We are formed as the diverse tapestry that is God's creation.
St. James' was known from its earliest inception as "the little church who cares." Always inclusive, after a visioning process in the 80s the congregation experienced a boom in diversity. We welcome gay persons, mixed race couples and families, artists, musicians, the rich and the poor. We are made of educators, attorneys, Nigerian families, people from the Caribbean, Hispanics. Our community includes people of all ages and with varied physical, mental, and health abilities. Those of many political and theological opinions grace our pews and missions.
Our blend of nationalities, ethnic groups, and gender orientations did not come naturally. We have worked hard to become intentional and accepting of our differences. We learn from each other. We value and live out our black heritage and are proud of our rich cultural community and heritage. We seek to make this place a welcoming home not only for us, but for all the people of God.
The story of how and why St. James' came to be who we are today is unique.
In 1941, we were a small group of 16 African-Americans, mostly faculty and students of Tillotson College, wanting an Episcopal Church where we would be welcome. During this period of U.S. history, especially in the South, Episcopal Churches did not welcome "negroes." Our determined founders learned of a black priest in Tyler who was Dean of the Colored Convocation of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas.
Father John Epps traveled to Austin by train to meet with us. Together our group, with the support of the Bishop of the Diocese, organized an Episcopal congregation we called "Church of the Advent." For six years we met in people's homes, and East Austin churches and other facilities. Our tiny congregation moved into its first church building on E. 7th Street in 1947 and our name because St. James' Episcopal Church. When our growing congregation outgrew the small church, we purchased land in 1970 and built a larger church on East 19th Street.
In the late 80s, we went through a visioning process that led us to the practice of radical hospitality and a conscious commitment to diversity, inclusion, and growth. Our congregation grew in numbers as people from all over Austin began attending. We, who were once rejected, turned away no one. In 2007, a Hispanic group asked it they might join and have a Eucharistic service in Spanish, and we said "of course."
Soon we were crowded again and challenged ourselves to buy a larger property, deeper into East Austin, at our current address. We blessed this site in 2006, with parishioners placing dirt from the own homes into the foundation of our new church home. In addition, dirt was added from the National Cathedral, black sand from Hawai'i, holy dirt from Chimayo in New Mexico, dirt from old Mexico, and St James' two previous homes, among other places. We have served God and the community from this home since 2007.