission.
Our Day School offers a balanced, child-centered education for 2’s, 3’s and 4’s.
We are part of a rapidly growing area of the country. The population in the Greater Wilmington area is expected to nearly double by 2050. We have the potential to grow in numbers. So, one of the five initiatives in the Strategic Plan is to increase the number of new members by intentionally and creatively inviting people to St. James.
We are sound financially. At year’s end, revenues have almost always either met or exceeded expenses. Our $2.5 million St. James Parish Foundation provides ongoing support to maintain our sprawling, and mostly old, campus. The ‘Preserving Our Future’ capital campaign, launched in 2010, raised over $5 million to repair and renovate our sanctuary and the Bacon Church House, while the Mt. Lebanon Chapel capital campaign raised over $650,000 to shore up that wonderful space, build new adjacent bathroom facilities, and add to the Chapel’s endowment.
However, we are convinced that St. James’ parishioners have the financial capacity to give more to the Parish and its mission. So, one of the initiatives of the Strategic Plan is to increase annual giving by steadily increasing the total number of pledging units while at the same time increasing the number of larger pledges and planned gifts. The plan’s objective is to grow annual giving by roughly 80% by year-end 2022. We are looking for a leader whose gifts include the ability to teach and preach about money in ways that not only help us think about our personal financial and material resources in theological terms, but also help make our relationship with those resources a catalyst for—rather than an obstacle to—spiritual growth.
We are learning a lot about governance. Between a highly experienced consultant, who is a retired priest, and an intentional Interim Rector, we have reviewed nearly every aspect of our Parish’s lay governance, a project that has led to the restructuring of the Vestry as well as many of the church’s ministries. We think we are now poised to function more effectively, more harmoniously and more boldly than ever before.
Throughout its nearly 300-year history, St. James has adapted to meet the changing needs of its community while remaining steadfast to its mission of fostering love for God and our neighbor. We eagerly anticipate what the next chapter holds for St. James Parish.